12/6/16

Prepare for the Changing World: A Letter to My International Business Students

SYLVAIN SONNET VIA GETTY IMAGES

 

Dear all students:
It is the end of the semester for the class of International Business. I hope you have learned plenty of  knowledge and practices about conducting business internationally: You have learned the opportunities and challenges brought by international trade and globalization; you have understood why and how companies internationalize their business to remain their competitiveness; acting as as small businesses and non-profit organizations, you have exercised the process to export many wonderful products or service from the USA to the global markets; and you also have read many current news articles to be aware of the changing world today with the trend of anti-trading and anti-globalization which I believe to be a temporary setback for our society. At the end of the course, I hope you have developed an objective view about international business and may even expand your career into the global scale.  Although the course is over, I hope you can continue to search for an answer for this important question for yourself: how can I remain competitive in today’s changing world?

First all, we should be all clear based on we discussed in the semester: job lost today is mainly due to automation, not international trade. “The US did indeed lose about 5.6m manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010. But according to a study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, 85 per cent of these jobs losses are actually attributable to technological change — largely automation — rather than international trade”.[1]

Let’s remember the story of Kodak: In 1998, Kodak had 170,000 employees and sold 85% of all photo paper worldwide. Within just three years, they went bankrupt because the emergence of digital cameras. What happened to thousands Kodak employees in the past will happen to many other industries in the near future, because we are living in the 3rd and going toward 4th Industrial Revolution, driven by the growth of computation, artificial intelligence, and automation, “a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres”.[2]

Even in the service industries, we see a tremendous shift of using technology, software, and artificial technology to replace human workers. McDonald’s and restaurant chains are using computer tablets as a solution for rising labor costs[3].  IBM Watson artificial intelligence can provide diagnosis for patients and offer legal advice for clients, faster and more accurate than doctors and lawyers[4].

In short, we are not competing with other people around the world, but competing with robots and computers. It is what face us today and nothing can prevent us from the use of technology to advance the world.  It sounds scary in a way because the job market today requires us having a lot more knowledge to be a competitive individual. I could not advice you what career you should go for a long-term job security, but I can say what you should do to become competent and ride the wave of technological innovation: You must be a creative and critical thinker, be flexible to adapt to changes, sharpen your skills and knowledge through continuous learning, and keep yourself informed with reliable information sources. And last, respect and collaborate with others. I hope that my suggestion will help you to identify a career which you are passionate about and become successful in. When you are prepared for the changes and equipped with innovative ideas, what globalization presenting to you would be more opportunities than challenges.

For those who graduate in December: My best wishes for your new endeavor and stay in touch with your college and your professors.

For those who come back in the Spring: Enjoy the winter break and see you around in the Spring!

[1] https://www.ft.com/content/dec677c0-b7e6-11e6-ba85-95d1533d9a62

[2] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-what-it-means-and-how-to-respond/

[3] http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2016/11/29/thanks-to-fight-for-15-minimum-wage-mcdonalds-unveils-job-replacing-self-service-kiosks-nationwide/#51666a34762e

[4] http://www.businessinsider.com/watson-radiology-diagnosis-demonstration-2016-11

07/8/16

CUIBE Award for Best Paper on “Teaching International Business”

Best Paper Award

As a scholar, the best recognition is to receive Best Paper award. It is always my goal to receive such award so you can imagine how I jumped up and down when my pedagogical paper received the inaugural CUIBE award for Best Paper on “Teaching International Business” at 2016 annual conference of Academy of International Business (AIB2016). As an educator, I also feel proud that my instructional approach is recognized as innovative and valuable for the education of international business.

The conference paper has been improved and published at Journal of Teaching in International Business, titled Improving Intercultural Competence in the Classroom: A Reflective Development Model. In this paper, I propose a four-stage reflective development model to enhance intercultural competence for undergraduate students and implemented in my class of International Management. The model provides a pedagogical approach for motivating students to engage in intercultural interactions, for helping them learn to make sense of their environment, and for advancing their learning about intercultural interactions.

Last, thanks to the funding from the Students First Grant at Farmingdale State College in 2015 to support me conducting this pedagogical research successfully.

