How to Succeed with your China Joint Venture

According to a recent McKinsey article, Avoiding blind spots in your next joint venture, “even joint ventures developed using familiar best practices can fail without cross-process discipline in planning and implementation.” According to McKinsey’s own studies, joint ventures succeed only around half the time, even though JV best practices are well known:

When we interviewed senior JV practitioners in 20 S&P 100 companies—with combined experience evaluating or managing more than 250 JVs—they estimated that as many as 40 to 60 percent of their completed JVs have underperformed or failed outright. Further analysis confirmed that even companies with many joint ventures struggle, even though best practices are well-known and haven’t changed for decades. In fact, most of our interviewees endorsed several that have long been the gold standard for JV planning and implementation: a clear business rationale with strong internal alignment, careful selection of partners, balanced and equitable structure, forethought regarding exit contingencies, and strong governance and decision processes.

Why do so many joint ventures fail even when the Western company knows what it should be doing to make it succeed? Mostly a failure to follow best practices either initially or later on down the road when the company’s enthusiasm for the joint venture has waned:

Our interviewees suggest that in the rush to completion, even experienced JV managers often marginalize best practices or skip steps. In many cases, the process lacks discipline, both in end-to-end continuity and in the transitions between the five stages of development—designing the business case and internal alignment, developing the business model and structure, negotiating deal terms, designing the operating model and launch, and overseeing ongoing operations. Moreover, parent-executive involvement often declines in the later stages. Finally, many JVs struggle with insufficient planning to respond to eventual changes in risk. Such lapses, even in the early stages of planning, create blind spots that affect subsequent stages and eventually hinder implementation and ongoing operations. We’ll examine each of these issues, along with the approaches some companies are taking to deal with them.

The “rush to completion” is usually due to pressures to “get the deal done quickly.”  How can this be remedied?  “Companies must find ways to balance the pressure for speed with the demands of planning a healthy joint venture—especially allocating their time and resources in line with the potential for value and impact.”

I tend to agree.

If I look back at the China joint venture deals in which my law firm has been involved (and lets throw in the Russian and Mexican and Polish and Vietnamese joint ventures our law firm has handled as well, because why not?), I would say there is a direct correlation between the time and planning and even difficulty of reaching a joint venture deal and the eventual success of the joint venture. Put simply, the joint venture deals were completed in one month are less likely to be standing today than those that took three months.

Why is that?

Joint ventures are incredibly complicated. Just by way of one simple example, who is going to be in charge of hiring, you the foreign company or the Chinese company? The quick answer is usually the Chinese company, because the Chinese company certainly knows better who to hire in Dalian or in Wuhan than you do. But then what’s to stop the Chinese company from hiring 100 relatives or from charging mediocre people for jobs at your joint venture? And if it does that, where do you think your profits are going to go? So now that you realize the importance of your having some say in hiring, what say are you going to require? Certainly you do not want to do the hiring, but do you want veto rights? Should you be limited in the number of potential employees you have the right to decline? What about firing employees? Certainly your position will be different on managers than janitors. Speaking of janitors, are you going to want to limit the number of janitors the JV can hire? The issues on control can be endless, and this is just one of thousands of issues joint venture partners should resolve before they ink  a deal.

The more issues on which joint venture partners agree before the joint venture is formed, the less room there is for arguments and disputes and wrenches being thrown in the works after the joint venture is formed.

So next time you are ready to kill someone (i.e., your joint venture lawyer) during the third month of your trying to work out a joint venture deal, just remember that every day of delay is probably increasing your chances of the joint venture generating you money, as opposed to falling apart.

For more on joint ventures, check out How To Survive A China Joint Venture and Chinese Joint Ventures — The Information The Chinese Government Does Not Want You To Know

What distinguishes the joint ventures that work from those that don’t? What do you think?