I recently went back to the US for both business and personal reasons. While in Los Angeles, I went out with some friends and before going back home my friend insisted that we stop at a taco truck for a meal. The taco truck that we ended up at was in an area that I had not been to in over 10 years, but I knew the area well, because it was off of a road that I would sometimes take to visit my grandparents. Actually I remember it being a very rough neighborhood, a neighborhood which you would pass, but a neighborhood you honestly wouldn’t want anything to do with.
I was surprised that this taco shop that sat at an intersection which was once one of of LA’s roughest neighborhoods, was a cultural oasis at 2AM in the morning for a diverse crowd of young people, to get their fix of authentic Mexican food. The socio-economic levels of those congregating at the taco truck were equally diverse, from high school kids with cars that looked like they only had a few years left, to high priced BMWs.
I remember 10 years ago, nobody would go to one of these taco trucks for fear of getting food poisoning, or become a victim of violence. If you weren’t from that neighborhood you just wouldn’t go there. Now the taco trucks were another destination in LA’s hipster foodie scene.
Interestingly enough I had a similar experience on the same trip, when I went up to San Francisco. One of my good friends wanted to introduce me to another attorney in his law firm. Their law firm is one of the top firms in the world, so I was surprised when the attorney suggested that we meet in the Mission District for a cup of coffee.
I haven’t been to San Francisco in almost 6 years, but everyone that has lived in the Bay Area, knows that the Mission District is probably the roughest area in San Francisco. Sections of the Mission still maintain their notorious reputation, but the place that I met the attorney at, has been transformed into a bohemian yuppie wonderland. Posh coffee shops everywhere, trendy bars with drinks that start at $15, art galleries, etc…
These are obviously small micro changes in my personal life, but change constantly drives the world. I was recently watching a Bloomberg special on Magic Johnson’s business career. Magic Johnson is a much better business person than I think a lot of people realize. He is worth half a billion dollars, and almost all of his wealth is based on his bet that the inner city was a good business investment.
Even after his success with Magic Theaters, Magic had a hard time raising money for a fund he wanted to create to invest in the inner city. People felt that the inner city was a bad investment, and was simply a charity case. These people didn’t have the foresight to foresee the viability in a business model that sought to change the paradigm that the inner city was a poor investment for large established companies. Those that ignored this changed lost out on millions, and some made millions like Schwarz the CEO of Starbucks that recognized this change and cooperated with Magic.
I recently read an article about the growing influx of Chinese that have immigrated to Africa and have become multimillionaires. When I was a kid my only image of Africa was a place where there was a lot of war and starvation. These problems still plague parts of Africa, but Africa has now emerged as a viable marketplace.
I remember also reading an article about the CEO of Foxconn, which is of course the company that manufactures iPhones, and a number of other household name electronic products. One of the reasons for his success is that he continued to move his operations around Asia to countries that everyone thought were undesirable to do business in. He recognized the potential of these countries before his competitors. Obviously, his biggest success was opening his factory in China in 1988, when most of his competitors thought he was crazy for trying to open a factory in a Communist and backwards country.
Even today a lot of people outside of China, view it as a corrupt place that is difficult to do business in. Tonight I watched Casino directed by Martin Scorsese, which is a movie about the making of Las Vegas, and is based on actual historical facts. The movie Casino is also a story of change. Its the story of how gangsters and corrupt local rural government officials colluded together to create Las Vegas. The movie ends with De Niro reminiscing about the old Vegas, and how it has evolved from a place run by gangsters to a place administered by large corporations.
I still believe that China’s greatest impediment to unseating the US as the world’s greatest superpower is the amount of corruption in China. However, as illustrated by Casino, the US also used to be hopelessly corrupt, but the US evolved. China has the same opportunity.
Change is all around us. The unsuccessful lament change. Successful business people look for change, and they successfully grasp onto change before others notice it, and wildly successful people even inspire change.
As a business person I see change all around me, and I hope to successfully evolve my business around that change. I see the decline in the US economy, but at the same time I see the US retransforming itself as a potential manufacturing hub. I see China changing as a place where costs are going up, making it more difficult to manufacture from China, but the emergence of China as a consumer market.