 

08/15/12

The Cases of Best Buy and Home Depot in China

After operating in China for less than six years, in 2011, both Home Depot and Best Buy, two major big-box retailers from the U.S. announced the close of their stores in spite of the increasing size of the Chinese middle class. Based on this backdrop, I wrote a teaching case study “What Is Up With The U.S. Big-Box Retailers In China? The cases of Home Depot and Best Buy“, which was published at China Research Center.

Both cases illustrate the typical challenges facing western retailers  success in China. The big-box retailers not only need to face the challenges from their local competitors and the different practices in Chinese retail industry, but also to adapt to Chinese consumption culture. Facing the complex operating environment, both companies need a long-term vision and commitment to strengthen their brand image and create values for their customers.

Check out the link for the whole article!

11/16/11

Brownfield Entry in Emerging Markets

Reading:

Brownfield Entry in Emerging Markets
Author(s): Klaus E. Meyer and Saul Estrin

Source: Journal of International Business Studies, Vol. 32, No. 3 (3rd Qtr., 2001), pp. 575-584

Definitions

Greenfield: A Greenfield project gives the investor the opportunity to create an entirely new organization specified to its own requirements, but usually implies a graduate market entry. It is a start-up investment.

Acquisition: An acquisition facilitates quick entry and immediate access to local resources, but the acquired company may require deep restructuring to overcome a lack of fit between the two organizations.

Brownfield: A Brownfield is a foreign acquisition undertaken as part of the establishment of a local operation. From the outset, its resources and capabilities are primarily provided by the investor, replacing most resources and capabilities of the acquitted firm. It is a hybrid mode of entry.

Two frameworks establish determinants of entry mode choice

  1. Resource requirement based on transaction and integration costs

A Model of Entry Mode Choice

Managerial applications: Decide the entry mode based on transaction and integration costs and resources

Future research:

1. The relationship between institutional variation across countries and emergence of brown strategy.

2. Incorporate brownfield into analyses of both determinants of entry mode choice and the impact of entry modes on subsidiary performance

10/4/10

Preface: A Flat but Complicated World

First of all, I am so sorry for not being available to write the business blog for a while. So what have I being doing recently?

My PhD study in Marketing and International Business has started in August so I have been adjusted myself to get used to this challenging while intriguing student life. Very different from the learning in my MBA, which is quite practical for a business professional, the PhD learning is quite theoretical while beneficial for my future research. I am also glad for my choice of moving my concentration from supply chain management to international marketing and business. With my interest in international trading and global cultural, this transition provides me a broader platform to fulfill my career goal to comprehend international conflicts and to promote global conversation and fair trading.

As a Chinese origin, I of course will pay more attention to the growth of Chinese economy and its relationship with other nations. Recent frictions between Chinese and U.S. over Chinese currency appreciation and penalty tariffs against each other draw my attention. As an advocate of fair trading, I hate to see this kind of political game between nations which only hurt businesses and consumers as a result, especially between two important trading partners. However, there are too many misconceptions and misleading information regarding the root causes of job loss in American manufacturing, China obviously became an easy target to blame and be used as a scheme for political goals.

There are also much focus on the growth of China and many articles have discussed this new challenge to China. After decades of leapfrog growth, China is facing significant challenge to remain its double-digit annual GDP growth. A very recent HBR blog Will China’s Growth Slow Over the Next Decade by Liu Shengjun points out there are four dividends behind the growth miracle: population, reform, opening and resource. Facing the diminishing return of those dividends, Mr. Liu recommends the following consideration for China to create new dividends:

  • Eliminate discrimination against private enterprises.
  • Further reform state-operated enterprises
  • Promote innovation

Those recommendations are well analyzed and right to the point. However they may not be easy for the Chinese government to make such huge turnaround in the near future. Corruption at all levels of central and local governments will not allow such reform to be easy because many people in power will lose their advantage of authorization and grey income. To encourage innovation, China needs to first fight against the challenge or habit of plagiarism and copyright infringement, and establish a stronger IP protection law. Otherwise, the innovations by the enterprises are not able to be protected thus discouraging their investment in R&D. Overall, China needs a political reform in order to create those dividends. Right now, I do not see such push from the central government.

