In the West we say “don’t burn your bridges”
In China they probably say “let the bridges you burn light the way”.
In a recent China Daily article, Heavy Equipment Manufacturer LiuGong (think of a Chinese knock off of Caterpillar) proudly explains how their company, over a 50 year period, leveraged naive international buyers and partners to grow their business. Here are some excerpts, be warned, you will see no sense of remorse.
An Australian customer bought a loader from LiuGong. Because the loader was equipped with an imported automatic gearbox, the mismatch between it and the supporting system caused many malfunctions. The angry customer set the loader on fire.
LiuGong discovered one of its Italian clients had repainted its products once the machines arrived in Italy because the customer said, “the ugly design cannot be changed, and the rusty look is intolerable”.
In other words, the strategy was “get the order, ship some junk, learn where the customer is not happy, and try to improve on the next order”.
I’m not sure if this strategy is part of Sun Tzu’s art of war, but it certainly is commonly used by Chinese suppliers large and small, even today. And there is absolutely no sense of embarrassment regarding the abuse of clients for unilateral gain.
Pretty smart. They found a way for early clients to finance the R&D, yet early clients don’t get any return on that investment.
The article goes on to explain that
“Mergers and acquisitions became a shortcut for Chinese enterprises to acquire technology and marketing channels, especially after the financial crisis in 2008.”
But you don’t have to have a formal JV in place for your technology to be hijacked. Plenty of technology is transferred because naive buyers share the “secret sauce” without taking protective measures like registering IP or setting a 3rd party black box for sensitive assembly. (Click here for an example.)
Video 1: Finding Suppliers
Video 2: Evaluating Suppliers
Video 3: Negotiations
Video 4: Project Management and Quality Control
Video 5: Protecting Your Intellectual Property
Video 9: Returning Defective Products
Video 10: Resolving a Dispute
Buyers are often seduced by the siren’s song of low cost. But after the sweet and temporary taste of low price fades, the bitter taste of poor quality remains for a long long time.
As the article in the China Daily proudly explains, many China factories simply do not believe the expression “you have one chance to make a first impression” because there are so many international buyers (who take unnecessary risks) that if the factory screws up the order, they simply drop that project and go out and find another buyer. Repeat process until they manage to improve their product and production process.
Make sure you or your representative make sure the so called factory is reputable and has experience making exactly what you want at the level of quality you expect.
Know the difference between “factory can make this” and “factory has made this”.
Protecting intellectual property in China is paramount. Don’t be a guinea pig for a Chinese factory’s R&D department.