MBA Resolutions and New Years Goals for 2018. Or Is It The Other Way Around?

Beef Noodle Soup from Yongkang Street in Taipei

I hadn’t been thinking about New Years Resolutions when I sat for lunch with my Uncle Tom on New Years Day. But, I had been thinking about adjusting my MBA goals as I start my final semester. Let’s call them MBA resolutions.

Uncle Tom is who I go to for insight and practical advice, because he has a lot of international business experience in pharmaceuticals, a very complex industry. What he said to me was, “Phil, I’ve opened a hundred companies and hired thousands of people.”

“The most important thing is motivation, communication, and interpersonal relationships. Especially for MBA.”

I couldn’t tell if he was consoling me because my semester wasn’t going to end well. One of my goals was presenting a strong academic record in Asia to Asians. My semester was mostly a case of dmned if you do, fcked if you don’t. Some opportunities also fell through.

Fall 2017 Didn’t Go As Planned

I was admitted to Kyoto University’s dual-degree program, and then I wasn’t. The plan. Learn Japanese, take advanced electives, get my American CPA — Japan is the only place I can test for it in Asia. To be fair, my paperwork was late, but I had very short notice and was told it’d be okay. A lot of other people also want this opportunity, and I hope whoever goes has a great time!

Elsewhere, I ran out of resources, didn’t have time to process what was going on, and pushed through. I pushed myself and felt pushed to meet standards  beyond what we should do, and I knew it. Good things, and some firsts started, though. We learned what we’d need to do to make positive change happen.

Why is all this so challenging?

  • Busy people don’t have time to process, of course. But, they generally have jobs, which means money to make their lives run smoother.
  • Students have neither time or money. They have classwork.
  • Student council presidents aren’t really considered students. The stakeholder management is challenging.
    • If the school wants you to do something, you’re expected to. When you aren’t able to, some understand. Some say you’re uncooperative. The difference between can’t and won’t isn’t always understood. Maybe this is partly why I couldn’t go to Kyoto. Such is life! Balancing the breaks is part of the job.
    • When students need (or expect) you to do something and no one else is around to help, that’s just your duty.

Stress is a mental and physical condition. But the business world doesn’t like excuses. Fortunately, I’m back to being a student soon. Will being student council president help me get hired? In Uncle Tom’s words,

“Bring it up at the right time right place.”

MBA Resolutions: Motivation, Communication, Relationships

Taking the rest of Uncle Tom’s suggestions to heart, I came up with a few “MBA Resolutions” for 2018.

How MBAs Get Hired. Personal MBA Resolutions by Philip Chang.

I’m a MBA student. Of course I draw diagrams.

MBA Resolutions: Motivation

The Motivation to go deeper into the subjects I need to learn to be more competitive. MBA programs go broad. But to be useful, we need to be good at something so that we’re good for something. As far as MBA Resolutions go, this is a really good one for everybody.

Personally? I will strengthen my quantitative business science (QBS) skills, and continue studying Chinese. Our new QBS professor says, “I believe that if you have heart, you can learn most of it in a month.” We’re going to find out how much heart I have in 2018. And really, if you can reach native levels of 中文(Chinese), everything else is easy in comparison.

MBA Resolutions: Communication

Adjusting my English so people understand more than 80% of the words coming out of my mouth. People love American pop culture, and American English is taught here. But, during higher education, most people in Taiwan and Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong) end up with a form of Commonwealth English that’s spoken and interpreted differently. It creates a language soup that’s not clearly defined — outside of basic greetings and simple conversation.

This is a cultural tick people don’t pick up on until they move here. The phenomenon also isn’t well-represented on maps.

Global Map of Where Commonwealth and American English is Taught

An unscientific look at where Commonwealth and American English is taught. Blue is for British. Americans, we’re outnumbered. (Credit: MoverDB)

Some things I try to promote around this MBA program is empathy, understanding, and forgiveness. In part because of the translation involved when people speak with 1) different accents (native vs. foreign Chinese), or 2) different meanings (Commonwealth vs. American English).

People either just want to be heard, want the straightforward solution that’s hard to come by in a bureaucracy, or don’t want to change (like most adults). Understanding which of the three options are in play, is recognizing the culture and mental model — this might be more important than listening skills.

My senior is very careful not to weaponize his English with his Taiwanese girlfriend. Another tells me it’s a lot about code-switching. I agree. One person’s meaning vs. another’s understanding of that word or phrase.

Weaponizing a language means using words, on purpose, that non-native speakers won’t understand.”

Can’t vs. won’t, for example. What a difference a few words make!

MBA Resolutions: Interpersonal Relationships

Investing in getting to know the people who intrigue me. Now that I have fewer responsibilities flying around. Things minor or urgent emerging here and there. Wicked problems to contend with. I’ve actually met a lot of people. I just haven’t given myself the time to sit down and have a beer with them.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma speaking at a conference

I really just want to have a chance to meet this guy. (Courtesy: WSJ)

Also, my MBA program is going on its first study trip, to China, in April. We’re visiting Alibaba Group, Geely Automotive — which owns Volvo, and Zhejiang University’s Innovation Institute.