What will happen among nations and how will China and the U.S. can grow together? I do not know yet. We are now living in a flat but quite complicated world. I hope my future studies will soon bring me more knowledge to solve those puzzles regarding global trade issues and challenges. And of course, I wish to see my future research contributing to a “flatter world”.  I will keep everyone posted!

06/29/10

Apple’s Global Smartphone strategy

Image Source: Kevin Van Aelst, Apple Globe, 2009

I am reading the article by Dr. Dan Steinbock, Apple iPhone4 Success Masks Global Strategic Challenges, posted on Harvard Business Review blog.  Dr. Steinblock compares Apple and Nokia in their global presence, and states that although Apple enjoys a huge  success  in the United States for the smartphone market, Nokia has advanced in l strategical development toward a global market, especially in emerging markets. The article concludes that “Apple needs to adopt a dual business model, one for the advanced economies which enjoy high living standards but relatively slow growth, and another model for emerging economies which have relatively low living standards but enjoy high growth”, and that “global leadership requires success in the advanced economies and the emerging world.”

While I can fully respect Dr Steinbock as the Research Director of International Business at India, China and American Institute (USA) and Senior Fellow at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (China),as a highly respected expert in the field of international business and global strategy, I pause to wonder if Dr. Steinbock is an iPhone user, or is familiar with it. I am not a big fan of Apple, but I happen to use an iPhone and know about this product; I believe that I may be able to present some valid arguments to justify why a dual business model is not necessary for Apple.

First,let us conduct a side by Side comparison for Apple and Nokia according to their 2009 annual report.

It is not necessary to discuss the gap of the market capital and the stock price between Apple and Nokia. Our comparison will rather review each company’s operational key performance indicators. Apple reports two billion more in revenue than Nokia, but to clarify, the Apple data includes products beyond  Smartphones such as iPods and Mac Computers. The iPhone accounts for 30% of the total revenue. Apple’s gross profit margin for 2009 is 41% with an income before tax of 28%.  According to the analysis from iSuppli Corp, iPhone has a profit margin of almost 52% for the cheaper model. Comparatively, Nokia, a manufacturer of mobile devices, has 32% of gross profit, with only a 2.3% income before tax. Nokia’s R&D cost is high at 13% vs. only 3.1% for Apple.

From this comparison, we may conclude Apple has a business strategy of “Differentiation”. Apple enjoys a high profit margin from the well-designed high-end Smartphone. Apparently, Nokia is heading toward a different strategy to become a “cost leader” to focus on more low end products with lower margin. My speculation is further articulated by the article, Nokia to Halve Smartphone Production in 2010, Official Suicide Watch Starts Now. Nokia announced it would halve production of its Smartphones in 2010, to gear itself toward a concentration on ‘dumbphones’, or “mid to low end Smartphones.” Nokia Smartphones’ R&D also “cut down unnecessary differentiation”. While I choose not to comment on  whether Nokia is choosing the right business strategy, it seems a fair assumption that their focus on low-end Smartphones is directed toward a global focus met to face an increasing demand in emerging economies.

On the other hand, Apple, having a singular iPhone product in their Smartphone portfolio, was able to increase their market share to 16.1% in 2010 Q1, a 131.6% leap from a year ago. (Source: Apple boosts global smartphone market share big-time, holds on to No. 3 position) With the introduction of iPhone 4, I would expect to see increased market share for Apple.

It seems paramount that we should ask this question: Why is the Apple R&D cost is so low in comparison to Nokia? I believe that the answer lies hidden within Dr Steinbock’s article.  Nokia is a device manufacturer however Apple uses OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) Foxconn to produce their Smartphones. Although I do not have inside information, I believe Apple collaborates with Foxconn for product development. Utilizing the supplier’s technology and production expertise, Apple is able to focus on their core competency of product design and software program development and achieve such low R&D cost. Apple has only one model of iPhone with some variation of memory size, which is naturally easier for mass production, and allows the achievement and maintenance of lean inventory management. This results in a lower COGS (Cost of Goods Sold) and a higher gross profit margin. Nokia, on the other hand, released 13 Smartphone models in 2009, which increased not only their R&D cost, but added a level of complexity to its supply chain and increased the capital investment required to manage the vast array of models.

