From Publishers Weekly
Many CEOs dream of tapping the future buying power of China's population, but Bill Gates had something else in mind with the creation of Microsoft Research Asia (MSRA) in 1998. Gates hoped that by setting up MSRA and funding it to the tune of over $100 million, he would buy some Chinese good will and gain access to the brightest minds available to help Microsoft compete against rivals Google, Sony and Nokia for dominance in internet search, digital entertainment and software for mobile devices. According to Buderi (Engines of Tomorrow; The Invention That Changed the World) and technology writer Huang, this investment has paid off handsomely, although there isn't a lot of wow factor to their descriptions of the innovations yielded. After long build-ups on hiring talent and meals toasting future success, the reader learns that among these new products are a Chinese dictation system, a water simulation for Xbox video games and a "universal pen" that can capture handwriting and incorporate it into computer documents. Despite its title, the book contains relatively little on the art of relationships with China, coming across instead as a hymn praising Microsoft's foresight in exploiting early the Chinese market.
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Buderi and Huang weave the fascinating tale of Microsoft's research lab in China, which opened in 1998. They were given unprecedented access to those who created the lab, interviewing the numerous "players" and living among them in order to present a firsthand story of the creation of Microsoft Research Asia (MSRA) and its success in developing guanxi--or skillfully building mutually beneficial relationships, which is fundamental to business success in China. The focus of the book is one year beginning in November 2004, when the lab was at the center of Microsoft's competitive battle with Google, Nokia, and Sony. As China explodes economically, this story of Microsoft's strategy and efforts there make a compelling case study, and this book serves as excellent public relations. As Ya-Qin Zhang, vice chairman of Microsoft China, stated, "Asia will be a key battleground in the next five, ten years. Competition helps you focus, innovate, move more efficiently." Indeed, the company is clearly poised to meet those challenges. Mary Whaley
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