by Stephanie Overby

BOOK REVIEW -How To Succeed In An Uncertain World

Aug 15, 20052 mins
Risk Management

Made in China: What Western Managers Can Learn from Trailblazing Chinese Entrepreneurs

by Donald N. Sull with Yong Wang

Harvard Business School Press, 2005


CIOs who are loath to do too much long-term thinking will find a lot to like in Made in China: What Western Managers Can Learn from Trailblazing Chinese Entrepreneurs by Donald N. Sull. In his examination of leading entrepreneurs in China, Sull posits that in truly unpredictable markets, a long-term vision is pointless at best and perilous at worst.

On the surface, the book is a collection of case studies that uncover many of the idiosyncrasies an executive faces in the Chinese market (murky ownership structures, inconsistent access to capital, shifting industrial policy). But CIOs, who also seek to survive amid uncertainty, could glean potentially valuable best practices as well.

The impetus for the book is straightforward. American companies such as Wal-Mart, and U.S. entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates have been examined and emulated for years. But there’s precious little written about the corporate pioneers operating in the world’s second largest economy.

So Sull, an associate professor of management practice at London Business School, sought to identify the business leaders of China today. He settled on four industries—IT, telecom, appliances, and food and beverage—that he thought were the most integrated into global markets, and then identified two leading companies in each that had thrived during the economic, political and regulatory turbulence of the past decade.

Through in-depth interviews and access to corporate archives, Sull has created an outline of China’s current winners’ successful strategies and introduces some fascinating new business and management concepts that work for Chinese executives. An example is “active waiting”—anticipating and preparing for opportunities and threats one can neither fully foresee nor control. During periods of relative calm, successful managers in China focus on midterm priorities that provide their companies direction over periods of one to three years, such as building reserves of cash and resources, improving operations and managing risk.

As a primer for dominating the Chinese market in the long run, it’s not clear how helpful this book will be. But it can be a valuable playbook for flourishing in an environment of insecurity and ambiguity—a state in which many companies operate these days, no matter where they are in the world.