Lost in Translation: Culture and Strategy

Ming-Jer Chen and Yi Ping Chan

In Beijing, Jiancheng Zhang had successfully grown several Chinese-English bilingual preschools. When he brought the idea to the U.S. with the aim of replicating the schools, he hired an American contractor to build them; though the contractor was more expensive than a Chinese counterpart who had been recommended, he theorized that a local might have more sway with officials who oversaw the permitting process, which may make the process more efficient.

The work wasn’t complete until six months into the school year. Losses amounted to about $1 million, considering extra construction costs and lost revenue due to the delay.

If Zhang had hired an “ambicultural” consultant from the Chinese-American community, who understood how both cultures worked, that person could have provided insight into the local market, hiring, and realistic time and cost expectations. Such parts of the project are affected by culture — a vital part of both strategic thinking and execution.

Learn more about how integral culture is to strategy in Darden Professor Ming-Jer Chen and visiting lecturer Yi Ping Chan’s article “Lack of Cultural Fluency Set Back Construction of a Bilingual School,” in the Darden School of Business/Washington Post “Case in Point” series.

About the Faculty

Ming-Jer Chen

Chen is a leading authority in strategic management, a field that helps companies align corporate policies and resources with strategic priorities. He is recognized for his pioneering work in competitive dynamics — how firms compete and collaborate worldwide — and ambicultural management — how to integrate the best aspects of... Learn More