Alan Robinson

Photo by Paul Docktor M.D.

Photo by Paul Docktor M.D.

Alan Robinson, Vice-President/Research Analyst, RBC Wealth Management & Capital Markets, joined RBC Wealth Management in 2006 as a regional equity analyst based in Seattle. He now co-manages the firm’s guided portfolio of international stocks that trade on U.S. exchanges.

Robinson sits on RBC Wealth Management’s Global Portfolio Advisory Committee (GPAC), which provides strategic analysis of financial markets and guidance on asset allocation and portfolio construction. As a member of the committee, Robinson is responsible for currency strategy and market commentary. He is also a member of the firm’s tactical portfolio and global stock portfolio committees. He speaks widely on a range of economic issues, as well as on domestic and international stock market strategy.

A 25-year veteran of the financial markets, Robinson has worked in London and Hong Kong where he traded currency and credit derivatives. He has worked in Microsoft’s treasury department, and prior to joining RBC was the director of research for Seattle-based investment bank Delafield Hambrecht Inc.

Robinson received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Imperial College, London, and an M.B.A. from the University of Washington, Seattle.

What You Missed: The Jazz of Negotiation

Michael Wheeler started with a challenge. He didn’t want a passive audience or polite nods. He wanted to debate. He wanted to engage. He wanted to win us over despite our objections. Michael made the case that, like jazz and military battles, negotiation cannot be scripted. On the surface, military strategy seems to be a better comparison. Two parties on opposite sides of the boardroom compares well to two armies on the opposite side of a battlefield. Both are striving to win a battle of sorts. On the surface, jazz and negotiation seem to be disparate topics. What could jazz have in common with two people talking about a business deal? As the author of The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic WorldMichael was more than prepared to explain. He started with jazz.

The Jazz of Negotiation

Michael started with two ideas about paths to successful negotiation. One focused on working towards an agreement, while the other focused on starting with disagreement. Michael compared both to attempting to be puppet masters in a fluid discussion, noting that each side influences the other side at each step. He concluded that improvising agreement is similar to musicians improvising jazz.Michael discussed three principles from jazz that apply to negotiation:

  • Paying heed or deep listening
  • Minimal structures
  • Provocative competence/stirring things up

Paying heed goes past active listening. To succeed, you must quiet your mind and take in what the other party is really saying. This makes sense. You can’t negotiate if you don’t understand the other side’s positions, desires and must haves. Minimal structures allow you to improvise and work towards an agreement. In his book, Michael describes provocative as “voicing a novel idea or being more or (less) confrontational than usual.”  In the talk, he described people breaking patterns through humor or through provocative questions.

Military Strategy and Negotiation

In comparing negotiation to military strategy, Michael noted that preparation is key. Good preparation can decide a battle,  but once you engage, you have to adapt your plan according to the reality on the ground including your opponent’s moves. Michael went on to compare negotiation to military strategy. A military strategist named John Boyd studied the air battles of the Korean War. Despite being outclassed in speed, altitude and armament, American planes were winning dogfights against Russian MiGs 9 to 1. John Boyd concluded that the American planes were winning because they offered more situational awareness and agility. John Boyd developed a model of interaction called the OODA loop, which is, “Observing, Orienting, Deciding and Acting.” John Boyd theorized that the person cycling through this loop faster would win an encounter. Observing implies being aware of the other side and orienting suggests incorporating this awareness into your decision and action. Michael concluded that just as the OODA loop helped pilots in combat, it will help you succeed in negotiations.

Adapting to Reality

To conclude his presentation, Michael quoted Lakdar Brahimi, an adviser for the United Nations. “Keep an open mind and be ready to change and adapt to the situation. Don’t ask reality to conform to your blueprint but transform your blueprint to adapt to reality.” After the presentation, Michael raffled off several copies of his book. I was one of the lucky winners. Towards the end of the evening, I was talking to another gentleman who noted that he’d rarely negotiated for anything in his life. At first, I took this statement at face value. As I read Michael’s book, I have come to believe that this gentleman underestimated himself. I find myself looking back at different interactions and realizing that I was negotiating and could have done better. I am finding that just as Michael challenged us to a debate, his book challenges us to think. That’s not a bad thing in a presentation or a book.

