Winning in Asia

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Winning in Asia

by Peter J. Williamson

Harvard Business School Press © 2004, 261 pages, $32.50 (ISBN 0-87584-620-3).

Strategies for Competing In the New Millennium

Business in Asia is booming, and has been for more than 20 years — the biggest boom period in the region’s history. While growing in leaps and bounds, it also suffered through a financial crisis in 1997. After five years of research, international management professor Peter J. Williamson writes that he believes Asia is undergoing another major change that has come about from the current shifts in Asia’s competitive environment.

As Asia enters a new growth phase that will undoubtedly change the competitive landscape in unimagined ways, Williamson writes that a new breed of Asian company is needed to succeed in the region. He explains that this new type of Asian company must combine the strengths of traditional Asian business heritage with cutting-edge global capabilities. To show company leaders what this Asian hybrid looks like and what they must do to build it, Winning in Asia offers them a guide through the major forces that are driving economic change in the region.

Williamson has been involved in research and consulting with Asian companies, governments and multinationals operating in the Asian region for 25 years. While much has been written about Asia’s boom years and its financial crisis, he points out that little has been written about how companies should be changing their strategies and organizations in response to the new realities of Asia as it races into the new millennium. In Winning in Asia, Williamson describes a new set of strategic priorities as well as the organizational capabilities and processes that will help Asian companies succeed.

Focusing on East Asia

Williamson’s analysis and advice focus on “East Asia,” which is primarily made up of the countries in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), China, Taiwan and Korea, rather than Japan and India, which, he writes, are at a different stage of development. Aimed at senior managers of Asian-owned companies in East Asia, as well as the managers of Western multinationals operating in Asia (or planning to enter the Asian market), Winning in Asia tries to help Western multinationals understand the competitive threat that is slowly emerging from local Asian companies and shows them where they could restructure their existing presence in Asia.

According to Williamson, winners in tomorrow’s Asian market will stand out according to their ability to meet these five key challenges:

1. Making a step-change in total productivity. Williamson writes that this requires a new, broader attack on areas of low productivity that were once tolerated during Asia’s last boom, including inefficiencies in logistics, distribution, supply chains, service and support processes, administration, and management decision making.

2. Building new capabilities for innovation. To differentiate themselves from their competition, companies will need to focus on innovation in its broadest sense: to include innovation in all of the company’s undertakings. Williamson writes that this will require firms to “develop robust innovation processes that can harness traditional Asian strengths in rapid commercialization and in learning from the world.”

3. Creating strong Asian brands. Asian brands will need to be able to capture higher value added and build customer loyalty while leveraging “the distinctive heritage of Asian service culture” and Asian firms’ agility and capacity for learning in ways that will “shortcut traditional brand-building processes,” Williamson explains.

4. Extending and integrating their international networks. Williamson points out that this will allow companies to compete as “unified, pan-Asian businesses rather than as isolated national champions or a set of loosely connected subsidiaries.” He suggests that they can face this challenge in many ways, including creating distinctive “Asian-style” multinationals that use Asian expertise in assembling and managing networks of alliances.

5. Reshaping the Asian playing field by driving industry consolidation. Firms can do this by using mergers and acquisitions to move to a more efficient structure that has an improved potential for profit. Williamson explains that firms must approach the problem of multiple acquisitions and their integration more in the spirit of alliance than of takeover.

Along with providing a detailed background on the heritage of Asian companies and how it can be leveraged as a strength, Williamson details strategies that can help companies achieve their goals and describes how modern Asian companies and multinationals in Asia can succeed. ~

Why We Like This Book

Winning in Asia provides a set of clearly written blueprints for creating winning strategies in a region where old habits will need to be changed and some of the adaptations that were made to accommodate yesterday’s Asia will need to be dismantled. By focusing on the realities of Asian competition and the opportunities that are currently available, Williamson provides a multifaceted look at the new Asian playing field. ~

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