Age of Pacific Lecture: “The relationship Polygon” by John Larkin

John Larkin is a recent transplant to the Portland area following a 36 year career, with Kimberly-Clark, in banking and consumer products, seventeen of which involved foreign assignments, with postings in England, Thailand, Korea and India. His lecture is really interesting to both American students who plan to work in Asia/with Asian company and international students who should have a broader perspective on the Americans’ viewpoints.

John began his career in 1972 with the Northern Trust Bank in Chicago where he held the position of Assistant Vice President. In 1978 he left banking to pursue his true career with consumer products giant, Kimberly-Clark Corporation (K-C), joining as Manager of Finance for corporate capital investment activities. He held numerous assignments in the Kimberly-Clark’s finance function, including Director of Business Analysis – Consumer Tissue, before being appointed Staff Vice President to Darwin Smith, CEO, in 1985.

John’s international career kicked off in 1990 in London where he led K-C Europe’s strategic planning function. From 1993 to 1996 he was responsible for business development initiatives in India (Kimberly-Clark Lever-Limited), the Middle East/Israel (Hogla-Kimberly Limited), Turkey and Northern Africa prior to his relocation to Bangkok, Thailand in 1996 as Vice President – Finance & IT for Kimberly-Clark’s Asia-Pacific operations. Following K-C’s reorganization of its Asia-Pacific region, John relocated Seoul, South Korea in 2003 as Vice President – Finance, North Asia and Asia-Pacific IT. He subsequently moved to New Delhi, India in 2007 where he served as Vice President, Partner Relationship Management, overseeing Kimberly-Clark’s ambitious foray into the world of outsourcing involving simultaneous go-lives of five functional towers.

Throughout his career with Kimberly-Clark Mr. Larkin was at the forefront of strategic initiatives including the re-assessment of K-C’s tissue industry presence leading to the revamping of its flagship KLEENEX® brand, rollout of K-C’s premier HUGGIES® diapers in Europe, joint venture development in the Subcontinent and Middle East, and the expansion of Kimberly-Clark’s presence throughout Asia-Pacific.

In his lecture, John advised many crucial points (and all is so true) for creating a good business relationship with Asian partners.

– First, in most Asian countries, relationship leads to business. The good relationship is always a starting point, a central focus, and more important.

– Second, there are some specialties of Asian business relationship including traditional social and family values, cultural fragmentation, non-confrontational communication style, and ever-present role of Hierarchy.

– Third, there is always the language maze so the Americans should concern that Asian partners may understand much less than the Americans expect.

– Fourth, Asians and Americans have a significantly different idea about contract- while Americans use contract as a definitive roadmap, the Asians tend to use it as a way station on a journey.

– Lastly, John provided useful solutions for dealing with Asian partners; 3-S’s- “Slow down/ simplify/ slang free”, extreme sensitivity, intermediaries, and translate key communications.


In my opinion, I completely agree with John’s lecture. Plus, I would also like to restate a crucial point to deal with Asian people- “Good deals or best offer is not as important as a good relationship.” In brief, this was another impressive and interesting lecture I had during my MIM course. 😀


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Filed under Age of the Pacific Lecture Series, Business and Asia, China, Mao's Entries, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand

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