Book Review: China Streetsmart by John Chan

China Streetsmart came out in 2003. A lot has changed in China in that time but much in this book remains relevant in 2013. Unlike most of the China books I review, which are written by China academics or veteran Journalists, China Streetsmart was written by John Chan, a Canadian by birth and a businessman who has lived and worked in China for many years .

China Streetsmart is more a book targeting overseas companies who want to market their products in China and is less a book relevant to companies that source in China. However, whether you are selling in China or buying from China much of the advice in China Streetsmart is still applicable.

Chan stresses what is necessary above all else when you do business in China: common sense. This is something that many foreign companies get wrong when they go into China. They are more ideal than practical. They dream more – about the quick profits they are going to make – than they exercise common sense – in coming to an understanding that being profitable in China takes time. And sometimes it takes years.

Chan very helpfully outlines what he calls the “six common sense action steps” which are as follows:
1.) Maintain management consistency
2.) Be flexible and adaptable
3.) Be patient and thorough
4.) Think win- win
5.) Be detailed
6.) Maintain a healthy attitude.
These are all things which even today are applicable when doing business in China. Why are these steps important to remember ? Let’s look at # 3 above. Many people when they source in China are focused on driving down costs in negotiations with vendors. What they forget is that vendors need to make a profit as well. So Chan’s advice, correct in my opinion, is to not to forget your vendor’s margins and respect them.

About half the book contains advice on how to find local partners, staff offices, set salary levels etc. There are also sections on issues in China that are no longer relevant today – such as China’s entry into the WTO in 2001 and unemployment early in the last decade. In other words if you are sourcing in China nowadays there is a lot of the book which you can skip.

One of the most useful aspects of the book are the numerous case studies, success or failure often depending on how much common sense was exercised by the foreign party when they entered China. You can never read too many of these stories, becuase the clues to your success may be contained in the failure of others. The only downside is that China Streetsmart starts to read like a textbook before too long. But in a sense that is what it is.

Is China Streetsmart a book you are going to want to curl up with on your flight to China ? Probably not. But is China Streetsmart nevertheless a a good primer that you should read before you go there to do business. Definitely.

Here are some other book reviews:

Poorly Made in China
One Billion Customers
China Shakes the World
The End of Cheap China

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