But the best part of this is going to be spending time with this crew in Hangzhou (locals, you’ve been warned).


“We’re going to find out how much heart I have in 2018.”


These people connect my MBA resolutions together and make this experience valuable! But now that I’m concluding my term as student council president, I’m looking forward to having more flexibility to fulfill my own goals in just one semester with what I value most — time.

GBC 2017 at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, A Global Conference for MBA Student Leaders


“One of the speakers, Jeff Hoffman (founder of Priceline.com), said it best. ‘This conference is why people go to business school.'” – MIT


One of my MBA highlights was representing Taiwan at Graduate Business Conference (GBC), the only annual global conference for MBA student leadership. GBC 2017 was hosted by Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), a short 2-hour flight from Taipei. The first GBC was in 1983 at Columbia University. GBC 2018 will be hosted by Copenhagen Business School.

GBCers are elected student leaders, mostly from schools in the Graduate Business Forum. These are the top 50 top business schools in the world, now 70.

Each year’s GBC covers a theme around responsible leadership. What are some of the biggest issues in the world? How will they affect business? What are the roles we will have to play in solving them? How is the world we’re going to lead look like? Here’s what goes on at a typical GBC:

  • MBA student leaders sharing their challenges and successes, what’s working and what isn’t, bouncing ideas off one another.
  • Best practices for student government. How to work with administration, alumni relations, extracurricular activities, student discipline, academic affairs, budgeting, continuity, planning, career services, engagement, setting up new initiatives, etc.
  • Keynote and panel session speakers following that year’s theme. GBC 2017 was ‘Business 4 Good: The Ultimate Challenge.’
  • Networking with most of the top student leaders in the world

Business 4 Good: The Ultimate Challenge

For long, businesses have focused on profit and shareholder value as ultimate parameters of success. Instead, balancing a focus on profit with delivering positive impact to the world is believed to be the path to true prosperity. A complex challenge to innovate the status quo in business and economics today – maybe even the ultimate challenge!

Social business is that topic which comes up when we talk positive impact, and it’s often in the same sentence as startups. GBC 2017 speakers focused on how the new wave of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives is also changing corporate governance, board support, and what to pay attention to right now.

CSR Panel at GBC 2017, Hosted by CUHK

Not having a grasp on CSR is a bottleneck here. One speaker talked how in a recent divestiture, the other party required a CSR audit before the sale could be completed. Others talked how CSR is built into new business processes, so we are 1) meeting carbon emission standards. 2) It is integrated. And, 3) not done on an one-off basis. It’s designed into the way we look at and do business.

This means we’re going beyond community service, and into the vision set forth by The Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the United Nations’ Strategic Development Goals. It’s not altruism anymore, CSR is a cost of doing business. Depending on your views, this cost is also value for society.

Overall, it’s quite broad – fitting for a MBA crowd. Speakers included:

  • COSCO Shipping’s executive director
  • Tencent’s strategy director (WeChat)
  • Huawei’s corporate social responsibility head
  • Infosys Consulting partner
  • Head of IBM Cloud in Hong Kong

Also, that’s our OM Share Charging mentor and GBC keynote speaker at 2:04 in this video by CUHK. Meet Dr. Niven Huang, general manager of KPMG sustainability consulting, and one of my professors at National Chengchi University.

MBA Networking Insight from GBC 2017: People in Certain Positions Possess Certain Traits

You know, if there’s such a thing as an archetype of a MBA student leader, it’s here. As much as we talk about diversity, at the end of the day, people in certain positions tend to possess certain traits.

Here’s something Jim Deveau, founder of the Graduate Business Forum, pointed out in his closing remarks. GBCers relate to each other right away, before we start talking about what’s going on in our programs. It just takes a few minutes to meet someone who understands you, because we’re here for the same reasons.

Our programs also tend to follow certain paths, and maybe that’s partly because of accreditation guidelines. We also face many of the same pains. At a certain point, someone comes up with a fix. And because we know who each other are, we swallow the medicine.

My message to other MBA student leaders is, GBC is our people. I left with a stack of new connections — people I’d love to build something with. It’s these people who make GBC an incredible opportunity to test and talk out creative, constructive solutions.

The kind of student leader who attends Graduate Business Conference is someone who offers themselves to others in all realms, to improve the MBA experience. GBC is engaging, it’s thoughtful, it’s a capsule of the best a MBA has to offer. Come meet me, this March, in Copenhagen.

More Photos from GBC 2017 at CUHK

Keynote: "CSR and ESG Governance Matter for Asian Business Competitiveness" - Dr. Niven Huang

Keynote speech by Dr. Niven Huang from KPMG: “CSR and ESG Governance Matter for Asian Business Competitiveness”

Best Practices Workshop for MBA Student Government

One of several best practices workshops for MBA student government

Founder Jim Deveaux with Purdue University, Copenhagen Business School, and National Taiwan University. Carnegie Mellon and York University in the back.

