Managing the Dragon claims to be the first book by a westerner who built a company in China from scratch. The westerner, in this case, is none other than Jack Perkowski – a once working class kid from Pittsburgh who, after a successful career in Wall Street, decided to relocate to China. The book reveals his experiences doing business in the China of the early 90s and how it all led to the founding of ASIMCO, one of China’s leading automotive component manufactures.
I actually read this book a week after I had finished reading Tim Clissold’s Mr. China. The switch from one story to the other felt a bit like running out of a warm shower and then rolling on the snow. While I still consider Managing the Dragon to be very much worth your while, I must admit that it is not a great work of literature. Tim Clissold, a Chinese-speaking accountant who helped Perkowski build ASIMCO, did a much better job covering some of the same ground with much more eloquence.
All in all, Managing the Dragon is yet another good primer for anyone looking to conduct business in China. The book itself is getting dated, and the Chinese are becoming more Westernized in their business interactions. However, it cannot be understated that any attempt by a Western business executive to show respect for the traditions, history and culture of China will go a long way to building guanxi. While many of the customs and the banqueting are going to vary in intensity as you move out of Shanghai, Shenzhen and Beijing to the other cities that are less Westernized, the fundamental cultural elements of respect, face, influence and dealing with local cadres are foundationally universal.
These are, in my opinion, the three most interesting points a reader may get out of this book:
- The auto-biography of Jack Perkowski, a kid from the U.S. rust belt that gets into top business schools and builds successful career on Wall Street. It’s OK to read, but nothing particularly interesting.
- The importance of setting up a solid local management team in China as opposed to bringing people in from overseas.
- Some insights about China business and what drives the Chinese economy. This part is really valuable and unique. You’ll learn about the incentives of local officials, the fragmentation of industries, the cost perspective of the Chinese, etc.
Overall an interesting book, but depending on what your intentions are you might catch yourself wanting to skim through certain chapters. I highly recommend reading Tim Clissold’s Mr. China as a complement to this book.