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12 September 2022

Your Overseas Assignment --
How to Hit the Ground Running (Part 2/2) ...

Follow these steps to take you or your employee to an enjoyable and high performing ...

Read now

09 September 2022

Your Overseas Assignment --
Lessons Learned From a 6 Country Expat (Part 1/2)

Beginning an overseas (expat) assignment is exciting...

Read now

23 February 2022

When You're First In a New Technology

I never knew I'd be part of something that was about to change the world. I was in Japan...

Read now


Why limit your current opportunities? Does working with an Asian firm put fear in you? With economic uncertainty at home, Chinese and Asian companies are looking to outbound markets for growth. They need North American partners to ease the way. True. But you're unfamiliar with their ways or what to do when you are approached. We get it.  And that's where we come in, we get it.Thinknao couples 20+ years of on-the-ground Asia and China know-how with an extensive multi-industry professional network to guide, safeguard and protect your interests and get you the right deal.

Whether you want to supplement your team's development capabilities, hire an interim executive, evaluate a transaction or get top business mind to lead your negotiations, we can help.

Commercial negotiation

Partner / Vendor selection

Management consulting

Expat Assistance

Strategy / planning

Software outsourcing

智在必得 —Wisdom must be won

Thinknao logo

Thinknao's initial mandate, its purpose, was to transform rote-based learning (in China) through interactive, smart mobile games (智在必得 - Wisdom must be won). To that end, we have been a success - over 70 mobile apps published, 10M+ downloads, 2x Hong Kong Innovation Awardees, # 1 app rank in China, featured in-store posters at Apple stores.We expanded into consulting and, among other projects, helped the US Embassy China (EducationUSA) propel the US into the #1 spot for Chinese students with a series of digital marketing and social media friendly initiatives.We're back in Canada now. Today the breadth of our portfolio offering is broad and focussed. We get things done because we know the culture and the rules.

Positive Outcomes

About the Founder

There's few people that have a feel for Asia like David does. What began with a post grad journey to Taipei became an obsession in learning culture, languages, business and technology, and resulted in his living a combined 20 years in China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and the US and working in all neighboring countries.David's an entrepreneur, a corporate leader and a management consultant, with an extensive network throughout Asia. He's worked for Fortune 500 companies, the Big 4, and as his own boss. His clients have been banks, telcos, and governmental bodies, including the US Embassy in China.He has a reputation for being creative and willing to take on the tough tasks, such as when he opened a $4M lab in Tokyo under tight deadlines. David serves on the Board of LFBS, a charity that helps underserved Haitians and is a near fluent Mandarin speaker. He currently resides in Toronto.

David Van Dyke

David Van Dyke
Managing Director

David Van Dyke

Positive Outcomes

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12 September 2022

Your Overseas Assignment --
How to Hit the Ground Running (Part 2/2)

David Van Dyke

What problems do expats face?

Overseas work experience can improve your career, but to be really successful, follow these guidelines.

To get you or an employee to a rewarding and effective abroad assignment, follow these steps.

Pre-departure overseas assignment checklist(1-6 months):

  • Get a feel for your new location from literature. Read online newspapers and historical books about your destination

  • Find a local celebrity or two to follow on social media, become aware of fads and trends. Google best seller lists in music, movies and books, this will all help you climatize

  • Explore with your tastebuds. Go to restaurants that serve food from your assignment country. Follow recipes and cook with local ingredients to develop your taste buds

  • Focus on networking. Seek out colleagues or friends or friends of friends that are originally from your posting destination. They can give you insight regarding what to expect and information on where to live, what to eat, and so on. They can also provide introductions to people outside of the workplace that can help you settle in.

  • Learn “taxi-driver” local language skills. “Taxi-driver” language skills are rudimentary but it is satisfying to pay for goods or jump in a cab without fear

Upon arrival (1-2 months):

  • Get settled. Find a permanent home, open a bank account. I cannot stress this enough. If you are living out of your luggage or running around with a stash of cash in your pocket you cannot establish a routine.

  • Meet the team and extended work partners. Let them see your face. At this stage, prioritize listening ahead of action. Make personnel and business decisions slowly.

Performing in the role:

  • Be likeable. Whether you arrive as the boss or as a staff member, eschew power poses and be genuine; don’t assume that the home country is better or superior in any way. Greet people with a smile and don’t ask for favors and be circumspect with favors offered to you. Reach for opportunities to connect with individual team members on a personal basis. This is where your pre-departure homework on the culture, food, history and trends comes in handy.

  • Practice extreme listening. We’ve all heard, ”We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak” and it makes even more sense when one works abroad. Watch body language so you can use visual clues to reach understanding. While you may not understand the language, a frown or a shrug can tell you more than words.

  • Pay attention to hidden messages. Expats are outsiders. Even those that grew up in the country and are returning on assignment. Be aware of misleading or vague statements, it can mean something tricky is underway. It makes sense to repeat your understanding of a situation to several team members to get it right. Trust but verify.

