China will soon rule the world. You may not like them, you may not like the way they do things, but nobody can stop them now. And as they say, if you can’t beat ‘em, you are best advised to join them
So… what can Kenyan entrepreneurs learn from the Chinese entrepreneur and their way of doing things?
The Chinese script is the very opposite of the American one that folks on these shores have religiously been reading from for decades now. We borrow heavily, spend like there was no tomorrow and all under the pretext that we are guarding our image which is critical to our business.
In sharp contrast, the Chinese frugality is well known. People often make jokes about it. But the results are so devastatingly effective that humour is the last thing that comes to mind.
When you have a mentality for waste what tends to happen is that it permeates into every layer of your life and work. Just walk into any typical Kenyan company and I guarantee you that you will quickly be able to compile a long list of ways they can save money. This has nothing to do with how clever or daft a person happens to be, it has to do with a way of life. We choose the way we want to live and at the end of it we can never shift the blame to anybody else.
The thrifty nature of the Chinese has led them into extensive research and experimentation over the years so that today nobody else in the world can produce stuff more cheaply than the Chinese. You need to be a business-person who can grasp numbers quickly to fully understand the implications of that single attribute in any enterprise.
Still let me break it down into just one real-life example I witnessed with my own eyes. Chinese road construction companies have won every single competitive tender fairly awarded on these shores. No other country in the world is able to match their amazingly low quotes. In mid 2000 I watched a Chinese road-building effort along Nairobi’s Ronald Ngala street and noticed that as they dug up the old road they saved a significant amount of the rabble and recycled it. Incidentally that stretch of road still looks pretty good today—years after completion.
This thing of living our lives for other people is very costly because before we do anything we have to analyze what the neighbours/our friends will say or think. The Chinese entered the export market and kept at it even when the world joked about their poor quality. Indeed people have been laughing for decades about Chinese quality and I know many Kenyans who will still not touch anything Chinese only that the joke is on them because over 80 per cent of the parts in the expensive laptop they carry all over the place are Chinese.
What has stopped you from doing some daring things on the business front. Daring is probably not the word because the financial risk has not been the issue, rather it has been the possibility of failure. How far would you have been today if you had dived into the venture failed a few times, learned some key lessons and ended up with a multi-million shilling break-through?
The Chienese stuck in the export market with their cr***y quality and in the process learnt tons of things that the rest of the world will take another two decades at the very minimum to even begin to grasp.
Which brings us to the other important Chinese secret; FOCUS. When thye start a venture they are so focused that it becomes their way of life. Even their leisure time is spent ‘having fun” with their product. I saw the Chinese idea of having fun with their product in the famous Kariakoo market in Dar-es-salaam. This Chinese CEO and a colleague started walking around the market literally hawking their product directly to retail buyers. This is an excellent way to learn very important lessons about your product and who your customers really are. My attention was attracted to this incident by the fact that the Tanzanians missed the point completely and were up in arms complaining about how foreigners were now even taking over their “hawking’ jobs and were wondering who issued the work permits to the Chinese to allow them to compete with their local hawkers.
Another fascinating thing about the Chinese entrepreneur is that they will never shut down a business. Their frugal ways allow them to keep a loss making business running until the day when that business has no option but to start returning a profit. Chinese restaurants are a good example of this. They open and keep on operating with empty tables every day for a very long time until the day patrons get so sick of seeing it around that they decide to walk in for a meal.
There is an interesting aside to this story that I cannot resist telling.
The Chinese are now the second largest consumers of oil in the world and their government is not happy with the role oil plays in easily destabilizing whole economies the minute some Aran somewhere sneezes. And their response is to limit the dependence of their economy on oil. As you read this the Chinese are building a nationwide industry around electric vehicles. This new type of car, powered not by internal-combustion engines but by batteries, power electronics and electric motors, plays to the strengths China has gained in consumer electronics over the past decades. The Chinese have set a goal to become the number one producer of electric cars by the end of this year.