So when iPhone is considered a luxury product in the Smartphone market, why would they require different pricing strategies for different markets? It is my belief that it is not required.  Just as Louis Vuitton for purses or Rolex for watches, premium brands do not require different prices for different markets. This is especially true for the Chinese market, where premium brands are considered to be an indicator of personal social status. I cannot speak for the Indian market without further research, but Chinese consumers are willing to pay for premium and trendy products. Before Apple settled an exclusive sales agreement with China Unicom for the exclusive right of iPhone sales, iPhone had been sold throughout China on the black market at a premium price. Many Chinese consumers asked their friends or family in U.S. to buy unsubsidized iPhones for them to use in China. The iPhone initially failed in China, not because of the cost barrier but because of GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) compliance, thus forcing Apple to redesign the iPhone for China to meet the Chinese wireless network requirements. Even after prices were cut to 3,000 yuan ($439.46) in April by the carrier China Unicom, Chinese consumers are still paying significantly more than U.S. consumers for an iPhone without subsidy from the wireless network carrier. However, contrary to what Dr Steinbock claims in his article that Apple flopped in the Chinese market, Apple’s Chinese iPhone sales exploded and largely contributed to the growth of Apple last quarter sales, with estimated 2.1 million iPhone sold in China within 6 months.

A lot has been said, I believe I have answered the questions:

Does Apple need a global strategy? Absolutely, yes. Apple should establish and expand the distribution channels in different nations, with possible redesign to meet local market requirements. It is also crucial for Apple to work with its suppliers to meet its increased demand.

Does Apple need a dual business model for the advanced economies and emerging economies? I do not believe so. iPhone sales are disappointing in India or other emerging markets due to different consumer behavior, so be it. There is still much room for growth in the global high-end Smartphone market. Smartphone users typically replace their phones every two years as contracts expire. Apple enjoys such high profit margin from a single Smartphone model, so it is not necessary for Apple to add additional resources to develop a low-end model for those markets and dilute its premium brand image, just like we can not imagine Louis Vuittonor or Rolex producing a low end product for low-income consumers. Being a global leader does not necessitate becoming the leader of market share in quantity while struggling with profit margin. Apple is definitely a leader in the Smartphone market with their product design mission to “be sweet to customers and vicious to rivals”. I foresee that we will continue to see the growth of Apple in the Smartphone market.

06/17/10

In International Market, Local Supply Chain Defines Pricing Strategy

In May, I took a trip to Shanghai, China, for a project to establish a partnership between a Chinese horticultural company and a Holland breeding company. It was a win-win collaboration for both, not only helping the Holland company to break into the Chinese market with minimal resource, but also upgrading the Chinese company with new product varieties without adding R&D investment. During the meeting, there was only one concern from the Holland company: the price for the new products in Chinese market were set lower than the Holland company expected. The Holland representative could not accept the recommendation from the Chinese company. After all, the same types of flowers are sold at a premium in other global markets!  In order to understand this pricing recommendation, we visited the horticulture supply chain in that region, from flower growers, to flower market, to flower retailers. After examining the entire supply chain, the representative agreed with the lower pricing strategy today for future long term growth.

Production – Flower growers

When the Holland representative saw the greenhouses in the region, he commented: What a low cost production!  The farmers enjoy the benefits from local natural geographic condition. All things being equal, such as the amount of fertilizer used for every square meter of land or type of greenhouse equipment invested, it costs the U.S. growers five times more than the Chinese growers in labor, not just because of cheaper labor in China. The underground water system in the Eastern China region provides the Chinese growers a natural watering system. Therefore there are much less labor required to water and grow the plants. On top of it, the government subsidizes the greenhouse facility investment, which lowers the production cost even more.

In the different areas of the same region, there are significant differences among greenhouse business models. We visited the greenhouses managed by the young generation of growers, who are connected using the internet and smartphone like an iPhone or Android phones. They are educated and ambitious.  They want to grow the best plants and dominate the market. Due to the economy of scale, they can not only achieve lower cost from higher production efficiency but also receive a volume discount for plants and farming materials. From them, I see the picture of tomorrow’s Chinese agricultural industry.