Visiting with Dr. Steve Ahn, KAIST K-School Professor and Founder of Leadis Technology

Dr. Steve Ahn from KAIST K-School with National Taiwan University Global MBA students

Earlier this week, the NTU Garage – National Taiwan University’s startup incubator – hosted Dr. Steve Ahn, a professor from Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology. Just call it KAIST. Dr. Ahn gave a room full of MBA students a presentation titled, “My Journey from an Engineer to an Entrepreneur.”

Before KAIST, Steve Ahn founded a company delivering color LCD drivers for cell phones (amongst other innovations) and took the company public. At KAIST, he’s a leader of the K-School, their 1-year entrepreneurship program.

Even though he has an EMBA from INSEAD – Tsinghua University and teaches business school, he says he wouldn’t have done things any differently. Maybe that’s exactly why he’s teaching. I suppose when you’re someone who’s made the choices he has, it’s hard to question them, anyway. Besides, what’s the point of looking back? His connections do help get companies to bring their problems to K-School for students to solve. That’s a huge asset for any school that stakes a claim on innovation and entrepreneurship.

What I ended up learning from Steve Ahn was his attitude towards, well, everything. I say this because usually these presentations are too preachy, or self-serving. But Steve can balance humble and humble brag as well as anyone else I’ve met. Very matter of fact and open about what the process was like between leaving Samsung to start his own venture, Leadis Technology; taking the company public, and leaving it to take on his bucket list.

He’s basically the kind of professor that can talk you into KAIST K-School without saying much because he’s just the way he is. He also sounds more and more like the world’s most interesting man once you get to know how he spent his time, after selling his stake in Leadis.

  • Climbing mountains. Mt. Fuji, 20 times.
  • Moved to Beijing to learn Chinese at Tsinghua University
  • Cooking school in Spain and France
  • Spent a year as a winemaker in Melbourne, Australia
  • Built his own home on Jeju Island
  • Walked the Camino del Santiago in Spain
  • Returned to Europe to learn how to make his own furniture (see below)

不錯,不錯 (not bad, not bad)。

Lessons from Dr. Steve Ahn’s Journey

Korean companies tend to hire top talent from universities to innovate from within, instead of buying startups and companies — unless they’re in a field like artificial intelligence or dealing with Industry 4.0.

South Korea was able to get ahead of Japan in certain areas, because compared to Japan, there are fewer companies in Korea hiring the top talent. Also, a massive amount of resources, “do or die,” was put into it.

Getting investors isn’t necessarily more or less difficult in Asia, even though Leadis was headquartered in Silicon Valley. It depends on product-market fit.

You want your IPO to go quickly because the window of opportunity to get the most money may close quickly. I always felt this was important because the longer you wait, the more people speculate about your competitive position. Speculation decreases confidence, and less confidence cuts your valuation.

March-April is the best time to walk the Camino del Santiago. It gets too hot in the summers. Great, since I was thinking of doing it in April.

Before the Korean War, North Korea was wealthier than South Korea. More natural resources. What’s his point? The world can change quickly.

Dr. Steve Ahn at National Taiwan University

OM Share Charging Presents at TaiFu Association International Forum

Our team, with the founder and several leadership team members of TaiFu Association

Our team with the founder and leadership team members of TaiFu Association

A brief update on the OM Share Charging team since taking top prize at the Competition of Entrepreneurship for Sustainability earlier this year. The annual competition is a national call for startup ideas that achieve United Nations Strategic Development Goals (UNSDG), hosted by National Chengchi University — one of Asia’s top business schools. After winning, our team visited Europe with the general manager of KPMG Taiwan’s sustainability consulting unit. I have stories and a treasure chest of photos I haven’t organized. In the meantime, 3/4 of us presented at TaiFu Association’s International Forum.

Philip Chang with microphone and clicker at TaiFu International Forum in Taiwan

Mic + clicker, weapons of my trade

TaiFu Association is the alumni association for the executive MBA (EMBA) programs of National Taiwan University (NTU) and Fudan University in Shanghai. The two EMBA programs have a partnership that sends students to each university. When you put together Taiwan and Fudan, you get TaiFu.

But why does the alumni association have to be a separate organization?

I’ll explain. To be an alumni association in Taiwan, its members must be in Taiwan. This means you’re out of luck if you’re a NTU or Fudan University EMBAer living in China.

The EMBA also has its own alumni association. But the reasons why a university keeps track of alumni are different from why its graduates get together. For example, fundraising vs. networking. Helping the school vs. helping each other. We should be doing both, and here, it’s served by different organizations.

