Volume 75
Number 1

Cinema in black and white

Fostering trade with China

Great Debate

The Visionary

Making a splash

Pitts bequest benefits Candler

A doctoral program for nurses


In Memoriam

From the President


Why do Voles Fall in Love?

The Once and Future Mummy Museum

Got bluemilk?

Pop Culture



Fostering trade with China

Alumnus Jason Foster ’91B investigates the world’s largest consumer market

LAST YEAR , JASON FOSTER ’91B and one of his business partners landed in a situation that would scare the chow mein out of most Americans–they were detained and threatened with arrest by the Chinese military in a small village usually closed to foreigners.


Jason Foster ’91B is co-founder of China Link, which gathers information for American businesses with interest in the Asian giant.


"We were in the absolute middle of nowhere, conducting a rural market study for a major American food and beverage producer," says Foster, director of finance for China Link, a distribution consulting company that helps American companies sell their products in China. "We needed to figure out if this company’s products were being sold in this tiny little town, what the consumers were like, what kinds of stores there were. And word got out that there were these two crazy white guys who spoke Chinese walking around town asking questions about drinks.

"We finished our research and were getting ready to leave, and the next thing you know there are ten guys in uniforms standing around our car. They took [my partner] Michael into one room and me in another, and they asked us questions for three hours. Finally, we paid them a fine of [the equivalent of] sixty dollars each, they gave us a receipt, and we were on our merry way."

For Foster, who co-founded China Link with two partners, the incident was par for the course. China Link gathers information for its clients the only way possible in a nation of 1.2 billion potential consumers–by traveling to the country’s farthest reaches, where Westerners rarely go, and talking to shopkeepers, customers, and local government officials.

Foster and his partners, a pair of energetic Americans in their twenties whose entrepreneurial vision for China matched his own, launched China Link in 1994. China is potentially the world’s largest consumer market but also one of the most notoriously daunting because of bureaucratic entanglements and antiquated, disorganized distribution systems. Some manufacturers have even resorted to bicycle rickshaws to deliver their products to remote areas. Foster saw both the problems and the possibilities when he worked for a medical provider in Beijing, coordinating Western-style medical clinics throughout China.

"It was my responsibility to import all our pharmaceuticals and distribute them to three or four clinics," he says. "We weren’t even trying to sell our pharmaceuticals, and we had difficulties [with distribution logistics]. I could only imagine what other companies were going through trying to get something like Coke or Reynolds Wrap to supermarket shelves in China."

Before long, China Link had names such as Bacardi-Martini, Coca-Cola China, Hershey Foods, J. M. Smucker, Nestlé, Reynolds Metals, and SmithKline Beecham on its client roster. Typically, China Link will work project-by-project to investigate the consumer retail market and help companies develop a strategy to get their goods to stores efficiently. The company has grown from three guys living in and working out of a Shanghai apartment into a thriving business with three offices and seventy-five employees.

As finance director, Foster oversees the company’s administration. With his fluency in Mandarin Chinese and his experience navigating the country and its bureaucracy, however, this former Carter Center intern in Chinese affairs often works in the field as a consultant, digging up market information and analyzing distribution problems. "We just kept hearing a lot of companies say that once their product got to China, they had no control over it," he says. "We’re so involved at the grassroots level that we think we can provide that down-to-earth advice on how to get control."–A.O.A.


©1999 Emory University