Blunders in International Business (1999), by Professor David Ricks of University of Missouri-St. Louis, is a book about mistakes that companies make when they go international. The book is divided into 9 chapters, that focus on specific topics such as Production (location, layout etc.), Names (company and product names), Marketing (promotion, pricing), and Management (labor relations and cultural differences). Two of my favorite examples from the book are:
1. One of Nike’s recent television advertisements “included people from various countries reportedly stating Nike’s slogan- “just do it” -in their native languages. However, one man, a Samburu tribesman, was really saying, “I don’t want these, give me big shoes.”
2. The New York Helmsley Palace Hotel approved a promotion campaign that compared the hotel with the Taj Mahal with the line- “In India, Its the Taj Mahal. In New York It’s the Helmsley Palace.” Now, most people probably know that the Taj Mahal is probably a mausoleum for Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal, not a hotel! So, imagine when the Helmsley Hotel compared itself to the Taj Mahal and proclaimed, “Service and appointments fit for royalty- you- our guests.”
Blunders in International Business is full of such entertaining nuggets about doing business internationally! (Of course, there are some trivial, minor examples too that don’t illustrate the point as much). All in all, its a good book, an easy read, that can be casually read in a short plane ride.
The Asian Insider: Unconventional wisdom for Asian business (2006) is a book related to doing business in Asia by Michael Backman. Instead of defining Asia narrowly as most books on this topic do, Michael discusses many countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, China (+Tibet), Japan, India, and Korea. The book is organized sometimes by topic (e.g. corporate governance, corruption) and at other times by country. The book is filled with interesting and spicy tidbits, anecdotes, and news from all over Asia. The book also includes a section on Islam in Asia, and takes a more positive and unbiased view of Islam than most Western journalists and media.
Despite its strengths, it needs to be acknowledged that the title of the book is misleading as it is not really a book about doing business there. Most of the book is written as an entry-level introduction to Asia for a westerner who is just beginning to learn about that part of the world. It is critical, perhaps unnecessarily, of all Asian countries, whether it is Indonesia, Japan, China, or India. For example, Indonesia is argued to have no right to existence as an independent nation, while Japan is written off as the “land of the setting sun”. China has come under criticism for its practices in Tibet and elsewhere, while India is “too democratic” to make sense as an emerging power.
I encourage people to read this book, not so much for its insights into doing business in Asia, but for learning a little more about countries that they may not know much about. Anyone who is interested in learning about other countries, whether it is Belgium and Australia or Thailand and India, needs to be ready to be confronted with a vast array of information, some of which will inevitably be confusing and conflicting. Michael’s book about “unconventional wisdom” may be a good starting point for its interesting writing style and wide range of coverage.
The Rise of the Rogue Executive: How Good Companies Go Bad and How to Stop the Destruction is a hard-hitting book by Professors Leonard Sayles and Cyndia Smith. The book takes a strong stand against the lack of ethics in contemporary American businesses. It describes, in great detail, the ethical lapses committed by American businesses in the last few years. The authors’ case is that the rogue executive is not an exception at the upper, or lower, echleons of American business, and many sections of our society must accept responsibility in the prevalence of white collar crime. The authors’ critique the role of business schools, press and journalists, investors, regulators, Congress and governments, auditors and consultants, and the larger public in supporting and encouraging unethical business practices. The book concludes with a discussion of how the authors believe things can be fixed and changed.
The book was written long before many of the unethical business practices that occupy the front pages of our newspapers today occured: Bernie Madoff’s largest Ponzie scheme, the fall of Satyam founder Ramalingam Raju. Messers Sayles and Smith provide an in-depth examination of some of the things that are wrong with American businesses today, and many of the issues they discuss apply equally well to businesses in many developed and emerging economies that are imitating (or at least trying to imitate) American capitalism. The one major shortcoming of the book is repetitiveness- Examples are repeated in different places in the book and parts of the book seem very similar to other parts. Despite such drawbacks, the book is a must read for anyone interested in understanding and improving business ethics.
Doing Business in India (2005) is a book by Professor Rajesh Kumar of Aarhus School of Business (Denmark) and Anand Kumar Sethi of Applied Technology Services Pvt. Ltd. The book discusses the emergence of India as “a major economic superpower” where American and European companies are doing business in increasing numbers. It places the growth of India in a historic context, arguing that it was “the very first globalized economy in the history of the world”. It discusses the fight among European countries over the imperialism of India and explains how the 250 years of colonial slavery continues to affect Indian attitudes towards global business even in the 21st century. It discusses how Indian culture and offers suggestions for companies interested in conducting business in India.
The book’s most controversial claim is perhaps the repeated assertion that India should be considered culturally western. For example, on page 38 the authors state “Indians are closer to Europeans/Americans than they are to Asians”. This claim is repeated multiple times in the paper, with the authors arguing that the Indian culture should be considered western, not eastern. Interestingly, this claim is attributed to the now-discredited Aryan Migration/Invasion Theory (AMT/AIT). It is not clear what the authors believe can be gained if it is to be believed that the Indian culture is “more similar to the Westerners than it was to the East Asians”, but it is apparent that the authors passionately subscribe to this belief.