Networking is one reason why presenting at the members-only International Forum is valuable. It’s a stage for startups and enterprises with a connection to TaiFu Association — a group of people helping each other, and Taiwan, develop international connections. TaiFu Association has actually become a wake-up call for Taiwan to build its global profile, through its relationships with diplomatic and economic development offices of other world powers.

For this, I thank Mr. Peter Lee, founder of iFoodbank, director of international affairs for TaiFu Association, and an alumni of my graduate program at National Taiwan University for bringing us in. We’re very grateful for the opportunity. Shyam, the man who fathered the idea, couldn’t be with us the day of the presentation. But we have voices and know how to use them.

The OM team described the problem we’re trying to solve, and why the platform business model we propose is compelling. Some key points:

OM Share Charging Logo

OM Share Charging. “Networked Power for the Next Billion.”

  • We use the platform to provide a practical and more environmentally-friendly solution to last-mile connectivity, through a novel distributed power system.
  • Unlike other technology-based transportation solutions (Tesla, Gogoro, etc.), ours benefits people at the bottom of the economic pyramid.
  • We’re not a solution for the wealthy, and we’re not for all people. We believe we have the right solution for the right people.
  • Who are the right people? Those at the very ends of a public transportation system — the “last-mile.” It’s not a sexy idea, but creating something practical is more important for our audience.
  • We now have a certain smart city in mind for a pilot project. It enables the city to potentially claim the world’s first public transportation system to be powered by renewable energy.

This is vague, but accurate and probably all we’re ready to say right now. On a personal level, I am looking to create a system dynamics model for capacity planning. I know, I have weird hobbies. The objective is to anticipate and account for the effects of demand. Also, externalities, which are unexpected results on people who are not users. This leads to better business decisions and in our case, civic planning — because we are talking urban transportation infrastructure.

In system dynamics, no one at my university has active expertise or interest in exploring this area. In fairness, one can’t expect a university to have an expert in every single area. Right now, it comes out of my spare time. Or, I may need to come up with a fellowship at another university. Our journey continues…

More Photos from TaiFu Association International Forum

3/4 of the OM Share Charging startup team from National Taiwan University -- From left to right, From left to right, PhD candidate Tanmoy Kundu, MBA candidates Philip Chang and Brian Blankinship

Left to right from National Taiwan University, PhD candidate Tanmoy Kundu, MBA candidates Philip Chang and Brian Blankinship

MBA candidate Brian Blankinship from National Taiwan University, and the winning moment

MBA candidate Brian Blankinship and the winning moment

Group photo with other presenters at Taifu Association International Forum -- Tanmoy Kundu, Philip Chang, Brian Blankinship from the College of Management at National Taiwan University

Group photo with other presenters at Taifu Association International Forum

Why Get a MBA in Taiwan? Part 1 of 3: Doing Business in Taiwan

You’d like your career to be a more global experience. You’re thinking of getting a MBA in Asia. And, you’re ready to commit to living and working in the Far East. If so, than maybe a MBA in Taiwan is also for you. Because of its high-tech industries and educated workforce, business in Taiwan is a future direction for Asia.

Taiwan (Courtesy: CIA Factbook)

Taiwan (Courtesy: CIA)

Taiwan is like Switzerland, in some ways. Both punch above their weight class.

  • At $529B USD, Taiwan’s GDP is the global 22nd (Switzerland is 19th)
  • Taiwan’s GDP is bigger than Hong Kong’s $309B, and Singapore’s $293B
  • Comparing Taiwan to Japan, it’s almost as productive per square kilometer

I’ll go over considerations for a global career around business in Taiwan. This mostly means its links to China and Asia. I’ll avoid talking about personalities and culture shock. These are big topics and we already know Taiwan is a nice and safe place to live. In this series, I’ll discuss:

  1. The business case for and against Taiwan
  2. Reasons you should and shouldn’t consider a MBA in Taiwan
  3. Why I decided to go for it, anyway

Advantage: Taiwan, Greater China, and Asia


Taiwan has a few strengths other Asian economies don’t.


Getting a handle on Asia doesn’t have to mean going to mainland China, even if it’s the biggest piece not named India. Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore are all their own things, for example. All of them have good business schools. Have their own culture and economies. And, deal with China.

If you’re looking for a stronger Chinese and Asian connection, Taiwan has a few strengths other Asian economies don’t. In fact, Taiwan gets a lot of credit for preserving Chinese traditions.

Taiwan is Chinese without China, but not more China than China. Figuring Taiwan out gives you a framework for accepting China. Relating to the average Zhou. But, this also means they are still two different cultures. Recognizing what’s what is key to figuring out how Taiwan fits in.

Advantage: Taiwan’s Chinese Role in Asia

Taiwan is more Chinese. Waves of Chinese immigrants have been coming to Taiwan for centuries. This is also true of other places in Asia. Singapore is one of the first Chinese colonies outside China. However, after the Communists won China after WW2, the exiled Chinese government set up in Taiwan. They are the Republic of China (R.O.C.).

