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The Significance of Shanghai

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I recently had the good fortune of spending time in Shanghai, China through the lens of a new, US-based venture. We were afforded an insightful peek into China at work, China at play, new China, old China. It was a fascinating experience that offered a variety of learnings.

1.  Shanghai is second chances.

Shanghai embodies the potential of China perhaps more than any other Chinese city. Shanghai is at once contemporary, connected, in tune, aware, open, willing, engaged, and hungry. This new reality is all the more remarkable when you consider what China represented for so many years: closed, cut off, Communist, and cheap. Even former New York Knick Stephon Marbury -- who was run out of town because he was perceived as selfish, petulant, and arrogant -- has found new life in China. In March, Marbury was lauded as a national hero in China. Yes, he helped lead his team to its first national basketball championship. But long before that championship Marbury and his American teammate won over fans because they embraced modern Chinese culture. Both are a far cry from what was.


2.  Shanghai is scale.

As someone who typically works on the side of challengers, I marvel at the sheer magnitude of a city with an estimated 23 million people. 23 million people! That's bigger than all of Ireland, Sweden, and Portugal combined! Bigger is indeed a force to be reckoned with. Just look at the numbers. Did you know there are more Chinese learning to speak English than there are Britons? Did you know China will be the second largest footprint for Starbucks in two years? It's no wonder all the big global brands like GE, Coca Cola and Apple are there in a serious, committed way. Bigger can be better for anyone willing to leverage this kind of scale.


3.  Shanghai is momentum.

Word on the street is Shanghai is the place to be in China. What's interesting is you don't need to hear that refrain to believe it's true. You can feel it. Belief is in the air. The people of Shanghai believe. The people repatriated there believe. The people positioning to do business there believe. What's so powerful about belief? Belief is the force that creates momentum. And momentum is the force that shapes reality. When you combine momentum with the scale of China you have the potential for a powerful, global market force that will make Japan's success in the 1980s look like a warm-up act.

4.  Shanghai is speed.

People in Shanghai are impatient. Everyone has a sense of urgency. They cross roads irrespective of traffic lights. They change lanes at will. They will not lose a sale. They seem to instinctively know their window of opportunity is right now -- and they are accelerating through it. There's no reason to believe this mega market opportunity won't be there in the future, but the formation of tomorrow is taking place today -- be they preferred companies, preferred brands, preferred rates, etc. There is no time like the present to capitalize on today's opportunity.

There is a Chinese proverb that says, "Be not afraid of growing slowly. Be afraid only of standing still." It would appear that Shanghai is afraid of neither because it has one thing figured out: In today's world speed matters.

Photos by Thomas Butta