On 9 November 2017, the Business and Entrepreneurship Department, with sponsorship from Schneider Downs, hosted Dr. James Chan for a Global Business mixer and networking event. The session also provided members of the Pittsburgh business community, Chatham faculty, staff, and students the opportunity to meet adjunct professor Edward Burton, who taught BUS570 Global Business during the Fall 2017 semester. For more information on Mr. Burton, please see the Faculty Insight blog post published earlier this semester, and for more background on the course, please see the Course Spotlight blog post.
Given the expansion of international businesses and, of course, the emergence of China as a global and economic power, having the opportunity to hear from Dr. Chan was great. Additionally, he was able to provide good advice for anyone in business, whether working in a large or small company or self-employed. – Mary D. Richter, Shareholder, Schneider Downs, B&E Advisory Board Member
Dr. Chan established Asia Marketing Management in 1983, just as the Chinese market was opening to American businesses. Prior to that, he had worked for a major publishing firm selling academic textbooks to China. After a series of events, including a drawn-out battle to obtain a green card and his employer moving from New York City, he was inspired to be his own boss. He saw the opportunity to be a bridge between the United States and China. As the cultures are vastly different, he would serve as a mediator between the two countries. Much of his story is covered in his book, Spare Room Tycoon: Succeeding Independently — The 70 Lessons of Sane Self-Employment. Dr. Chan told the crowd that while he has to do the impossible, swimming up-stream to convince the Chinese market to spend money outside of the county, he has found success and part of that is conveying his belief in himself in an infectious way.
He provided a mnemonic device to share some of his hard-earned lessons from his career:
C: Confidence – In yourself, your company, and what it can provide. Working overseas, you will need an agent, and while finding a good one is critical, you must constantly convince him or her that working for you will make him or her professionally successful too.
H: Hunger – How do you find the people who will be your customers? Who hungers for your products and offerings? It will take time for any company to expand internationally, because customers do not appear as easily or as logically as desired.
A: Ask – You must ask people (your agent, potential customers, current business partners) a lot of questions. Our digital communication methods are important, but if you want to expand overseas, you must actually meet them and share experiences with them to go beyond the surface relationship and let them see the authentic you. Moreover, this is how you can learn things that you may not learn via official meetings and channels.
N: Saying No – Going overseas, there is a high risk of your product being pirated, so potential customers will overwhelm you with questions to reverse-engineer your products. Therefore, it is important to have the courage and ability to say “no” and draw boundaries. Do not simply look at the immediate sale: international business is a long-term game.
Dr. Chan was delightful! It was impressive to hear from such an engaging speaker with years of insight. – Sophie Slesinger, MAFS/MBA ‘18
Throughout the presentation, Dr. Chan impressed upon the audience not to forget about the international business community. While the American market remains large and important, if businesses are not looking internationally as part of their strategy, then they are missing a huge market. He highlighted that many American businesses do not think like their European or Chinese competitors, who actively look overseas to earn money; on the other hand, we view the global community as an afterthought. Dr. Chan also stated that China decided to enter the global arena because it realized that the isolation, tribalism, and nationalism that characterized early communist China was not a good idea; isolation breeds more isolation.
When asked to reflect on the past 35 years in business, Dr. Chan described trade with China as a sine wave: sometimes the relationship is good, others times it is bad, but there’s always a cycle. He believes the wave is currently in a dip in the Sino-American rapport, but it comes from both sides. China has reached a point where it is now rich and profitable, and wants to be respected for that, whereas there are American frustrations about industries that have left the United States and are unlikely to return. The growing trade imbalance was not something China deliberately sought, he argued, but capitalism looks for the locations with the cheapest labor and exploits it. Capitalism moves industries, whether you like it or not.
Dr. Chan was an incredibly entertaining speaker with a wealth of business knowledge. He was able to convey great business insights in an accessible way, and I often found myself thinking throughout the event that the presentation would be valuable and interesting for anyone, not just those interested in business or entrepreneurship. The talk was enlightening due to Dr. Chan’s experience, but it was enjoyable due to his commanding presence and lighthearted presentation style. He not only offered a lesson on business strategies, but a lesson on being yourself in order to be successful. – Sarah Valore, MBA ‘18
In closing, Dr. Chan had some words of wisdom for Chatham students and the audience. First, it is important to tell the truth and be honest in business. That is what people appreciate. Second, especially if you are about to start your own business and be self-employed, you just need to embrace the insanity and chaos of the experience. It is a wild, roller coaster ride, but if it is your passion, then it will all be worth it. Finding balance, especially when times are tough, is important, but what is even more essential is getting out and interacting and talking with people during those times. That is how you survive.
Multiple times a year, the B&E Department brings dynamic business speakers to campus, whether for networking events or specifically for a classroom presentation. This is one way the department ensures that students are exposed to different ideas and experiences in the curriculum so they can be prepared for post-graduation employment. We thank Schneider Downs for sponsoring this event with us. We would also be remiss if we did not thank Trevor Gamble-Borsh (BA International Business, ’21) for his tireless support to Dr. Chan while he was visiting Chatham.
Karen Sudkamp is a second-year dual degree student, looking forward to graduating in the summer of 2018 with a MA in Food Studies and an MBA. She is interested in all things related to building a more sustainable and just food system and to find a role for business to participate in that journey.