The book is certainly worth reading for practitioners, academics, and students. However, it does have certain weaknesses that reduce its credibility. Though the book has a 14-15 page bibliography, at a number of places it makes claims without attributing them to any reliable sources. Consider this:
During a recent extremely crucial match between India and Pakistan, with the Indian side close to a historic first-ever series win over their arch rivals on Pakistani turf, all the security guards, immigration and customs officer at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport were seen huddled around TV sets showing the game live without a thought about opportunities for terrorists, smugglers, or illegal immigrants. (p. 82).
Clearly, a very strong claim is being made, however, no evidence is presented to support it. Nevertheless, I recommend the book for those interested in better understanding a country which is expected to be one of the world’s three largest economies in the next two decades.
The Coming China Wars: Where they will be fought and where they can be won (2006) is a book by Dr. Peter Navarro, Professor of Business at University of California-Irvine about the intense competition between US and China. The book discusses the relatively rapid emergence of China as a formidable power in the modern global economy and how China’s rise is a threat to the world. He attributes China’s success to low cost labor, disregard for the health and safety of factory workers (and citizenry in general), currency manipulation, export subsidies, rampant counterfeiting and piracy, and oppression of the poor and the weak. It describes a China threatened by internal turmoils (e.g. peasant uprisings) and external problems (e.g. Japan), trapped between tradition and modernity, and unsure of the right balance between communism and capitalism. It describes the problems China faces and its inability (and in some cases, unwillingess) to deal with most of those problems. The underlying thesis of the book is that a global conflict between China and the US is inevitable and offers suggestions on the steps US government can take to win the war with China.
Most experts, analysts, and lay people around the world agree that China has emerged as a global power in the last few years. There is a general consensus that the China of today is much stronger than the China of 50 years back and that the rapid ascent of China is going to continue at least in the near future. Where people disagree is the factors that led to this ascent and the global consequences of China’s power. Professor Novarro’s book is not an unbiased analysis of the factors and consequences of China’s economic success, but it is certainly a passionate and well-written account of why China is a threat to the world. Notably, Professor Novarro is not the only one who holds the views expressed in this book, many China experts, popular commentators, and talk show hosts in the US have often expressed similar views on TV and other public forums (e.g. Glenn Beck and Sean Hannerty).
I enjoyed reading this book and I recommend it to people who want to learn more about China and its relationship with China. I do not believe, and I am sure Professor Novarro would agree with me, that the book provides an unbiased discussion of the various China-related issues. However, I do not think the bias of the author is a weakness of the book. In fact, I think it’s a strength. Professor Novarro has wonderfully articulated the views held by a sizeable section of the US people (and many in other countries) about China. He has clearly stated that most of the research for the book was done on the internet and makes no claim of looking at things from a Chinese (or non U.S.) perspective. The biases have been acknowledged, now let the conversation begin!
The World is Flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century is an internationally acclaimed book by New York Times columnist and popular opinion-shaper Thomas Friedman. The title, based on a statement by Nandan Nilekani the former CEO of Infosys, is a metaphor for viewing the world a level playing field for companies from countries across the world. In the book, Friedman travels around the world and analyzes recent advances in globalization. He attributes the “flattening” of the world to 10 forces: (1) The fall of the Berlin Wall, (2) introduction of Netscape, (3) workflow software, (4) open-sourcing, (5) outsourcing, (6) off-shoring, (7) supply chaining, (8) in-sourcing, (9) increased access to information, and (10) personal digital devices such as PDAs. Friedman argues that the 10 flatteners conerged to create a new, fallter, global playing field that is changing lives of people around the world. Friedman also discusses forces, such as terrorism and AIDS, that can impede and flattening of the world. Friedman’s book and his analysis of slobalization has become a must-read for strategic managers and influences government and business leaders around the world.
A major criticism of Friedman’s thesis in The World is Flat is that it is an one-sided view of globalization, a overly optimistic view of the benefits of globalization. Many scholars believe it is dangerous to have so much faith in globalization and have urged caution in following a book, which some believe, is based on “unsupported allegations” and “interviews with friends” and ” playing golf with rich and famous corporate executives”. Ronald Aronica and Mtetwa Ramdoo have written a hard-hitting book The World Is Flat?: A Critical Analysis of New York Times Bestseller by Thomas Friedman which presents another side of globalization, focusing on many issues ignored by Friedman. They recognize that “globalization is the greatest reorganization of the world since the Industrial Revolution”, and discuss many of the things that have gone wrong with globalization. Of course, Aronica and Ramdoo are not only the two authors critical of Friedman’s ideas about globalization, may other scholars, academics, and executives have written about the “dark side” of globalization.
Despite its limitations and shortcomings, I believe every person who is interested in globalization-related issues should read The World is Flat, even if they disagree with the ideas presented in the book.