In some ways, Taiwan connects to Asia in a way that China doesn’t. Japan-Taiwan relations are pretty good. Taiwan was part of China for hundreds of years, then part of Japan for about 50 years, before the R.O.C. came around. Japan-China aren’t doing so great. If you need to connect to the Far East, but don’t actually need to be in China, Taiwan is more business and investment friendly.

Taiwan can also provide a Chinese perspective from the outside-in. There’s a kind of nationalism and group dynamic (thanks, Confucious) in Asian countries that makes it difficult for foreigners to learn what’s really going on. It’s easier to figure out what you’re dealing with when you’re in the middle of things, and not the thick of it.

Your idea of China (and Asian companies) might actually be Taiwan. Major Taiwanese companies include Foxconn (they make your iPhones), HTC (they make other phones, and VIVE), TSMC, Viewsonic, Delta Electronics, the power convertor module in Tesla cars is made by Chroma, Pou Chen Group is the world’s largest manufacturer of branded shoes. So on and so forth.

Growth of Business in Taiwan

Taiwan GDP Growth, 2006-2016

This report by the Brookings Institute nicely profiles Taiwan’s international trade.

Advantage: Taiwan’s Business Legal Environment

More protections than China. The mainland has weaker patent protection, so innovations have a better chance in Taiwan. A typical strategy is a Taiwan company will build factories in China, but keep their most proprietary manufacturing in Taiwan. Bicycle maker Giant is one example.

Taiwan is now more open to foreign investment than China, even if it’s not quite sure how to get it. Leu Horng Der is a professor in the Department of Business Administration at Chung Yuan Christian University.

“In the past China’s approach to soliciting foreign investment was to ‘draw in’ capital. Now the approach is to ‘choose’ foreign investors.” – CommonWealth magazine

Government programs like Contact Taiwan and Invest Taiwan talk up strengths, even if they don’t present many real differentiators. There’s an underutilized Taiwan Entrepreneur Visa program. Taiwan is positioning itself as a gateway to Asia, and is pursuing foreign direct investment.

More freedoms than China. Like, being able to take U.S. dollars out of the country, and no Great Firewall. A free flow of information is important for knowledge sharing. Taiwan is also more open, politically. When Hong Kong’s Umbrella movement organized protests to demand free elections, they were advised by Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement.

Taiwan is also #1 in media freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index. Media freedom isn’t the same as a commitment to media truth. This, and a lot of other moves, are steps in the right direction.

World Press Freedom Visualised

Disadvantage: It’s (like) China

Taiwanese may not seem as aggressive as mainland Chinese. But, much of what happens in China goes on at a scaled-down level here. Let’s just stick to some key points about doing business in Taiwan.

Taiwan talks up its capital markets. However, local accounting standards are very different from the West in generally accepted principles. Capital markets also serve publicly-traded firms — 70% of the TAIEX is family businesses and 10 families run 25% of itThis matters to you because Confucian societies are insider-outsider arrangements, and local capitalism works the same way.

It’s like X, but in Taiwan.” Venture capital often skews toward C2C (copied-to-China) or, copied-to-Taiwan ideas. This works way better in China, because Taiwan has fewer consumers. Proposals like these are easy to understand for practical, less technically sophisticated investors. While innovation can happen incrementally, there’s such a thing as inching the wrong direction.

The high-margin innovations Taiwan is known for require timing, patience, and risk capital. More than what investors are willing to give — but it’s possible. Apple’s OLED facility, for example. Government funds research. Family money. Some set up incubators, which leads to companies like Taiwan Mobile.

Pressure to deliver fast, if it’s not your money. Taiwanese sometimes take severe shortcuts. Like, New Taipei City’s pay.taipei — an online payment system for utility bills. If only pay.taipei wasn’t insecure and didn’t ignore basic protocols.

“pay.taipei app does not send HTTPS traffic, sends plain text passwords and uses fixed IPs for traffic…” – Thomas Kuiper

In some cases, fast makes sense. A lot of business in Taiwan is high-tech and tech has fast product development cycles. However, being practical doesn’t always mean doing things the cheapest way possible. 

Disadvantage: It’s Not Modern China

People say Taiwan is the way westerners wish China were. But most Taiwanese haven’t been to China. So they don’t know. People might give you Chinese perspective, but it’s not based on experience. Taiwan also has its own quirks.

Taiwan is culturally ambiguous. Chinese and Taiwanese culture are patchworks of different groups. However, because of Taiwan’s 20th century, management styles run the gamut from Japanese tactics to Chinese habits to clan politics.

Taiwanese businesses don’t operate like Chinese businesses. They can’t, because the laws are different. You can’t directly apply what you’ve heard about Chinese businesses with Taiwanese businesses. This goes from land ownership to human rights to labor laws. Yes, there’s less rule-of-law in China, though plenty gets swept under the rug in Taiwan.

