Made in China: What Western Managers Can Learn from Trailblazing Chinese Entrepreneurs

By Donald N. Sull with Yong Wang
Harvard Business School Press, 2005
256 pages, $35.00

Donald N. Sull is an associate professor of management practice in strategic and international management at the London Business School. In Made in China, he and his research assistant, Yong Wang, chronicle the emergence of eight Chinese companies and the stories of the entrepreneurs who founded them. The firms were selected from four industries: information technology (Lenovo and Sina), telecommunications equipment and services (UTStarcom and AsiaInfo), “white goods” (Haier and Galanz), and food and beverage (Wahaha and Ting Hsin).

Chinese companies face a variety of risks: unpredictable regulation and industrial policy; unclear and shifting property rights; and unreliable access to global markets and capital. This dynamic context requires a mode of operation that does not fit neatly into the management frameworks developed in more stable economies. Professor Sull uses each of his examples to illustrate an alternative framework called the Sense-Anticipate-Prioritize-Execute (SAPE) cycle. Rather than trying to predict the future, the entrepreneurs focus on rapidly responding to and learning from each unfolding situation, cycling through the process faster than their competitors. Although no single move is decisive, over time the faster learner builds an unassailable advantage.

The stories of Chinese entrepreneurs are compelling and topical, and the SAPE framework is a useful reminder of the significant limitations to the predict-plan-implement sequence commonly found in the strategy literature. The entrepreneurial process could, of course, just as easily be illustrated using stories of American entrepreneurship. Bill Hewlett and David Packard, for example, were fast learners who were pleased to tell their story of failure and improvisation to anyone who would listen — much to the chagrin of the business school professors who had invited them into their classes expecting to hear a tale of insightful planning and programmed implementation.

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