Global outlook essential to companies of all sizes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 July, 2009, 12:00am

Jia-Bin Duh graduated from the Kellogg-HKUST Executive MBA programme in 2006. Before taking the course, he held the positions of president of Microsoft (China) and president of Cisco Systems (China). He is now chairman of Mobinnova. Here he tells us what opportunities and challenges face SMEs and larger companies in their quest for expansion, and how an EMBA can benefit leaders of those organisations.

Why is it important for business leaders, whether from small companies or large multinationals, to have a global outlook?

Whether you choose to expand a business into new markets or not, you still need to be aware of what is happening globally as eventually individuals and companies from around the world will find you. Companies can no longer operate on their own without competition. Every kind of solution provider, service provider and food product provider now operates globally.

How have recent technological advances helped business to expand into new regions?

The domestic market might be very convenient because of the shorter distances involved, but modern transport has made expanding businesses far easier, so distance is no longer really a problem. For example, let's say you had a small business in Beijing a decade ago. If you wanted to expand and sell your product in Tianjin, more than 150 kilometres away, you might have thought that the cost and time of transport was too great. But, today, they have a bullet train that does the journey cheaply in 27 minutes - it has opened up a new market. Advances in telecommunications and the internet have also created a big difference. You no longer have to read newspapers or watch TV to get information; you can access information and act on it using the internet. Nowadays, you don't even need to pay for international phone calls.

What barriers are there to global strategies/expansion and how can these be overcome?

Barriers to expansion are becoming fewer. This is due to the internet and the fact that there are more distributers and customers who are easier to reach than ever. They can be met face to face or spoken to directly very easily. But the most important things that companies need to conquer are cultural differences and having insufficient market knowledge of the region they are expanding into. They have to appreciate that they can't know everything they need to know about a country by simply making a phone call. They have to visit and meet people face to face. They really need hands-on experience to understand different cultures, lifestyles and consumer behaviour. For example, when I was in the mobile phone business, I had to fly to Spain regularly to deal with Telefonica. I soon learned that every time I made a dinner appointment it needed to be between 9pm and 10pm as that's when they have dinner. I also learned not to call anyone between 3pm and 4pm as many people take a siesta then. These are cultural things you need to learn.

How did your EMBA help you to build your understanding of global strategy and ultimately the businesses you have worked for?

The most important part of the course was learning from my classmates. We had people from North America, Japan, the Philippines, the Middle East and elsewhere, so we had a very interesting combination of local and international business leaders who knew how to succeed in their own countries. When I was trying to approach telecom companies in the Philippines, I got help from one of my classmates. He opened doors for me by using connections and taught me a lot about how the industry operates there. The course was a great way for me to improve my global knowledge and to meet people who can help me and whom I can help.

Why should already successful business people invest in an EMBA?

Just because someone is successful in their career it does not mean that they don't need to learn. There are always opportunities to learn and learning can help people to move upwards or to expand their business. An EMBA class, such as the one at Kellogg-HKUST, is the perfect combination of people, experience and academic staff. This gives opportunities for excellent discussion and debate. By exchanging experiences in the classroom, people can really learn a lot about how to do business in other regions and with other cultures. Ultimately, you earn much more form the class than you pay for it.