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The Tibetan business culture

As mentioned above, the Tibetan business culture originates in the caravan trading tradition. These traders were situated quite high in the social hierarchy. They travelled thousands of kilometers to the Chinese or Indian lowlands to sell Tibetan products like wool and rare plants or mushrooms for medical use; they came back with tea and other goods which were not produced in the Tibetan areas.

When such caravans arrived in a Tibetan town, the traders could sell their goods almost immediately. What is more, they were often the only sources of information about the outside world. Their status was therefore quite different from retail traders in Europe, the Chinese lowlands and most other culture on earth, where peddlers and owners of small shops were in fierce competition one against another and had to do their best to attract and satisfy customers.

With today's modern transport infrastructure, bringing goods from far away is not a heroic deed anymore. Obviously, in modern societies, the work of retail traders consists mainly in serving their customers, which is not always a pleasant activity. Tibetan entrepreneurs seem to have a hard time to adjust to this change in social status.

Most of them still consider that building up a network of business relations is the essence of their trade. They will naturally tend to travel a lot and have long talks with people from their network in comfortable tea houses. However, in modern business, retailers do not even have to travel; quite often, salesmen from wholesale traders will come to their shops to sell their goods. This is of course not necessarily true for very small shops with a low turnover, but Tibetan shops should precisely try to escape from this category.

There is another problem with the doing-business-in-teahouses-tradition: it is the exact contrary of modern high-tech business. Instead of using written documents, email, web forms and web-based databases to manage transactions, everything is decided orally. Distant communication is generally done through voice messaging. Obviously, this kind of communication requires extensive networking, since everything is based on trust; business relations tend to be limited to local communities where the people know each other.

Modern businesses tend to work more and more with Internet. Especially companies working in trade and tourism rely on it for advertisement, managing transactions and customer feedback. However, most Tibetan businessmen make no efforts to master these tools; since they want to be in control of all that happens in their company, they do not push their employees to become familiar with them either. As a consequence, Tibetan entrepreneurs tend to become active only in fields where the new technologies are not indispensable. Obviously, this tends to keep their turnover and benefit margin quite low.