  • Demand open communication within team. Create an environment where the goals of the organization are well understood and expectations are clear to each employee. Plan regular team-building days. Go to lunch with team. Discuss performance issues privately but be firm and treat everyone equally. Some cultures avoid personal confrontations, an expat needs to work within that constraint to achieve results.

  • Avoid favors. Whether receiving a gift or favor or giving one out, favors have a tendency to come back with a bite. Often they’ll appear small or innocuous but someone is keeping track. Don’t fall for it.

  • Establish rules for communication with HQ. All too often home office requests that you attend off-hour conference calls (due to time zone differences) to discuss this or that issue. All of these calls cannot be avoided. However, it is a good habit to communicate the off-hours you are available and to ask that calls alternate between your off hours and the person from headquarters regular working hours.

Off the job:

  • Limit your time with other expats. Hanging around with fellow expats is convenient - you speak the same language, have many of the same tastes and so on, but it also colors your impression and understanding of the land you’re in and its culture. Do your best to interact with locals to learn how things really get done and what really needs to be seen.

  • Vacation inside the country. There is a tendency to break out of a country on every chance to go to beaches or other nearby countries or even go home. Don't do it. Ask your colleagues where to go and you’ll get an insider’s view of what makes their country so special.

So, it all starts with a bit of humility. These tips are meant to ensure you’re productive overseas because while it is an adventure, performance on the job matters.

09 September 2022

Your Overseas Assignment --
Lessons Learned From a 6 Country Expat (Part 1/2)

David Van Dyke

Beginning an overseas (expat) assignment is exciting. Expat assignment benefits come in many forms. Few experiences in life couple the chance to experience a new culture with accelerated career development and growth. A valued employee at headquarters, affords a salary and perks premium and permits you to live well and save a bit of money along the way.
Sign me up... Well, not so fast...
An expat: a foreign-born employee trained at headquarters, returning to the country of their birth or someone who decided to stay in a country after falling in love or someone redeployed from head office to the local branch.
Not all overseas postings are equal. In fact, they vary quite a bit. Expat employment terms range from those equal to local staff and extend to lucrative pay packages and perks, over and above a similar role at headquarters.
That there are countless varieties of expat contracts makes generalizations difficult. For simplicity, the table below is a proxy for some of the possible combinations. My personal experiences mirror this table.

Employee StatusSalary & PackageJob Level
Local Hire / Local CompanySame as localJunior / Mid-level
Local Hire or Repatriate / MultinationalSame as local*Junior / Mid-level / Senior
International Transfer / Multinational (Government)Premium Expat, incl housing, hardship, ++High Potential / Senior Executive

The premise for redeploying headquarter employees to a local office runs counter to the generally accepted business maxim: successful international companies hire locally and promote from within to develop future leaders and capture and retain markets. Expats, by virtue of their permanent ties to headquarters, are temporary local staff.

Yet, despite this, expats are hired year after year. Let’s explore some of the basic reasons companies deploy them.

  • To evaluate promising employees for broader leadership roles.

  • To imbue head office culture, business norms, into local operations

  • To implement a new product / programme, transfer specialized skill sets

  • To improve head office / remote office communications

  • To achieve / monitor financial controls

  • To better control local operations and curtail corrupt practices

  • To fill a gap when unable to find a suitable candidate in the local market

An expat hire is justified with a quantitative and qualitative cost benefit calculation. Will the net return to the company be positive by bringing an expat in?

Expats cost more than local hires. A full expat package includes a salary bump, a hardship allowance, tax planning services, housing, relocation, home leave and moving expenses and, if the employee has children, tuition. Oh, and repatriation expenses. An expat can cost a company 4-5x more than a similarly placed local employee.

Global hiring managers will tell you that an expat takes a longer time frame to perform their jobs when compared with the same role in the home market or a local candidate. Day to day business decisions take on an extra layer of complexity for the expat due to differences in market rules, competition, distinct regulatory and legal tenets, to name just a few of the issues.

Meetings take place in the local language during meetings or to have project details kept from you.

Also, bear in mind that even before you step in the door, the local grapevine knows the terms of your temporary employment contract and will plot accordingly. Typically an expat is unaware of office or class politics or the existence of hidden agendas. Staff have varying levels of English comprehension, so time and multiple verifications of information are needed for most decisions. Stress is heightened when the employee brings family members along. With a
family, the employee’s level of concerns are multiplied by schooling, housing and homesickness.

So, is it worth it to the company? The short answer is, it depends. Due to the multiple moving parts in an offshore role, international assignments are stressful for the participant and assignments can and do fail. An expat’s foremost challenge is emotional. Known as culture shock, its effect cycles through four distinct phases during the assignment: the honeymoon, the frustration, the adjustment and, finally, acceptance. Each phase affects an employee’s productivity and no one is ever 100% immune.

