‘Doing Business in Asia’: How to Thrive in an International Collaboration
Roughly four years ago, I received an email from an unfamiliar Australian academic, Professor Gabriele Suder, seeking collaboration on a book project, entitled Doing Business in Asia. Though Professor Suder was referred by my long-term friend, Professor Jane Lu, the very nature of working on this ambitious undertaking with “strangers” somewhat dampened my interests. But the desire to document the changes occurring in Asia, in particular, the Greater China region in which I have lived and worked for more than twenty years, motivated me to embrace the “mission impossible.”
The last two decades have witnessed Asia’s rise. Clearly, if the 19th century featured the Europeanization of the world, and the 20th century was Americanization, then the 21st century is the time of Asianization. Based on GDP at PPP, Asia is already the world’s largest regional economy. Accordingly, the Financial Times asserted that the ‘Asian Century’ has begun.
The process of Asianization may progress faster without the outbreak of COVID-19. During this public health crisis, Asian economies, like many western counterparts, faced the worst growth performance in 2019, 2020, and 2021. However, many of them were emerging as clear winners in the race to a full recovery due to their relatively tight measures on the control of the COVID-19 pandemic, except for India. In the post-COVID era, economies in Asia, like China, Japan, South Korea, as well as Vietnam, were projected to lead the economic recovery worldwide. It was not only the story of China but also that of the developed and emerging Asia. Against this backdrop, one question became vital: How do multinational enterprises best thrive in the so-called ‘Asian Century’ and win the competition in the Asian market? How do Asian enterprises internationalize and compete in the global market?
With these big questions in mind and a zest to showcase what Asia could offer, I continued my correspondence with Professor Suder. And Professor Suder later secured participation from an Indian academic, Professor Sumati Varma. The mix of our backgrounds made the book extremely appealing albeit challenging. Three complete strangers would collaborate on a daunting task across geographic barriers and different time zones. This in many ways mirrored the unique challenges confronting international managers. My China Europe International Business School research team, Professor Yunlu Zhang, Jasmine Liu, and Gemma Su, encouraged me to take up the book project and supported me in surmounting the unforeseen difficulties arising from Asian company case selection and writing during the pandemic. Throughout the two-year writing period, the author team had numerous heated online discussions and unpleasant exchanges, but the end result was more than satisfactory. I attributed the smooth completion of our book project to the following:
- Honoring deadlines and commitments. We never missed a single deadline without legitimate reasons, and we treated the allocated tasks whole-heartedly and seriously;
- Clear and direct communication. We rendered honest, sharp, and straightforward comments on each other’s writings. We instituted rigorous review processes among ourselves, and each chapter was completed with multiple revisions to ensure acceptable quality;
- Equitable allocation of work tasks. Professor Suder, as the lead author, allocated tasks fairly (by word count) and taking into account our respective strengths and weakness to attain an optimal blend of theoretical and practical perspectives;
- Patience to view beyond differences. With our different cultural and national origins, it was easy to be judgmental. My co-authors were experienced and patient enough to take various contexts into consideration in minimizing potential conflicts stemming from false assumptions;
- Unconditional trust and good mutual understanding. This has to be accorded the utmost importance, especially in a virtual setting. Without trust, the project leader would not be able establish achievable milestones and avoid the resultant domino effect, and this would undoubtedly lead to a project failure.
This international collaborative project has taught me many precious lessons and I cannot be more grateful to my international co-author team for openly sharing their deep insights on Doing Business in Asia.