Boldness wins the day in China

As Peter Drucker pointed out, predicting the future is often more difficult than making it. This is particularly true in these uncertain times. The question is: How do you make the future?

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

— Peter F. Drucker

The recent NBA lockout is an example of uncertainty creating opportunity. What is bad for professional basketball fans, television and advertisers is creating new opportunities for college ball and for one Milwaukee entrepreneur in China.

As the NBA lockout neared, this local boy, who now lives and works in Beijing, put together a contingency plan which would bring NBA players to China for either a mini league or a number of exhibition games. So far it has made the cover of China’s leading basketball magazine twice. Who is this Milwaukeean? Matt Beyer, a past contributor to this column.

Matt, 26 years old, is an associate director at North Head, a Beijing-based strategic communications and public affairs consultancy, where he heads up the firm’s sports practice. His client list includes NBA players, Chinese athletes and local and national sports organizations.

In his spare time, he also writes one of the leading foreign sports blogs in China. Accomplishments include: being the only foreigner allowed to take the government’s Sport Agent Certificate Examination; serving as Yi Jianlian’s interpreter, during his rookie season with the Milwaukee Bucks – a feat made even more impressive, because he was a senior year at UW Madison, where he was finishing three majors. He must have liked it, because he is the current president of the University of Wisconsin Alumni Association of China. Between studying two years in China and three at Madison, he is able to speak, read and write Chinese, which, backed by his studies of Chinese literature and history, makes him extremely unique for a person of his age. His Milwaukee connection is through DG Beyer, which is run by his father, George Beyer.

Why list his credentials? Two reasons. Matt is an example of what you need to do if you want to be in China and how to create success in the Middle Kingdom, or anywhere else for that matter. Matt works constantly, and part of that work is making and maintaining his Chinese connections. Unlike most people who seem to be on a mission to meet, greet and drop a card, Matt figures out what the other person is looking for and how to make it happen. As a result his connections, or guanxi, as they say here, he is useful and real, because they need him.

In terms of sports, he has managed to form close relationships with numerous strategic organizations and individuals. For example: Beijing Sports University, by helping them with their Olympic Champions program, which brings Chinese Olympic athletes to UW-Madison for a six-month intensive study program. He created a solid relationship, which was the key to his invitation to take the Sport Agent exam. Through friends and meetings, he has become the agent of China’s premier Olympic ski acrobat.

By advising a group as it successfully negotiated an NBA training camp affiliation, he has been able to expand his reach into the Chinese Basketball Association. Most importantly, he is pursuing his passion in life to be a mover in China’s fledgling sports industry. To do so, he prepared carefully, studied the fundamentals of the country and the industry and worked his way from a corporate PR minion to heading up his own team, all in three years.

On any given day, he is meeting with branded players and top-tier companies, who are looking for him to help them. Job offers come daily. He is definitely in another world than the young foreigners who can be seen nightly sitting at fashionable bars wondering what the future will bring them.

He recently sent me an analysis he prepared which lays out the current state and opportunities in China for athletes and businesses. In it, he lays out the contradictions and trends which are frustrating and driving an industry that is poised for massive growth. It is a stark contrast to the efforts of other individuals and companies which seem to drift into China with little understanding of what it takes to make things happen.

It is not clear that every one of his plans will pan out, but what is clear is that he is making the future, rather than waiting for it.

So if you are planning to make your future in China, keep people like Matt in mind, because if you are not prepared to do what it takes, you better have a really good crystal ball.

Side note:

Last week, I attended two China briefings – one by Stephen Joske from the Economist Intelligence Unit and one by noted economist Danny Quah, professor at the London School of Economics and visiting professor at Peking University. They both firmly assured everyone listening that China’s economic fundamentals were so strong and long-term that there was no need to worry about minor short-term issues like housing bubbles. They both dismissed questions about how it is possible that a person who earns a median income in Beijing could ever afford a median house that costs 27 times their income. It seems the last time I heard this type of assurance was during the lead up to the mortgage crisis.

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