Kellogg Magazine  |  Spring/Summer 2015



Are you Uber-ready?
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How can I help you win?

Pillsbury echoed that sentiment.

Pillsbury’s initial forays into China weren’t about landing deals but more about establishing relationships — even friendships, he said — that would later develop into business opportunities.

It meant taking the time to understand what China was attempting to accomplish and to convince Chinese officials that Pillsbury and his firm could be trusted.

“In that friendship, you have to come to understand what your friends need, want and [what their] motives are. Friendship is about putting their interest ahead of your own. And making them believe that,” said Pillsbury, whose Thayer Lodging Group was acquired by Brookfield Asset Management, which manages $180 billion in assets.

“It’s very different from the American style of doing business. We talk about a win-win situation. In China, that’s not where you start. You start with asking: How can I help you win? If they win, it will be incumbent on them to help you win.”

Pillsbury has been doing business in China since 2004, when he spent nearly a month visiting with government officials from Beijing and Shanghai to explore partnerships with Jin Jiang International Hotels, a Shanghai-based state-owned venture that is the country’s largest hotel chain.

“I didn’t go to China to land a deal. Because of that, I wasn’t under pressure. I went there to learn and see what opportunities were there.”

China has been trying to modernize its economy, infrastructure and services. It has sought foreign investments and expertise to further develop its industries.

Jin Jiang was seeking to modernize its operations, particularly its inefficient and antiquated reservation system, which Pillsbury said still relied on fax machines and bicycle messengers to book hotel rooms when he first visited a decade ago.

The resulting partnership put in place a cloud-based reservation system in Mandarin, and was five years in the making.

“Doing business in China is sometimes very slow,” Pillsbury said. “But from that come opportunities.”

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