Maria Korolov – Trombly International

 Maria Korolov

While doing research on conducting business in Shanghai, I came across Maria Korolov’s post, How to Become a Shanghai Entrepreneur.  Not only did Maria’s article lead to lots of useful information concerning the entrepreneur community here in Shanghai, but it introduced me to Maria herself.

Maria Korolov (formerly Maria Trombly) is founder and president of Trombly International, a Massachusetts-based company which runs emerging markets news bureaus for US business and trade publications. Maria was based in Shanghai from 2004 – 2008 and now resides in Massachusetts.

Maria exemplifies the dedicated journalist, stopping at nothing in order to deliver a thorough report. Maria spent a month in the trenches with Abzhazian separatists, followed the Georgian guard as they looted and pillaged their way through Western Georgia during the civil war with the Zviadists, and was twice taken prisoner.

What opportunities does China present for a business that the US is unable to offer?

 China’s economy is growing fast, and many meets are still unmet, offering opportunities for entrepreneurship. By comparison, developed economies are often extremely mature. Any sector you might consider entering already has plenty of established companies in it, and battling them for market share is not easy. To succeed, you have to be dramatically innovative. In China, by comparison, you can copy something that’s worked elsewhere, which puts less of a burden on the entrepreneur to try to come up with something brand new.

What is the biggest impact the Chinese culture has had in the operating of Trombly ?

 Chinese culture? Not much. It can be hard to conduct an interview while the New Years fireworks are going off outside.

But seriously, the biggest problem was the lack of push-back from employees. This may not have been a cultural issue as much as an experience one, however. If I was hiring people in the US who were new to the industry, they may also not be willing to criticize management or second-guess decisions. This is a problem when I tell someone to do something wrong by mistake — or was misheard — and employees have doubts about carrying the order out but do it anyway.

In particular, Chinese students often don’t work while in high school or college, while American students have part-time jobs and internships. As a result, recent graduates from the two countries have very different expectations for the workplace. But it’s not just a Chinese thing. I’ve had employees from France who’ve had a similar experience, since their educations were paid for by the government, and they didn’t need to work.

So this isn’t so much a cultural issue, as a practical one.

From your experience, what are the main differences between managing a business in mainland China and managing a business in Hong Kong?

 Actually, I managed my business in Shanghai, but it was incorporated in Hong Kong. I have to say that everything is easier in Hong Kong — setting up a bank account, registering a company, getting anything done. People are friendly, everyone speaks English, and they go out of their way to be friendly.

Do you have any advice for enterpreneurs looking to operate a business in China ?

Join networking organizations that include people from a wide variety of backgrounds, including local Chinese entrepreneurs. There are many networking groups that afford such opportunities, and you will get a chance to socialize with Chinese people on a peer-to-peer, equal basis.

Sometimes, foreigners can fall into a trap where they see Chinese people as underlings or servants, or explain away employee problems by putting them down to cultural differences. By getting to know Chinese people who are your equals, it will be easier to avoid falling into such mental traps. As a result, you will have an easier time managing your staff. You’ll be able to find out from your Chinese peers whether it’s really a “Chinese tradition” to give employees a month off for their birthdays, or whether they’re just trying to pull your chain. (No, there’s no such tradition.)

In return, you have a lot to offer your Chinese peers as well. To start with, they get a chance to socialize with foreigners on an equal footing, making it easier for them to approach and sell to foreign customers. Then there are all the usual networking opportunities — job referrals, client referrals. And you can trade expertise — you can share your marketing or legal skills, say, in return for their help with local issues, saving both of you time and money.

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