Farmers working in greenhouse, Photographer: Zachary Long

Lunch and Learn with young farmers, Photographer: Zachary Long

The traditional farming model co-exists with the modern farming management. Many individual farmers manage only two or three small greenhouses in their backyard. All farming work is done by the family members. Those individual families unite together to form an organization. The organizer of the group sells their harvest together and also combines their purchasing of raw materials to lower the purchasing cost. The organizer benefits from the commissions of sales.

Chinese boy sorts flowers

Chinese boy sorts flowers - Photographer: Zachary Long

With the advantages from Mother Earth and the effective business model in the local market, the production of flowers is efficient and lean, and thus minimizes the production cost.

High quality flowers fresh from the fields, Photographer: Zachary Long

Distribution – Flower Market

A visit to the local flower market explains why premium pricing will not work even though the growers grow high quality flowers. The local market consists of the first level wholesalers and the second level distributors. Wholesalers ship the flowers by truck from their fields to the market. Distributors will buy from several wholesalers for different varieties and then deliver them to retailers.

During the consolidation and distribution process, there are two major factors contributing to damage of flowers:

1)      Packaging. There is minimum packaging for the flowers.  In other global markets, the flowers are carefully packed in paper cartons or in buckets for best protection and petals expansion. In China, the growers only use a single layer of plastic cone to cover the petals.  This kind of packaging method does not provide much protection for flowers during transportation.

Typical packaging of flowers, Photographer: Zachary Long

2)      Shipping.  From the growers to the market and from the market to the retailers, the flowers are firmly stacked inside trucks or cardboard boxes without any space to breathe. In the same size of truck, the Chinese farmers can ship almost 20 times more than the U.S. farmers can.  I joked that the extreme loadability was such an effective way to minimize their supply chain “carbon footprint”!

Flowers stacked in a truck, Photographer: Zachary Long

Flowers packed in cardboard box for distribution, Photographer: Zachary Long

Creative way of transportation? Photographer: Zachary Long

The ruthless transportation minimizes the transportation cost for flowers, damages flowers during transportation, and causes a much lower price for flowers without perfect presentation.

Customers – Retailers

Retailers and the final sales of flowers determine the brutal transportation in some way.   The majority of customers of retailers are not individual consumers like you and me, but businesses! It may be a phenomenon only in China that businesses buy a lot of flower baskets for business openings or events. So, flowers are not sold for a long vase life but a very short exhibit life of a few hours. Under these kinds of circumstances, flower quality is really not a selling point unless those flowers are used for a wedding ceremony.  Unfortunately, unlike luxury products, such as a purse, flowers are not a product defining a consumer’s social status. Therefore, consumers pay less attention to flower quality so retailers will not push upstream distributors to improve flower quality by minimizing damage from transportation.

Flower basket for business event, Photographer: Zachary Long

Summary

For any global company breaking into a new market, it is extremely important to evaluate the local supply chain in its entirety from upstream to downstream. By understanding the local supply chain, the company can define its marketing and pricing strategy without disconnecting from the local market. The Holland company would price itself out of the market without understanding the entire process from growing to transportation. Through a complete investigation into each component of the supply chain for these flowers could we fully grasp the individual dynamics of the Chinese market.  Any international company needs to fully assess the specifics, find the local expert who understands the unique market characteristics in order to implement the correct marketing strategy. This article is a case of horticultural product going into a new market. However, the learnings from this case can apply to many other products and industries who are seeking opportunities in the international market.

Special Thanks to my husband and photographer Zachary Long who provided photographic coverage in China.

04/26/10

Intellectual Property Challenge in China

It wasn’t for the project which I am currently working on for a China plant tissue culture (TC) company, I would never have experienced the challenge from the weakness of Intellectual Property (IP) protection in the Chinese market.

It is the first time that I am working so closely on IP issues in China. The plant Tissue Culture company, Jin Bei (aka, JBSbio), based in Shanghai, China, has been focused in the Chinese domestic market for the past two decades. They have been very successful as a market leader in the region with a reputation of reliable high quality. Last year, with a new investment of $4.5 million into world class new equipment, the company was ready to expand into the overseas market. Through a friend’s connection, they asked me to help them break into the U.S. market.