Here’s a small sampling of the stressors an expat may encounter (examples are things that happened to me):

  • Money troubles. An unexpected bill must be paid in cash

  • Housing and transport. Bad smell seeps into vents at night. Landlord imposes huge penalty to break lease

  • Food shopping. At market seller puts rotten fruit at bottom of bag

  • Medical emergencies. You’re hit by a car and unable to speak the local language

  • Unsympathetic client. After 20 hour flight, to give important presentation upon landing

  • Heightened family situations. 9 year old nephew wanders off in Tokyo for 4 hours

When ‘bad things’ happen and culture shocks hits, job performance drops and other stressors magnify.

But, you’re compensated to perform, no matter the obstacle and no one wants to hear your excuses.

A people-focussed company enlists a systematic approach to prepare staff for an offshore assignment. They enroll their staff in language (if necessary) and cross-cultural training, assign mentors and counsellors and suggest appropriate reading material. This is done prior to departure, during the assignment, and prior to repatriation.

Companies can use a look-see trip to give their expats a brief taste of life overseas. On a look-see, a future expat (and spouse) arrive at the foreign branch and are given a tour of the schools, banking, housing and medical facilities. It allows the employee to reconsider the assignment and retain their home country role without decreased risk and expense to the company.

If fortunate, the employee will have plenty of lead time (3-6 months) before the new position starts.

The employee should use this time to get their affairs in order so they are not worried about everyday things when working overseas. Lead time gives the employee time to learn about the society and culture they are moving into or to take a language course if necessary.

For the company, finding the right individual that can perform under stress and uncertainty is a significant challenge.

On the other hand, now that the expat has arrived, what makes one individual more likely to succeed than the other one? What makes an expat effective?

Clue: it starts with preparation and a dash of humility.

25 February 2022

David Van Dyke

About Me, My Story

About David

In my youth I spent more time looking at maps, memorizing the names of capital cities and reading about ancient explorers than just about anyone I knew. If I met a native of a foreign country I’d ask them to write my name in their language. I dreamed about living and working abroad. And as some of you will no doubt do yourselves, I was determined to discover the wider world on my terms.
My passion led to a joyous 20 some years abroad, living and working in six countries and traveling and exploring in many more. I was able to have personal success - learn
languages, meet interesting people, lead cool projects - because I kept it simple and stuck to three rules of behaviour: be humble, be patient and be quick to adapt.
I discovered that humility - assuming you really don’t know the answer - enhances one’s ability to listen to both verbal and non-verbal clues. I’ve closed contracts in Tokyo and Manilla, where detailed discussions are held in the local language, just because I was able to identify and resolve sticking points with careful observations and humility.Patience helps keep one safe; when one waits for the situation to play out, it is never as bad as you imagine.Once a local skier was poking at my tall for his age son and a mob was forming.My fatherly inclination was to intercede and push back hard. Instead I pulled my son to me and my daughter jumped in front of me. They saw that my son was just a boy and we were a family and the situation de-escalated and the mob dispersed.Flexibility and adaptability is helpful because there are things you cannot change and you need to accept it.My American roommate had flawless Chinese speaking skills and knew Taiwan as well as a local. But he couldn’t accept the car driving culture in Taipei. There cars, not pedestrians, have the right of way at intersections. If you didn’t learn this you could get hurt.My roommate refused to accept this, choosing to ‘be ugly’ and pound on the hoods of cars that cut him off or came too close. I adapted and learned to get out of the way of cars lest I get hit.I was raised in the border town of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, on the other side of the river from Detroit, Michigan, USA.A couple days after I graduated from the local university, I flew to Taipei, Taiwan with $800 dollars in traveller’s checks in my pocket and a tape cassette with Mandarin Chinese lessons on it. I didn’t have a job and only had a five day hotel reservation. My return ticket was six months out. I had no friends or real prospects. I survived but I did eat white rice for a month when a thief stole my pay packet.From Taiwan, I returned home and worked in Toronto for 4 years. Then came Hong Kong (5 years), Tokyo (1), Silicon Valley (3), Singapore (3.5) and Beijing (7). My status changed along the way too: from single, to married to father to empty nester. I’ve worked mostly in technology - software and wireless - and have been a management consultant for major firms, including the US Department of State, and an entrepreneur.Along the way I became proficient in Mandarin Chinese and fluent in body language and raised two kids into adulthood.

23 February 2022

David Van Dyke

When You're First In a New Technology

I never knew I'd be part of something that was about to change the world. I was in Japan, but it could have been anywhere. We were among the first to add new capabilities to advanced wireless networks.

And sure, what we did was clunky and didn't work most of the time and the devices we used were ugly and oversized. That's how early technology is. This was way beyond text messages. It was 1999, the technology was IS-95B, a precursor to 3G, 4G, LTE, 5G and so on.

Together with my colleagues at Motorola and Cisco, I was part of the teams that built bleeding-edge wireless labs on Tennōzu Isle in Tokyo and in Silicon Valley in California.

But while we initially obsessed with speed and "internet browsing," the use cases .... novel