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Winning in China

8 Stories of Success and Failure in the World's Largest Economy

Lele Sang and Karl Ulrich

If Amazon can’t win in China, can anyone?

When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos visited China in 2007, he expected that one day soon China would be a double-digit percentage of Amazon’s sales. Yet, by 2019, Amazon, the most powerful and successful ecommerce company in the world, had quit China.

In Winning in China: 8 Stories of Success and Failure in the World’s Largest Economy, Wharton experts Lele Sang and Karl Ulrich explore the success and failure of several well-known companies, including Hyundai, LinkedIn, Sequoia Capital, and InMobi, as more and more businesses look to reap profits from the demand of 1.4 billion people.

Sang, Global Fellow at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Ulrich, Dean’s Office Advisor on Asia Strategy and the CIBC Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, answer four critical questions:

  • Which factors explain the success (or failure) of foreign companies entering China?
  • What challenges and pitfalls can a company entering China expect to encounter?
  • How can a prospective entrant realistically assess its chances?
  • Which managerial decisions are critical, and which approaches are most effective?

Sang and Ulrich answer these questions by examining the stories of eight well-known and respected companies that have entered China. They study:

  • How Norwegian Cruise Line’s entry into China displays how cultural differences can boost or sink different companies;
  • How Intel, one of the oldest, most respected firms in Silicon Valley, thrived in a country that seems to favor agile upstarts;
  • How Zegna, the Italian luxury brand, has emerged as another surprising success story and how it plans to navigate new headwinds from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through these engaging and illuminating stories, Sang and Ulrich offer a framework and path for organizations looking for a way to successfully enter the world’s largest economy. History can be a teacher, and China, a country with 3,500 years of written history, has much to teach.

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About the Authors

Praise for Winning in China

“How does a foreign business gain a foothold in the vast Chinese economy? In this slim volume, Sang and Ulrich present a series of case studies of companies that have succeeded and failed in the enticingly large, albeit potentially disastrous, market…. One standout portion involves Norwegian Cruise Line, which, in its attempt to tailor to the wants of Chinese customers, went so far as to design the ship Joy to cater to their specific needs. Things did not ultimately tilt in Norwegian’s favor yet the details illustrate just how far a company will go in trying to crack a lucrative market—and how it can come up short even with its best effort. A navigable, sprightly primer on an often elusive Asian market.”

—Kirkus Reviews

“China isn’t easy for anyone, and many foreign players have stumbled. But Lele Sang and Karl Ulrich have done meticulous firsthand research and shown that it is absolutely winnable, no matter your origins or industry. Rather than cherry pick successes, they’ve picked a spectrum of instructive case studies that will help anyone with an interest in the Chinese market to maximize their chances, and they give straightforward, actionable advice. Read it!”

—Rui Ma, Creator and Co-Host of Techbuzz China

“As China’s strong post-COVID rebound recharges its magnetic attraction for foreign firms, Winning in China provides invaluable, practical and actionable lessons for anyone thinking of entering the massive but brutally competitive and politically challenging Chinese market—based on fascinating, well-researched and easy-to-read case studies of success and failure over the past two decades by some of the world’s iconic companies.”

—Geoffrey Garrett, Dean, USC Marshall School of Business

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