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.
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.
Business Maharajas (1996) is a book by Dr. Gita Piramal about seven Indian business moguls. Dr. Piramal introduces us to the life and works of Dhirubhai Ambani, Rahul Bajaj, Aditya Birla, R. P. Goenka, Brij Mohan Khaitan, Bharat & Vijay Shah, and Ratan Tata. These men either founded or succesfully managed some of independent India’s biggest business groups. The book discusses the challenges these business leaders confronted in managing their empires and makes an effective argument for why all Indians need to appreciate the success of these moguls who succeeded despite tremendous odds against them.
Gita Piramal is a PhD in business history, but it is her affiliation with a leading Indian business family that allows her an insider view into the lives of these business leaders. Her insider status is apparent in the book. Professor Piramal has trouble acknowleding and presenting the “dark side” of any of the business leaders in her book. This is not a shortcoming in itself, if Dr. Piramal acknowledged her privileged insider status upfront. Other than the obvious issue of bias, I was also surprised that Dr. Piramal avoided a discussion of why Indian business moguls have generally ignored or overlooked overseas expansion, unlike business people from U.S., Europe, and even China who have been more willing to and succeeded in expanding their business abroad.
The book is a good read. Dr. Piramal has a story-telling writing style that keeps the reader engaged by presenting interesting, if not always critically important, information on her subjects. Certainly worth reading, especially if you are considering doing business in India or with any of the companies discussed in the book.