Saturday, August 9, 2008

What am I doing here?

Hmmm... i just realized with all my posts so far, I haven't really explained WHY i'm in Beijing in the first place. Here's the story of how I ended up here.

I used to work for Trimble, a leading supplier of high-end GPS and navigation equipment. I was a Product Manager and one of the products i managed was a GPS receiver (Epoch) built in China by US Grant. I had the opportunity to visit them last November and spent a lot of time with the President, Larry Grant. One of Larry's strongest qualities is his dedication to his customers. He absolutely puts his customer first and will go to the ends of the earth for them. After my visit, we kept in touch and he personally called me every week or so to give me updates on critical items. One of things he mentioned was his plan to hire an American to manage the Beijing engineering staff and drive new product development. This guy (and yes, likely had to be a guy for cultural reasons) would live in Beijing full time.

Well, fast forward to now, and that guy obviously ended up being me. I went from being US Grant's customer to Trimble's offshore supplier. And regardless of where i was, I was working on Epoch. My primary responsibilities here are not to maintain existing products, but to work with suppliers on new products. Trimble refers to the beginning of a new project as the "fuzzy front-end". Unclear start dates, re-negotiations, and fuzzy priorities. A big part of what I'm doing is working closely with the supplier and customer to keep information flowing quickly and cleanly. Both the cultural barrier and the time-delay affect the speed at which both sides can react to changes. By having me here, we have someone on this side who thinks like an American and knows what kinds of questions to ask and how to present new information. We are eliminating the fuzzy front-end, or at least minimizing it.

Lately I've been spending a lot of time visiting suppliers and building relationships with them. It's important to get a lot of face-time with them. If they respect you, they will respond faster and with more cooperation. It's been really amazing so far and i'm learning a lot. Turns out i'm also pretty good at it. :)

Here's a couple random pictures from recent visits.

If you look carefully, you'll see a plate of fried grasshoppers.

Jordan and Mayan, two of my coworkers, ganbei-ing(?) some baijiu at lunch.

This was a very important (and successful!) meeting with our most critical supplier.

Some of the China I get to see along the way.

The more i think about it and get settled in here, I realize I am incredibly lucky to have an opportunity like this. This is what i'm built for. Adventures like this one have defined my life so far. I have never regretted seizing an opportunity to visit another country or learn about another culture. Everyone in the world should have an opportunity to see what's beyond their home land. There's so much out there to learn. And a quick shout out to Mike and Joan who instilled this travel-lust in me. You guys rock. Also my parents for supporting it sometimes financially, but always emotionally.


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