Getting past law enforcement, China changes quickly, and a lot of Taiwan businesses aren’t up-to-date on new Chinese requirements. Wenhsiung Tseng is with Deloitte China. “Taiwanese employers used to enjoy saying ‘I’m firing you.’ But this kind of phrase can’t be recklessly used in the future…” Now, if you fire workers arbitrarily, companies must pay twice the normal compensation.

Many large multi-national corporations (MNC) are zeroed-in on China. Earlier, we pointed out China simply has more consumers. The population and size makes a case for itself to shareholders.

Taiwan is a good proving ground or staging area. But for companies like Frito-Lay that spent years trying to figure out how to grow potatoes in China so they could sell chips to Chinese consumers, Taiwan’s a sideshow. Big investments in infrastructure and production were made, and they’re staying put.

Finally, Chinese government policy shapes economic development to an enormous degree. Every bureaucracy speaks its own language. In short, there’s no better way to get to know the Chinese government than being in China.

Summary: Doing Business in Taiwan

  • Taiwan is not exactly China. But, being there gives you a baseline and some tools for making sense of Chinese thinking and behavior.
  • The talent, companies, and connections for bringing any kind of high-tech idea to life, are here.
  • The good news. Legally and socially, it’s easier for outsiders to figure out what they’re dealing with. The bad news? You’re not an insider.

I have some solutions for you in Part 2.

Teaming Up to Solve Taiwan’s Pollution Problems: National Taiwan Clean Up Day at Jinshan Beach

National Taiwan Clean Up Day in Taipei TimesJinshan Beach along the north coast was trashed by the time our crew got there on National Taiwan Clean Up Day. So, perfect conditions!

One Brown Planet discovered a full-grown bamboo stalk that we used to load five bags at once. A photo of us with our bounty made the front of the Taipei Times, the most read English newspaper in Taiwan.

Wait, what’s National Taiwan Clean Up Day? This year, volunteers cleared trash from beaches around Taiwan. My American friends who run Taiwan Adventure Outings started it to get in touch with what we have to do to keep Taiwan beautiful. A place locals want to love, and a place travelers want to visit. So, you get a mix of people who come out and want to do something good for each other.

A Little Bit about the Culture of Volunteer Work in Taiwan

National Taiwan Clean Up Day probably shouldn’t have been headline news. But in Taiwan, this is the kind of work many locals full-on dodge because there’s an element of public shaming amongst some out-dated people. Keep in mind that this is anecdotal:

  • Volunteer work isn’t a big thing because it’s still work and people want to get paid for work. People in Taiwan often work long hours and try to spend more of it with their families. Groups like ours do get together. But some Taiwanese also believe we are here because we don’t have families to spend time with. Like I said, out-dated, to the core. Besides, once you get to a certain point in your life — your friends are your family.
  • People may think you’re doing some kind of community service. Did you do something wrong? People might gossip in an aw-shucks kind of way about what that could be. And locals love to gossip about what expats are doing. If you’re as lucky as I am, they’ll ask you directly. I mean that, because I’d rather deal with issues head-on. Give people something good to talk about!
  • Other than outdoorsmen (and women), most Taiwanese go out of their way to avoid getting tan. Some say it makes a person look like a blue-collar worker. Which is a disarming cultural exchange, because Americans see tan and ask where you went on vacation.

Universally, people think there’s always someone else around who will clean up for them — that’s not a Taiwan thing. I wouldn’t point this out if the local characteristic weren’t a little more particular than that, though. People in Taiwan focus more on doing what they’re supposed to because of the rule-of-law that bosses and elders have in East Asian culture. Unfortunately, that also means people leave it to others to “do their jobs.” What does that mean? Someone else will do something about it.

That someone else is us! Because garbage is a problem on Taiwan beaches. Why is there so much trash on the beach? Well, Taiwanese people don’t often go to the beach, so the sands get less attention than they should.

Jinshan Beach before cleanup (Courtesy: XpatMatt)

Speaking for myself, beach clean up is a kind of payback I do for all the beautiful scenery I experience around Taiwan. I don’t deserve any special credit; it’s just being human. And it’s a fantastic way to make new friends who care about the outdoors. Doing this kind of volunteer work also makes obvious the other effects of pollution on quality-of-life. Like food safety, and tourism.

That brings us to the way I see National Clean Up Day. A model for how locals and expats can take on several of these problems at once, through a simple intervention like partnering with each other. We make it meaningful, we make it fun (clearly), and we make it count.

Let’s talk more about these problems.

Singing Garbage Trucks That Clean Cities

Every now and then the Taiwanese show me awesome ingenuity. The cities’ musical garbage trucks is one of my favorite examples. “From Garbage Island to one of the world’s top recyclers, Taiwan (now) keeps its garbage disposal in check.”

However, whatever 垃圾 (lèsè) isn’t thrown away or incinerated tends to end up in nature. If you can’t see something, does it exist? Maybe not. Until the 100 inches of annual rainfall Taiwan gets washes it down to the beach.

