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PDF The Fragile Bridge: Conflict Management in Chinese Business

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He told her he wanted to come to Changzhou and talk with Rex face to face.

Rex should be holding my hand during these days and working hard with me - not create some imaginary war. I don't know what to do We should be helping each other, and if there is any problem, talk to each other - that is a Partnership! In April , six months before Wang went missing, Walmart hosted a vendor meeting that, when Kasha recalls it, still chills his blood.

Recession was already creeping in, and at this summit, executives explained how the retailing giant planned to cut its costs and prepare for winter: Over the next several months, current vendors would enter a dogfight for one another's business.

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It was a perilous opportunity. Losing meant no Walmart business at all. Kasha was anxious, but he relished the pressure. Wang did not. Scaling that rapidly would cost too much, he argued. Besides, he began telling Kasha, he wanted to retire soon. As the U. He wouldn't send cost data to inform Akasha's bids. The final Walmart presentation relied on guesswork.

Akasha managed to win the business. In September, in what would be the last time he saw Wang before he disappeared, Kasha flew with members of his senior staff to Changzhou to help plan for the massive order. The Americans made a series of recommendations to improve operations: Wang needed to hire more staff, add more assembly tables, and rearrange the table layout so that arriving trucks of material didn't interrupt the workers. The meeting seemed to go fine. Wang expressed concern about cash flow--obviously, filling the Walmart order would require him to buy much more inventory.

Kasha agreed to pay some money up front, instead of their usual arrangement, in which Akasha paid Wang 30 days after product shipped from China. But Wang had stopped returning phone calls or emails, so Akasha had held off sending it. As Kasha emailed back and forth with Yuan, he wondered what his partner could be thinking.

Much the same way Westerners exchanged ghost stories about Chinese scamsters, he knew Chinese businessmen had their own versions, in which the international customer makes an epic order only to vanish, leaving the exporter in the lurch. There had been some strain in their relationship, particularly in Perhaps Wang was still feeling paranoid, fearful.

We were together these week, I feel completely different from what you told me in Shanghai. I feel you are not sincere to work with me, no real trust, no real communication, no real respect, but just things you want Why it happens?

Because you earn more business and money, and changed to another kind of person, self proud. Our happy and easy relationship has disappeared There had always been things about Wang that Kasha had to explain to others. At restaurants and karaoke rooms, Wang always insisted on ordering for everyone and paying the whole tab. He often drank too much, and when he did, he sometimes withdrew into himself or became quick-tempered--he hated appearing vulnerable. He teased Kasha when he tried to learn Mandarin and shushed him when he tried to contribute in supplier negotiations.

As Kasha saw it, the man needed to be in control. But Wang shipped good product, and sales grew and grew. Kasha let him be.

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In , however, margins started slipping, and Kasha did what any American businessman would do: He investigated. In early , Kasha brought Paul Wang no relation to Rex , a Chinese-born accountant he knew in Ann Arbor, to Changzhou to figure out why Rex's costs kept creeping up. Here's what the accountant found: The Wang brothers were keeping two sets of books, reporting fake revenue figures to the Chinese government.

They were using the warehouse's cash flow like an ATM, expensing apartments, cell phones, and who knew what else some reports were blank or just said Bob. Meanwhile, the suppliers refused to tell the accountant what they were charging. None of this, however, was a problem from Rex's point of view. The problem was that Kasha felt entitled to audit him. And Rex made no effort to hide his resentment and scorn.

Later in the summer, when Kasha and Paul Wang accompanied Rex on supplier meetings, Rex openly derided them before their vendors. Rex's feelings were so strong that eventually, Kasha felt as if he were the one who had made a hash of things. Kasha didn't understand how businesses ran in China.

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Perhaps these sloppy cash deals and these inconsistent records were common. Perhaps Kasha had humiliated Wang over behavior that was entirely typical. Whoever was to blame, Kasha had been in a bind ever since. If he crossed Wang, Wang might lose it and vindictively shut down the warehouse--killing his entire supply chain in the process. Wang seemed capable of that.

Kasha decided that he would try to reassure Wang that he trusted him, deal with the messy operation as best he could, and urge Wang toward a speedy retirement. Once Wang was gone, Kasha would run things his way.

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The next day, the next week, the next month, they heard nothing. Kasha knew that if he built a parallel supply chain, Wang would be furious. But when he walked into the Bai-Shi Craft warehouse in January , he knew it was a move he must make.

All around him, heaps of unpacked products slumped against the walls. In the middle of the floor, there were seven assembly tables in motion--not the 12 that were needed to fill the Walmart order. Wang had ignored Kasha's recommendations. He had not been seen in weeks. For a week, Kasha came to the warehouse early every morning, hoping Wang would show. Business then called him back to Shanghai, but he returned regularly to the warehouse over the next month. Surrounded by the overwhelming stacks of trinkets, listening to the sounds of clinking glass as the work crews scooped gems out of sacks and into the polypropylene pouches marked for Walmart, Kasha wondered what he would say to Wang when he finally did appear.

He had once thought of Wang as a dear friend, even as his doubts cropped up and his employees expressed their concerns. Now, Kasha just wanted to survive this relationship. On February 17, a bedraggled Rex Wang walked into the warehouse. He had bags under his eyes. A cigarette dangled from his lips. He wanted to talk. Kasha and Wang sat down in a Bai-Shi Craft conference room, and Wang rehashed recent events from his point of view. Kasha had refused to trust him; he had stuck his nose into things he didn't understand. Moreover, Wang said, doubling the business with Walmart was foolish.

Wang didn't have the money to pay suppliers for the amount of goods he needed to order, and Akasha in the U. So why should he expand operations? Why should he put up his own money? Why should he even write back? Kasha listened. Now it was his turn to wear the smiling mask. So, Kasha asked, what could he do to make things work?

Kasha agreed to all of it. Soon, he would be able to ditch Wang for a replacement.

Kasha already had a prime lead. Years earlier, a man named Tiger Hou had cold-called Kasha at his office in Michigan. He claimed to supply decorative fillers for stores in Australia and Europe. Wang had immediately dismissed him as a middleman who would lead them back to their own suppliers in exchange for a finder's fee. Every year since, however, Hou tracked Kasha down at the trading expos with the same refrain: "Adam, I am ready.

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They arranged to meet in Changzhou on a Saturday in May. In Hou's black Audi, they drove toward Nanjing. Then they drove past it.

The Audi turned onto a dirt road. They passed rice paddies and a primitive cemetery.