Cereal CEO

11/18-22 – Back to Beijing!

November 22, 2010

I spent the last few days of my time in Philadelphia in my closing seminar, which happened to also overlap with the Eisenhower Fellowship’s Women’s Leadership Conference. On Thursday the USA Fellows joined the 19 International Fellows for a day of leadership seminars. The International Fellows are an extraordinary group – I wish I had more time with them. I did get to have lunch with Jane Shaw, Chair of Intel. She was awesome, and hearing her story made me realize some key points about how to be great. I’ll write more about that in my Fellowship summary post after this is all done.

Lunch with Jane Shaw

Friday was the conference, and I had breakfast the with a small group and Christie Todd Whitman, preparing for a panel. The conference was good, although I had to hop out continually for conference calls, and I was one of only three people with laptops open! Mostly I enjoyed meeting people, including Lisa Nutter, the Mayor’s wife (or re-meeting I guess – we met once in the early 90s) and Director etc Aaron Posner.

Getting to China

I flew Saturday non-stop from Newark at noon to Beijing arriving Sunday at 2p. I slept on the plane for about five hours, which set me up well for the adjustment. I breezed through the World’s Best Airport (said Conde Nast Traveler in 2009) Beijing Capital International.

The Humongous Terminal 3

I couldn’t find my driver so I took a taxi to my hotel, the Hilton Wangfuging. I stayed here last visit too, it’s a nice hotel in a great location and Eisenhower gets a good rate.

It’s chilly here, but no more than Philly or NY. Everyone talks about it though.

Beijing Startup Weekend

After settling in and managing to stay awake I headed over to a Startup Weekend run by my friend Andy Mok. 30 people pitched ideas on Friday, the top 8 took the weekend to develop their idea and presented. I was falling asleep so I didn’t stay through the judging process, but there was a mix of really smart stuff (sms-based virtual currency for distributing aid), lots of so-so ideas, and some copycats. They’re very popular here. One of these was a guy from Microsoft who wants to clone Ari Jacoby’s Solve Media. I was most intrigued by the idea of creating a virtual currency using SMS to distribute aid in disaster relief from Joey Renert (I am going to meet with him Friday). Presentations and the conversations were in a mix of English and Chinese, and the entrepreneurs could have been in NYC or SF. Only one team didn’t use a Mac or iPad to present. Everything moves fast in China, and I think that Apple is going to take this place by storm (see the iPhone 4 line in the preceding post).

Andy Mok, Beijing Startup Weekend

I managed to stay up until 10p – supposedly that’s the first step to zone switching successfully, woke at 3 but stayed in bed until 5, then got up and worked out, supposedly another step to switching successfully.

Breakfast

Breakfast in Chinese hotels is an extraordinary thing. I started to take pictures of all of it but was told that it’s not allowed – they’re afraid you’re going to go into business and copy the buffet set up! Never mind that every hotel has one. Anyway, here’s what I got before getting in trouble:

10% of the breakfast buffet

That’s the dim sum station. There are also stations, as big, for:

  • Chinese noodles
  • Japanese breakfast
  • Baked goods
  • Cheese and cured meats
  • Cereal, dried fruit, nuts, peanut butter, honey etc
  • Pickles and other random things I don’t understand
  • Eggs - omelets, scrambled, fried, poached,…
  • Every western side imaginable: pork sausage, chicken sausage, ham, bacon, hash browns, home fries, grilled tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms,…
  • Fruit
  • Smoothies (5 blenders with different ingredients for each)
  • Refrigerated yogurts, muesli, juices, etc…)

No exaggeration! It really is amazing, and everything is extraordinarily high quality. I was sitting there after finishing, I thought, reading the NY Times on my iPad, and a waiter brought around fresh = hot croissants. Amazing.

Meetings

Well-fed, I went down to meet Jack Perkowski. Jack is an investment banker-turned-entrepreneur-turned investment banker. in the 90s he built an auto parts business in China called ASIMCO. Now he’s building JFP Holdings. Jack’s main point/lesson is that to be successful in China, foreign companies need to truly localize, and most don’t. Truly localizing means that Chinese managers need to have the authority to make the decisions. ASIMCO was a collection of majority-held joint ventures with Chinese parts manufacturers. The initial plan was to hire western industry veterans, which failed miserably. Plan B was to hire experienced Chinese managers, which also failed miserably (mainly because they came from state-owned enterprises). Plan C was accidental, but turned out to be the winner: hire “new China managers” – managers who were Chinese but had worked in true capitalist companies. Jack believes that Chinese managers look at costs differently – their gut reads 100 yuan like $100 (it’s worth about $15), and they operate that way. Wu Hai called foreign managers “wasteful” and I think this is behind that. Jack’s story is told in Mr. China and Managing the Dragon.

After meeting with my able coordinator from CEAIE, Claire Zhang to go through my schedule for the week, I headed off to have lunch with the head of Morgan Lewis & Bockius’s Beijing office. Unfortunately, he was called away on an urgent client matter, so I met with the marketing person instead. We had a delightful Szechuan lunch. The biggest law firms in China are local – they’re the only ones allowed to go to court. There are a few foreign firms that came here early and have good sized practices. Others, like Morgan Lewis, that came later are very small – only 2 attorneys in this case, in a firm of over a thousand.

In the afternoon I had coffee with Bill Bishop, who co-founded CBS MarketWatch and has been in China since 2005. He is an angel investor (although not in China) and man-about-the-startup-scene. He confirmed and amplified my conclusions about how difficult it is to do business in China as a foreigner. Even though relationships and Government connections are less important for Internet businesses, only a couple of foreigners have succeeded. (Bill’s girlfriend has recently opened the first cupcake shop in Beijing – another copycat!)

Filed under: China, Eisenhower Fellowship — Lucinda @ 5:21 am
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