Sometimes people go one step further and burn garbage at the beach by digging a hole, setting a fire, and covering it up. Over time, the sand moves, and the trash rises to the top. The ocean also brings in its own garbage from other places. The situation at Jinshan is, well, it’s not great. Mostly, it’s just a lot more of the usual.

      • Plastic (bottles, bags, helmets)
      • Aluminum cans
      • Rubber pieces, gloves, parts of tires
      • Broken glass
      • Small appliances
      • Hypodermic needles
      • Somebody’s hand

Okay, I’m kidding about the hand. But this time, the beach looked as if it was carpet-bombed by plastic shrapnel. New pieces, always surfacing. It’s just a guess. Seems the last time they gave Jinshan Beach a facelift, they brought in cheap sand from the bottom of the river — another place where people used to do their dumping.

Taiwan’s EPA


“Everything that happened in the U.S. in the 60’s is happening in Taiwan now.”


There are still locals who remember when many of these rivers were clear and the water was drinkable. Then, factories and growing towns began dumping more chemicals, and trash into rivers. Two of the assumptions I’ve heard are believing the rushing water would cycle out whatever was unnatural, and that the fish would eat the waste. A two-some of wishful thinking.

People came up with their own reasons for justifying dumping. As an early administrator of Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Agency, Jaw Shau-Kong 趙少康, explains, “When people are poor, their only concern is making money. They say, ‘When we become rich, we’ll do something about the environment.’ But once they become rich, they find it’s too late. That’s the way it always is.

Tamsui River Garbage Dump Site in Taiwan Today

Typhoons clear these dump sites at rivers. (Courtesy: Taiwan Today)

Speaking of, in 1987, Taiwan started its own Environmental Protection Agency, realizing “everything that happened in the U.S. in the 60’s is happening in Taiwan now.” At the time, Chang Kow-lung, a physics professor at National Taiwan University, told the New York Times, “nearly every river has been polluted to the extent that the water is pronounced dead — it is dead water.”

For a bureaucracy, the EPA acted quickly, but by 2000, illegal dumping was still only illegal-by-day, according to this letter in Nature magazine. “Taiwan currently has just one secure landfill, in Kaohsiung. It cannot handle all the toxic waste it produces, hence the government is seeking cash-starved countries that will dispose of it for a hefty fee. In a high-profile case last year, Cambodia returned 2,700 tons of Taiwan’s mercury-laced waste after several deaths near the disposal site.

It’s not as drastic now. Taiwan is in much better shape than the United States and other Asian countries — like China. The government is heavy into clean up. Natural restoration. And getting more serious about penalties. In 2013, Taiwan shut down ASE’s K7 plant in Kaohsiung. ASE was discharging “industrial wastewater containing the heavy metal nickel and other toxic substances into a nearby river.”

Practical Considerations for Daily Living

Every action has a totally unexpected WTF reaction, when it comes to dumping toxic chemicals. In the Kaohsiung case, it was also affecting rice paddies down the river. One of the reasons some Taiwan foodies swear by importing their rice from Japan.

The average person doesn’t have to care about saving the planet. They should care about their surroundings. There are practical considerations affecting quality of life for ordinary Taiwanese, like this example. It’s not like you can throw a couple of magic eggs into a wok and fry the heavy metals out of the rice.


“When people are poor, their only concern is making money. They say, ‘When we become rich, we’ll do something about the environment.’ But once they become rich, they find it’s too late. That’s the way it always is.” – Head of Taiwan EPA


Also, recreation. Huang Tsai-Jung grew up near the Tamsui River. “It was very clean, es­pecially during high tide, and when you dove into the water you could see bril­liantly colored fish.” What stands out to me is the span in which this level of pollution happened took less than two generations to take root.

Taiwan’s iconic Sun Moon Lake isn’t invincible, either. The lake is a much different now than 20 years ago, because of fertilizer run-off. Sun Moon Lake is still a beautiful lake nestled in the central mountains. But tourists like myself are figuring out the bureau sometimes uses old photos. Good thing people have Instagram!

Tacos, Corona, and Clean Up! Or, How to Attract Tourists

Taiwan is constantly asking itself what it can do to bring more travelers. It’s a big question that deserves more than this paragraph, but the simplest thing everyone can do is to clean up after themselves.

When we were done, Jinshan Beach became a little more like the kind of beach that looks clean, not just from afar. On a good day, surfers come here, looking for an under-the-radar cove. There are a lot of positives to having surfers around. They clean up after themselves (usually). They’re friendly. They bring friends. And they tend to be Westerners, whom Taiwanese love to see.

In fact, I’m pretty sure if you told the local residents that to draw more Western tourists, all you had to do was: 1) Clean up the beach, and 2) Open a tacos and Corona stand, they’d be on it.

So, Jinshan and a lot of other lightly populated areas like it has the potential for much more casual tourism. Only if people take better care of the land.

