Culture Chasm

Opportunities in Asia are huge, but so are the pitfalls

David Iwinski Jr.

Managing Director



David Iwinski Jr.

Managing Director

Blue Water Growth

US Mobile: +1 412 352 7997

China Mobile: +86 183 2128 4064

Skype ID: david.iwinski.bluewatergrowth

Culture Chasm

Opportunities in Asia are huge, but so

are the pitfalls

By David Iwinski

The last 30 years have been a wild ride for Asia, with China’s hyper-growth fueling both domestic and global ambitions. From the early days of low-cost simple manufacturing to leading-edge innovation and venture capital, China has not only been a modern success story, but has raised the tide for all nations in the East. The spill-over from China’s growth has spurred a vibrant business growth culture in many nations, with industrial and retail evolution in places like Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia growing rapidly.


However, a word of caution… as you plunge into these exciting markets, remember that the terms of human engagement have not evolved as fast as the rising factories and growing economic power. There are still some very basic differences in how people conduct business and they haven’t changed much in the last 100 years. 


Here are a few things to keep in mind in the world of Asian business:


Opinions Are Not Shared Directly  In the West we are used to speaking our mind and getting right down to the facts and figures of a deal. People in Asia are more likely to be oblique and indirect in expressing unhappiness, often softening the blow with transitional phrases like, “We will have to study this more carefully.” They are really telling you that the deal on the table won’t work and you need a new proposal.


The Boss In Asia Really Is The Boss  Top leadership in many Asian firms is tightly controlled and even in large companies is still highly influenced by family connections. While you may be making strong points on your suggested business deal with a manager or a business development person, never forget that there is often only one vote that counts, and that your strategy has to be to figure out who is most senior and engage that person and their interests.


Connections Are Not Linear  Often when we try to make connections in the US we think of relationships as straight-line. We assume finance people will connect with other finance people and the same for operations and manufacturing. I have found that often in Asia, the rapid regional growth with limited human resources has moved people around in many diverse places in their careers. If I am looking for a specific connection, I try to tell all my contacts, since you never know how wide their network may be.


Sometimes The Answer To A Problem Is Not A Solution  The Western model of business thrives on facing problems head-on and crafting solutions. This behavior with an Asia partner might strike them as confrontational or too aggressive. When challenges do arise, I have often seen Chinese or Malaysian partners who will simply choose to ignore it for a while. Sometimes the problem resolves itself with the passage of time and subtle staff changes. Often, quiet behind-the-scenes diplomacy and a gentle nudge in the right direction is a better path than “getting it all out on the table”.


There are many ways to be prosperous in Asia and just as many ways to fall flat. While you are working on the technical details and the financial model, never forget that the way you communicate may have even more impact on getting your deal to mutual success.