Managing the Dragon: How I’m Building a Billion-Dollar Business in China
By Jack Perkowski; Crown Business; US$27.50
Jack Perkowski’s Managing the Dragon is the latest in the growing sub-genre of books claiming to provide readers with the inside track on how to do business in China. They come replete with tales of downing baijiu, misadventures in remote provinces and exasperating dealings with the managers of state-owned enterprises.
While Managing the Dragon is not an anecdote-free zone it generally manages to rise above the usual platitudes to offer readers an authoritative on-the-ground perspective of business in China that both entertains and educates.
The CEO of auto parts firm ASIMCO Technologies, Perkowski is already known to many as one of the supposed protagonists in Tim Clissold’s Mr China. In 1991, Perkowski (whose views on Mr China can be read on page 28) swapped Wall Street for China, armed with a dream and a few hundred million dollars to make it come true. ASIMCO was the product and Managing the Dragon is the story of how it came to be.
Books like this face one central problem: In addressing a general readership, they often risk oversimplification, thereby alienating those already knowledgeable about China. The latter group is then quick to suggest that anyone who relies on this book as a primer shouldn’t be getting into business here in the first place.
However, we all have to start somewhere, and Managing the Dragon is a better place than most. Some areas may strike readers as obvious but it is the cases studies that provide the real value.
Much can be gleaned from the accounts of ASIMCO’s early missteps in China, particularly the evolution of its management strategy, which saw foreigners ousted from most of the key positions at the company’s factories.
Perkowski’s discussion of the effects of decentralization, such as the tendency to create overcapacity, is also noteworthy, as is his contempt for foreign companies that don’t venture beyond tier-one cities and miss out on what he sees as the real market opportunity in China.
Even the most jaded of China watchers will smile at Perkowski’s account of his “Long March,” which saw him visit two factories each day over the course of nine months.
The book’s central premise is that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions in China. This may read like a truism but it’s worth repeating: What works in the US won’t always work in China. In this sense, it is perhaps appropriate that Managing the Dragon does not provide a roadmap for how to build a successful business. But it does offer a rare and instructive glimpse into the internal workings and struggles of a foreign-invested firm in China.