Jinshan Beach Bridge in Taiwan

The bridge to Jinshan Beach. In the back, you can see Yehliu Geopark.

Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau kind of already knows this.

Taoyuan International Airport greets travelers with beautiful large format images of some of Taiwan’s statement destinations. Many of the more popular stops are starting to become overrun by trash. Same as in every country, but in Taiwan, it’s lately gotten worse. A combination of having a reputation for beautiful scenery, and a reputation for low cost of traveling. You end up having to go further out – like Hehuanshan – to get to the good stuff.

For Taiwan to stay special, the most popular hikes can’t involve colonies of fleas at the summit, because hikers are leaving their garbage behind. It’s normal to find garbage at the top of many California mountains, but you shouldn’t find it at Yangmingshan Mountain, if we’re assuming Taiwan’s goal is to bring in more foreign visitors. Isn’t it?

No one comes to Taiwan to see the garbage. Taiwan is still much, much cleaner than many other places in Asia, but those places don’t have the same reputation Taiwan has for scenery. Making Taiwan a more beautiful place to live and visit is a project locals and expats need to continue working on.

If you’d like to join the next beach clean up, Contact Me or TAO! They’re also running a TravelStarter campaign to raise funds for a 12-passenger van, in case you’re feeling generous!

Jinshan Beach Surf Scene

Jinshan Beach, after the clean up

Winning the Top Prize at the Competition of Entrepreneurship for Sustainability

Our team from National Taiwan University (NTU) won the top prize at the 2016-17 Competition of Entrepreneurship for Sustainability. The contest is to create profitable businesses that achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Our concept, OM Share Charging, is a platform business model targeting the light electric vehicle (LEV) industry with a battery exchange system.

OM Share Charging Team at Competition of Entrepreneurship for Sustainability

With Dr. Niven Huang, GM of KPMG Sustainability Consulting. (Left to right, R. Shyam Shankar, Dr. Huang, Tanmoy Kundu, Philip Chang, Brian Blankinship)

I’d like to tell you more about plans for OM, but there’s still a lot of work ahead of us. Also, Shyam fathered the idea (I took on the finance and PR roles). For now, we’re spending weekends absorbing an elective course at National Chengchi University on sustainability practices in European industries, before flying to Europe in April to see these in action. Our prize covers the trip and the course to Italy, Switzerland, and France. In broad strokes:

  • We are utilizing the unique capabilities of Taiwan technology partners to grow the LEV industry. This is good for the environment, the future of transportation, and the Taiwanese economy.
  • Our business model benefits all our stakeholders. Including, those at the bottom of the economic pyramid.
  • The pilot we propose targets a smart city, and provides last-mile connectivity to help complete the city’s vision. I know that’s vague. It’s simply too soon to say more. Stay tuned.
  • OM fulfills five of the United Nations’ 17 SDGs. Good Health, Renewable Energy, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption, and Climate Action.
  • I’ll need one hell of a refresher course in French before we fly over. Merde.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Why Should You Sign Up for the ‘Competition of Entrepreneurship for Sustainability’

Networking! You’ll meet entrepreneurial young people from other universities who are interested in business and sustainability. At this moment in history, governments, companies, and citizens are aligned on the importance of taking care of the environment.

Business Plan. Get more experience putting together a business plan and refining it. This is a useful skill whether you start a company, because you’ll also use it to create any kind of business proposal. Also, Taiwan has a lot to offer. You’ll begin realizing it a little more when you start looking for ways Taiwan can produce sustainable businesses.

Industry Connections. The Competition of Entrepreneurship for Sustainability does an impressive job of bringing together executives to be judges and/or serve as consultants to the teams. A partial list of the people we met include:

Leaders from KPMG’s Sustainability Consulting practice, KPMG Transaction Services, Delta Electronics (One of Tesla’s OEMs), Delta Electronics Foundation, Ford Lio Ho Motor, Leopard Mobile, Ogilvy, HSBC, as well as several venture capitalists, chief strategy and chief technology officers.

In other words, these are the people I came to Taiwan hoping to meet.

Competition of Entrepreneurship for Sustainability Taiwan Photo Collage

The Big Prize

OM Share Charging Logo

First prize is more work! Such is life and yes, if you win, it means you’ll have more work to do to prepare for the European trip.

  • Learning about the companies you’ll visit
  • Researching their strategies and reading their sustainability reports
  • Reading industry reports from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development on current trends
  • Refining your business plan into something for sharing

And the fun stuff, too. Checking out what each city has to offer… A few days of tourism…

But, the learning opportunity is unique. The class is taught by National Chengchi University professors and professionals, like Dr. Huang. You travel with them. And then you spend a few weeks meeting the executives who are actually making these strategies happen, at company headquarters. The knowledge and connections is what I really want a MBA education to be like, and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to being in the same room as these industry leaders.

April 1. See you in Europe.