Far, far away, in a land where our day was their night, and their night our day,
stood a new factory for Armstrong International. Kangsen-Armstrong's
offices stood four stories tall with a manufacturing plant across the
courtyard. Surrounded by a wrought-iron gate with its own security
tower, it was a sight to behold. To promote the Armstrong products,
Kangsen-Armstrong built its own seminar demonstration facility.
Armstrong International sent two working ambassadors to help install
the new facility. Rex Cheskaty, corporate director of technology
development, and Ed Kirchner, maintenance manager, came to build a
demonstration facility second to none in China.
While Rex and Ed laid out the blueprints to review,
they noticed Mr. Li, technical seminar supervisor for
Kangsen-Armstrong, taking apart the wooden crates that held the seminar
equipment. With his screwdriver he carefully removed each wood screw
and placed it on a piece of cloth. Rex and Ed watched Mr. Li as he put
one wood screw after another on the piece of cloth, until finally they
became bored. Later that day, work began on installing the equipment.
As they positioned the trap boards, they looked for some fasteners that
must have been shipped with the equipment. After searching the crates,
they found no fasteners. They decided to make some phone calls. Surely,
in a city the size of Beijing, they could find something. After many
calls, it became apparent that this was going to be more difficult then
they had thought. It could take days before finding the proper
fasteners. Suddenly, Mr. Li, realizing what the problem was, tapped Rex
on the shoulder to get his attention. Mr. Li placed the piece of cloth
in Rex's hands and unfolded it, revealing all the wood screws. At that
point in time, those wood screws were worth their weight in gold.
The Moral of this Story
"Wise men don't need advise. Fools won't take it." In
China there is no Home Depot, no Builder's Square, no local warehouse
loaded with all of the goodies we Americans are accustomed to. Ed and
Rex are not wise men in China. Living in the United States, Ed and Rex
had no way of knowing that there are few hardware stores in China. They
could have spent a whole day looking for wood screws in the city of
Beijing. Neither are Ed and Rex fools, for they took the wood screws
when Mr. Li offered them. Mr. Li knew the value of those wood screws.
Wood screws are a more scarce resource than labor in China. The
extra time Mr. Li took to remove the wood screws was not as expensive
as most Americans would think. Labor in China is cheap due to the
abundance of people. Looking for wood screws, and then paying for them,
would have been more expensive than the extra time it took to carefully
remove them. When in other countries, remember what resources they have
before making decisions. Don't base your decisions on the same logic
you would use while working in America.
Local knowledge is power. A company can have
all the finances in the world, the best technology, and unlimited
manpower, and it will probably fail if the company does not have local
knowledge of the country of the company where it hopes to do business.
You see, local knowledge creates common sense; no, it creates local
common sense. Common sense usually goes a long way in resolving a
problem. Do not underestimate local knowledge. What seems foolish to us
may be very wise in that country.
Why didn't we use the Yellow Pages to find the local hardware store? That
was the first thing we tried to do. What we didn't know in 1996 was
that there are no Yellow Pages in Beijing, China. You just have to
drive to town and look for stores until you find what you need. Again,
I repeat, local knowledge it power.
David M. Armstrong is Chief Executive Officer &
President of Armstrong International,
Inc., and has evolved into a highly renowned speaker, appearing on
award-winning television programs that focus on business leadership. Armstrong
has been heard on the airwaves across the United States, as his unique
leadership abilities have been showcased in virtually every media venue.
recently appeared on the "Leaders on Leadership" television
program that aired to millions of viewers across the world. The "Leaders
on Leadership" show has a list of previous guests that essentially consist
of leaders that are a "who's who" in the business realm, having all
led major well-known companies across the globe.