I have been traveling for the company to meet the potential clients, not only to promote the propagation service that the company can provide with its’ Tissue Culture technology, but also to connect with the U.S companies who are interested in getting their products into the Chinese market. With the booming economy in China, needs for gardening and landscape are booming as well, in parallel with the rising market of housing and public construction.

So anyone would think that selling into China will be an easy task once we have good products. The answer is no, absolutely not, because of the weak protection of intellectual property in China. Piracy in China is not something new. It’s sad for me to say this as a Chinese, but China has a reputation of counterfeiting design or content of patented products. We are all familiar with those knock-off products such as luxury handbags, watches, electronics, and clothing. The knock-offs are sold at a much lower price, so consumers can choose to pay much less for fake premium products if quality is not a concern to them.  There are even some tragedies that people consumed counterfeit food and were poisoned! Many foreign companies come to China and have been fully challenged by the culture of deficient IP awareness. So, China, a country of invention only in ancient times, becomes a well-known country of “stealing” IP. Even though more regulations and laws are created after China entered the WTO, the IP control has not become easier for many investors.

I am facing a huge obstacle to introduce new horticultural products into the Chinese market.  Breeders normally spend thousands upon thousands of dollars in developing a new plant variety through years of experiments and growing. That is why we can see more and more beautiful, colorful plants around us. In the past 30 years, the IP regulation has been well developed in U.S. so most businesses are playing the game by the rules. However, the Chinese market is like the Wild West, which can be easily out of control for horticulture products. Think about it, any plant grower can take a branch of a plant and duplicate it through cutting technology. Learning from the painful experience of losing IP in the Chinese market, some companies choose to give up on China altogether, or only bring to market the second tier quality products, which in result make my objective of introducing new products to the Chinese market more challenging! When I see those beautiful new flowers and plants which can be easily duplicated, I can’t help to feel regret about the fact that Chinese consumers may not have much chance to enjoy those nice and beautiful flowers in the near future.

However, the existence of risk does not mean one should not take any risk at all. Actually it is a good thing the Intellectual Property issue is not a hidden risk so we all know it is out there and we just need to take more cautious approach when we go to the market. The following are my suggestions on how to deal with the IP issues in China:

First, choose a reliable partner with a good reputation. It may not be an easy thing sometimes because Chinese hardly says “No” to opportunities. So, if a company tells you “No” for some reason, it is actually a good sign that this company is doing business honestly. At the same time, spend time to research the background of the potential partner, to visit their facility, and to observe how the owner or manager works and treats their employees. A company that treats their employees well will also respect their business partners, which is potentially a long-term trustworthy business partner. Don’t feel frustrated if you have a bad experience in the Chinese market. There are plenty of honest businesses out there looking for a long term partnership.

Second, utilize key technology to prevent easy counterfeiting especially when R&D is a big part of the product development. Intel is a great example for this approach. No one can counterfeit their CPU due to their technology.  A company can develop complex products unique characters from which core technology cannot be duplicated.

The third approach is to use the trade mark and a branding strategy. Believe it or not, China has a culture of brand awareness and will pay a premium for a brand which is associated with high quality and a high social status. Not to mention those well-know consumer goods, JBSbio, the Chinese Tissue Culture company, uses the branding strategy for their own breeds and has been successful to protect their products in their homeland. The foreign company going into the Chinese market should definitely use a branding strategy at the beginning of entering the new market to establish their name and increase brand awareness.

The last strategy will be entering the market with a second tier product or with products which are going to be out of patent if an IP violation is inevitable.  Charge premium prices at the beginning of market introduction and then lower the price when the market is flooded with knock offs. Meanwhile, introduce the market quickly with new products to sustain its market leader status..

As a conclusion, it can take another decade for China market to have Intellectual Property regulation well enforced. However this obstacle should not become a barrier for any international business to wait for a safer environment and miss the growth opportunity. Understanding the market risk and taking the appropriate approach to go with the flow and capture the opportunity in a new market can be highly rewarding and profitable.