Case 05: Managing Distribution Channels in Asia

A Chicago company exports “Thunder Bucket” whirlpool baths to Asian markets. As the firm’s brand new export manager, you face a big problem in Thailand, your largest market. Your Thai distributor has been doing a very good job of selling, installing and servicing the baths.

A breakdown in communication occurred a week before you took over the export department. It happened when Frank Blunt phoned Chiang Mai Imports in reply to an urgent fax from CMI’s managing director, Aya Pornchai, daughter of the firm’s late founder. Aya had a question concerning installation. Frank, technical support specialist for your company, called her around noon Chicago time.

Khun Aya seemed irritated by the call – maybe because it was midnight in Bangkok. As always, Frank got right to the point, telling Aya that her question was answered on page 31 of the installation manual. After a pause, the managing director of CMI replied slowly, “Well, I’m afraid that particular paragraph is not at all clear to us over here. That is why I faxed you.”

Now Frank was irritated. He was already late for his lunch date with the new chick in Logistics.

So Blunt replied: “Hey, I rewrote that whole section last month myself. I wanted to make sure our distributors know how to connect the binary pump with the analog escutcheon. Why don’t you try reading the manual once?” At this there was a very long pause, followed by some muttered one-syllable words in Thai, then finally a busy signal. Assuming it was a problem with the Bangkok phone system, Frank re-dialed the number, but nobody picked up.

Since that phone call Khun Aya has absolutely refused to talk with Frank – the guy with all the answers. Instead she has started pestering you with questions that you then have to refer to Frank.

You’ve had enough Asian experience to know that if your relationship with CMI’s boss were stronger you’d be able to smooth things over somehow. But unfortunately you’re new to the job; you’ve only spoken with Khun Aya over the phone.


1. What did Frank Blunt do wrong to cause the breakdown in communication?

2. As the new export manager, what should you do now to solve the problem? Explain your reasoning.