Here are two lessons about “doing business” in and with China.
The Carol Bartz approach has apparently been to take Yahoo’s Chinese partner’s word at face value and be tricked out of an incredibly high-potential business, Alibaba’s “Paypal of China” subsidiary called Alipay. The company just found out that the control of that asset was transferred away from them back in 2009. Alibaba clearly pulled a fast one on Yahoo – on Carol’s watch. An epic embarrassment and serious fuel for David Einhorn should he make his new large stake an activist platform.
The Bob Dylan approach is to cooperate with the Chinese in order to play – but not to take any shit from them either. There was a major uproar about him submitting his set list to the Chinese in advance of his first-ever show there. Dylan played along and submitted it – but not a single song was nixed. He also refuses to let the backlash against his submission fester in the community of fans he’s built up over 5 decades. He took the unprecendented step of posting a letter on his website about the controversy today.
Everyone wants to play along and make the most of what China has to offer from a business standpoint – but there are rules to that game and general principles in the greater game that must be reconciled. The message is that you can’t do business with China while your eyes are shut and you certainly can’t allow your dealings in China to affect your brand at home.