What are your thoughts? Did you enjoy the presentation? Comment below!

Here’s what you missed at the business in China event.


Last Thursday, Colorado State University’s Confucius Institute hosted IBCircle for a dinner and discussion on business in China. I was privileged that IBCircle President, Maggie Fouquet, gave me the opportunity to facilitate the discussion. I really enjoyed the event and found that IBCircle has a deep bench when it comes to business in China.

We started the business discussion with an overview of 3 common areas that businesses struggle in China:

  • Negotiating a business deal
  • Manufacturing in China to sell goods in the US
  • Moving manufacturing to China

The discussion opened up to other topics and we discussed:

  • Protecting IP while doing business in China
  • The Chinese political system.

Negotiating a Business Deal

American company is negotiating an agreement to manufacture and sell a product in China.  They were introduced to a potential local partner who can both produce and sell this product. They are negotiating an operating agreement.

The American team is frustrated:

•The Chinese side keeps going back to points that the American side had previously thought settled.
•The negotiations were scheduled to be completed in a few days.
•The American team is due to report the results to senior management in 7 days.
What should they do?

The discussion covered these areas: 

  • Tell the senior management team that we have a deal and that we’re ironing out details.
  • Be sure that the person who introduced them is the right person.
  • Structure the process differently – make sure that the senior management understand how business in China works and how western expectations can be used against the western companies during negotiations.
  • Don’t set a time table with the Chinese side – leave this open ended.
  • Be sure that you are working with multiple companies and if things are not going well, move on.

Manufacturing in China while Selling in the United States

A salesperson based in the United States is selling computer hardware. The product is developed and manufactured in China. Projected delivery times are consistently not being met and it is impacting customer relationships.

The salesperson is frustrated and has attempted to talk with his/her counterpart in China.

The salesperson asks about the delays. Her/His counterpart typically responds with assurances that the situation will improve. Nothing changes.

What should this salesperson do?

The discussion covered these areas:

  • Tell customers in the US and as a result the price is lower. So we’ll let you know when the product is ready.
  • You can’t count on an agreement to deliver. You must sustain leverage an agreement is not enough. This could vary from having alternative suppliers or having our people in the factory driving the process.
  • Focus on getting 2 or 3 factories making the same product.
  • Be sure to have a representative in China.

Moving Manufacturing to China

A small American company sells physical products. The cost to produce certain parts has recently risen. The CEO wants to reduce manufacturing costs by moving some of the manufacturing to China. The CEO hires a consulting firm familiar with manufacturing in China. The firm identifies potential factories and sets up some meetings.

Discussion varied:

  • Why manufacture in China? Supply chains are developed, which helps in China.
  • How do you select the right consulting firm? Be sure that  the firm is mostly in China, but will also educate the people involved. The consulting is only a bridge to help you build your own expertise.
  • Be sure that the consulting firm has a dual footprint.  Have an office in China staffed by Chinese people.

Open Discussion Questions

Protecting Intellectual Property

One of my concerns in my business is protecting intellectual property. If they try to sell it in the US or EU, we can stop them. There are other markets that are not as picky about.

  • Be sure that you have a strong local partner and a presence in China. A strong local partner can help protect your interests in China. Have them go fight the battle. Structure the deal so that your interests are linked.
  • How is a presence in Hong Kong perceived in China? There are advantages in part due to English law; however, physical location is not as important as relationships inside China.
  • Try to keep some of your secret sauce outside of China.
  • Be prepared to out innovate and maintain an edge ahead of China.
  • When negotiating business deals, try to ensure that your interests are aligned both now and long term.

Chinese Political System

How long can a communist government run a modern industrial economy? At some point, do you have a revolution or a peaceful evolution? That requires a legal, political and social structure, and that currently does not exist.

  • There is only one party, but there are elections. Not everyone gets to vote, but there are elections.
  • There will be more elections. The Chinese will not be comfortable with a system that doesn’t have harmony.
  • The government knows that to stay in power, they have to keep people happy.
  • The Chinese government will evolve into something uniquely Chinese.