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The 12 Things I've Learned About Business from Living Abroad

This morning I was reading the New York Times Sunday Business section and I noticed that there was only one article out of 18 that explicitly referenced international business, and that article was really about one Indian immigrant who had made a fortune from starting up two online businesses. That article is not even on the online front page of the business section, but every other article for Sunday is there.

His story, written in the first person and written very well, is focused on what happens in America. 

His name is Gurbaksh Chahal, and he's 26, a multi-millionaire and the son of a police officer and a nurse, and he grew up in the Punjab of India before emigrating to America and settling in Silicon Valley. This man used this experience and wide-eyed wonder in America to navigate through a strategy to offering online services to advertisers. 

At last count, he had sold his second company, BlueLithium, to Yahoo! for US$300million. 

Why do I bring up Mr. Chahal? Because as a recent returnee to America from China, I look at America with wide eyed wonder, as if I was an emigrant to the country. Some things confuse me. Like how individualistic everyone behaves. But, let me tell you, I think I have brought back a few lessons about business from my time there. 

Here is the first of twelve lessons I have learned, which I will try to post once or twice a week till they are all present and accounted for, to you dear reader: 

12. OTHER People are More Important than you and you should do your damnedest to meet them — Learn about other people and their interests, their scope of vision, their background, how they grew up, their favorite foods. In Hong Kong, there is a saying: My inner circle is very large.

This is a different mentality than what we are used to in the United States, where we tend to think that everyone is open, transparent, and eager to help us. In Hong Kong, there is the sense that one must really make an effort to know someone before one can begin to depend on him or her for the smallest of things. By taking the extra time, and by treating them as if they belong in your small circle, you will win some small favor for yourself and they will expect to be paid back in return. 

This may sound manipulative to first-timers in Asia, but it's actually more focused on mutual benefit. We don't have to love each other, but we should be able to trust each other as far as we can throw the other. 

 

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