By the second weekend, we have met our old lady—the owner of Liberty Cashew Nuts(LCN) for several times.At first glance, the business seems to be so small and simple that I even got a little frustrated since the measurements we could adopted were limited and neither quantitative nor qualitative information could be obtained. Thanks to Charlie’s optimism, we gradually find new resources that help us to understand the business better ,during which our goal become clear and realisable.
After several communication with Philippine people from both the business side and government side , I was really impressed by the different business environment and the attitude of people here compared to Hong Kong.
People here tend to be satisfied with current situation with unselfish optimism while making much more profit may not become the most anxious and urgent thing. As for our old lady, she did not care much about too minor issues(no wonder she never keep records)and most of her sales were on credit since her customers (neighbourhood)are her acquaintances. The bond of trust and intimate ties in small communities of developing countries are less utilitarian so as to keep a pure relationship, but can be a deterrence for the forming of large-scale modern business. It become clear to us that she only relies on her reputation that passes from mouth to mouth(she sold nuts for 30 years)and never think about expanding her business in a systematic approach. She said she was the only person to sell nuts in this area and gave it the only reason that she had secrets about how to process nuts while others know nothing about it, which,of course,we are deeply suspicious of.
Since we cannot obtain further valuable information from her,we began to searching for other sources starting from the internet. Fortunately,we stepped into the next phase and made progress soon after this wise ”give-up” decision.
The first official department we come across is the Trading Information Centre, where we believed we might get some transaction information. The administer there received us with warm hospitality and even led us to the Agricultural Department ,where we were also treated friendly and obtained the data effortlessly. More importantly, we got to know more about the business like that the cashew processing business was not very technical and is open to all citizens as long as you have the machine — both good news (at least we know the nature of the business) and bad news (Liberty Cashew Nuts does not have any uniqueness). That is when we decided to play a spy’s role and probe the business of our competitors. We knew the major players from the trading center and went to visit the biggest one –Merly Cashew. We were surprised again by the owner’s enthusiastic attitude. She would like to share all the information and even showed us around the processing house without questioning our intentions (we said we were doing researches). This made us believe that “HKU” has some kind of magic that brought us credit and trust in such a small town. We observed that branding, which can judged from the label and packaging, seem to be the only differentiating feature for cashew industries as the producing process is standardized from Merly’s narrative.
Another important source is two other government department that in charge of the licensing and provide help for minor business- Trading department (DTI)& Science and Technology department (DOST). Again, we are welcomed by the staff there and had a very nice conversation. She happened to be a friend of our old lady so she offered more insights about business. When it comes to the science and technology department, which we heard that it only chose big enterprise as their clients. When we were thinking about what kind of leverage can we use to persuade them that the liberty cashew could be a potential lucrative business that should be chosen, they told us liberty cashew was actually on their list as a candidate. They have considered to add it to a new “Set-up business” program initiated by the government that could offer a series of assistance in terms of processing ,labeling , packaging and financing , but they lacked information and can not get in touch with the owner conveniently –bingo!
All efforts pay off when we heard the stuff from ST said ”they are so lucky to have you help them”. However, the truth is I am so lucky to have the experience to recognize the relationship between people and revise my impression on the government in less-developed countries-corrupt ，inefficient and perfunctory. I have never seen an official staff like this in Hong Kong. Neither will I ever expect any government institution to provide extra assistance or information without creating difficulties. We tend to believe that the stable relationship must be built on mutual benefit and you should never waste other’s time and go straight to the point. The institutions here may be much less standardized and the stuff were not qualified and efficient as in HK, but you will never less mechanical but more humane. Moreover, you will begin to feel that helping others without utilitarian incentives can be such a happy thing. I only hope that such pleasant culture and human environment will not be eroded by the cold industrial machine as the economy developed.