Chinese investor Marcus Lee is well-versed in the world of Asian finance. Having followed business opportunities from as far afield as China and Dubai, the Wall Street-trained investment banker and author of How to Outsmart China (2007) is an active player in the country's financial industry.
Lee has been a keynote speaker for several major financial platforms in China, including the China-ASEAN Investment Summit and the Asia-Europe Business Forum. The 32-year-old's resume includes stints as an economic advisor to several municipal governments, including those in Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces. Furthermore, he has directed prominent Chinese leaders, mayors, party secretaries and CEOs on fund-raising matters.
How to Outsmart China offers no-nonsense advice on how to do business in the country by presenting the different business practices of each province. Lee provides a financial forecast of 22 industries and an astute analysis of the Chinese economy.
With such prophetic comments as, "If you aren't doing business in China in the next few years, you're not in business," it is little wonder his book has sold 100,000 copies in 40 countries.
Lee is now in Shanghai working as a managing director for Hampton Court, an American investment banking company. Other strings to his bow include overseeing a number of animation and fashion companies. Shanghai Star Weekend reporter Cristina McComic caught up with him on one of his rare breaks from work.
Q: So is China where it's at?
A: Yes, everyone wants his or her piece of the cake in China, and China is the economy (to watch) over the next 20 years. The potential is enormous. We are looking at 400 million potential customers - the number of people living in cities who are willing to spend money. These are our potential customers since the countryside is still being opened up.
Q: What's the trick to doing business in such a big country?
A: Well, each province keeps its historical importance in the Chinese market and every province has its own mentality. For example, Shanghai people would hate doing business in Chengdu since they are fast-paced and aggressive. Beijing people, however, are more humble in terms of touting business success. Beijing people think that if their brand is good, they don't need to brag. They are also very blue-blood in the sense that they think they are imperial. It's all about connections. If you want to do business with Beijing people tell them you know the big guys in your country. Tell them you know (US President Barack) Obama, or are best friends with (French President Nicolas) Sarkozy.
Q: What's the bottom line in How to Outsmart China?
A: Every foreigner who comes to China wants to be successful. They want to create a business, but often times (they) are outsmarted by the Chinese people. On the other hand, I have seen many foreign entrepreneurs become successful in China. We see foreigners becoming general managers of large companies and earning several million-dollar salaries. This book is meant to encourage people to do business in China and help them penetrate the Chinese market and make a better living here.
Q: Will foreigners in China always be outsmarted by Chinese?
A: The way Europeans do business and Chinese people do business is very different. It will take a long time to become assimilated to Chinese business practices.
Finding a good Chinese partner can be good, although Chinese people often have different agendas. Although Chinese manners may gradually become more Westernized, their mentality will probably not change much. It is very hard to shift 5,000 years of traditional practice.