Although there is globalisation, Asians and Westerners think and act differently when it comes to business. As a newcomer in South-East Asia and launching a start-up with PZ in Malaysia, I’m learning as fast as I can by watching closely my wife‘s behaviour and the many people we meet, the Asian practice and strategies in business.
To my vision, many expats and western companies are not prepared for the cultural challenges, and act as if they were still living in the Western World. That mistake usually leads to frustration and failure. How many impatient mat sallehs (the whites in Malaysia) have I heard complaining about this and that instead of appreciating this gorgeous country and learning other ways to collaborate with Asians.
Today, only one expat out of five is profitable to his company, the rest cost more money than they make and most of the times cause also serious mistakes in the country they are in.
So to succeed working in Asia, I strongly encourage you to read a very inspiring book “Business Journey to the East” (by Chow-Hou Wee/Fred Combe) that I will try to sum up for the lazy people that you all are
1- Why are we different?
We come from 2 very distinct philosophical influences: Aristotle in the West (linear-oriented, individualism) and Confucius in the East (internal cooperation, importance of communities).
2- Appearances are not reality
Asians tend to obscure their plans and intentions where the Westerners are more open and less patient. In Asia, many relationships are invisible to the outsider. You need first to learn how to navigate through the complex web of relationships (the famous Guanxi)
3- 100m race VS marathon
Western companies are used to frequently change their management. In Asia, you are not taken seriously until you have proven that you will stick around. The Westerners want to start and finish the race as fast as possible, Asians like long-term commitment and stability.
4- The importance of socializing
Karaoke, social drinking and other nocturnal activities are the best way to show your real personality and to feel more comfortable with your Asian colleagues. So don’t be ashamed of your voice and invest in social activities.
5- “Saving Face” and “Losing Face”
Hope this will help and I wish you all the success!