Jack Perkowski is the chairman and chief executive officer of ASIMCO Technologies, one of the most important players in China's automotive components industry. He founded the company in February 1994, after spending three years investigating opportunities in Asia and China and before others recognized the significant role that China would play in the global economy. With seventeen factories in eight provinces and fifty-two sales offices located in every corner of the country, ASIMCO Technologies is unique because it functions as a foreign-invested company built to specifically to serve the Chinese market. Under Perkowski's leadership, ASIMCO has gained a reputation for developing local management and integrating a broad-based China operation into the global economy. In 2005, ASIMCO was named one of the "Ten Best Employers in China," ranking third in a survey conducted by Hewitt Associates and 21st-Century Business Herald.
Jack’s new book Managing the Dragon: How I’m Building a Billion Dollar Business in China (Crown Business; March 18, 2008) discusses Jack’s experiences building ASIMCO from the ground up and the lessons he learned in developing the company’s local management team. The book also covers a wide range of topics such as decentralization; China’s different cost perspective and how it creates two markets for any product; intellectual property concerns; and practical advice on how to start a business in the country.
Question: Why did you decide to relocate to China?
Jack Perkowski: I want to do something like a creative franchising. I had spent close to 20 years on Wall Street. And as I looked ahead, or you looked at what happened on Wall Street, I’d seen a lot of individuals identify trends and then put organizations together to get out ahead of those trends. And if you do that just right, you end up creating a franchise. And so, I got at my head that I wanted to, to do that.
And so in 1990, I started to think about what I wanted to do and where I want to do it. It could’ve been anywhere, but what I was looking for was frankly a long-term trend because I said whatever it is I’m going to do, I’m going to do it for the rest of my working career. And that’s what got me interested in Asia and China.
To make a long story short, I started doing my investigation. And I found that because of the demographics that Asia and China have very large young populations, this is what gives them their inherent growth characteristics. So I felt that Asia and China are going to be the story of the 21st century and I want to be a part of it and so that’s what motivated me to do what I’m doing today.
Question: What does an American CEO in China need to know?
Jack Perkowski: I think the first thing I need to do is to realize that the game has changed quite a bit over the last 10, 15 years. I’d say 10 or 15 years ago, China was sort of an interesting market, but it wasn’t a market you absolutely had to be in. Today, I think it’s the market you absolutely have to be in. And I would say that any company today, whether it’s US, European, Japanese doesn’t make any difference. If they’re a global leader today and they’re not big in China over the next 10, 15 years, I question whether there’re going to be a global leader at that point. China markets now become so big and so important and I think what’s happening in China is going to change literally the way industries operate around the world, and that’s the story of the next 10, 15 years. So, what you tell them in that context is they can’t simply take their model from the United States or Europe and expect to overlay it on China. They really need to go in and they need to have whoever’s going to do it for them, they need to really understand what the China market is all about and then adapt to their company strategy or at least create a separate strategy for China.
I think the biggest mistake people make is they say, okay, we’ve got a business in the United States. We’re going to go to China. We’re going to do it exactly in China the way we do it in the US.
And that doesn’t recognize the fact that China is substantially in a different place than the US in terms of economic development. So that’ll be the first bit of advice.
The second bit of advice is they need to, as quickly as possible, develop and empower a local management team. They need to really get very good, loyal Chinese managers that are in their camp that are running their operations in China. Running them, not just taking signals from somewhere else.
Recorded on: September 22, 2008