Five strategies to thrive in Asian markets

By Rajeev Merchant ’79

Emerging markets in Asia offer lucrative business opportunities for diversification and growth. Navigating these economies successfully can be challenging, especially when critical information for planning and decision-making is often unreliable, outdated, or just not available. Here are five strategies to cope with uncertainty, manage risk and increase your probability of success:

Preparation: Develop a flexible, contingency plan and do your own research. It requires a 360-degree view from inside the country. Spending time on the ground is essential — read local newspapers, attend community events and volunteer. Stay in hotels off the beaten path. Visit street markets. Get out of the city. Walk about. It’s the only way to feel the city’s pulse and understand what are the local issues and concerns, who are the power brokers, and how to get things done.

Presence: Establish a local presence early. It will demonstrate your commitment and sincerity to local businesses. Your customers will take you more seriously. Your feet-on-the-street will offer a far more realistic and practical perspective about the country and the business opportunities than any research or market data. Network, participate, contribute.

Partnership: Develop relationships with local organizations such as nonprofits, with academia, and business councils. Their perspective and guidance can be invaluable especially in finding a reliable business partner.

Patience: Take a long-term view. In the first year, gain an appreciation of the country, its culture and people. Adopt a two- to three-year timeframe to implement your plans. A three- to five-year horizon will accommodate inevitable setbacks and set the stage for initial success. Japanese plans often span decades demonstrating their intent and resolve. Adapt, be flexible, improvise.

Perseverance: Emerging markets are, by definition, dynamic and evolving. As you implement your plans, even if you only achieve one thing each day you will be ahead of the game.

Rajeev Merchant ’79 is co-author of “The New Asia: Business Strategies for the Economic Region That Is Shaking Up the World” (Praeger, June 30, 2013). Learn more about the book at Merchant is also the founder of a Singapore-based consulting firm called the Asia Advisory Group, which specializes in emerging economies and frontier markets. Photo caption: Rajeev Merchant, right, and David James are co-authors of “The New Asia.”

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