Expand the Brand

Licensing’s New Frontier

A Booth connection expands the licensing model in China.

When George Williams, ’92,  joined Leveraged Marketing Corporation of America to run the company’s Shanghai office, the Michigan native was already fluent in Mandarin. Credit his wife, Nanying, a Chinese national whom Williams met and married while living in New York around the turn of the millennium. She helped convince Williams to move to China, where the couple opened a mom-and-pop licensing shop, Shanghai-based Novasia, focused on developing and executing market-entry strategies and brand extension programs for consumer goods marketed in China.

After leaving Novasia in 2012—where his wife still serves as a managing partner—Williams connected with fellow Booth alumnus and LMCA founder Allan Feldman, ’71, and joined the agency as managing director to help broaden their business in China, as well as to approve licensed product designs, samples, and marketing materials for clients such as Westinghouse and Phillips.

Though he’s considered moving back to the states, he enjoys his transcontinental relationship with Allan Feldman too much to give it more than a passing thought. “I’m here for the long haul,” he said.

CBM: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the brand licensing game in China?

Williams: Be patient. The model is still new here. The US, European, and other Asian markets such as Japan and South Korea have a more mature understanding of what licensing is, and they understand intellectual property protection and the value these brands that we’re licensing bring. But in China in particular, licensing is still catching on. We’ve talked with a lot of people who say, “Whoa, this is a totally new business model.” They’re still coming around to the idea of “renting” a brand.

CBM: How has licensing evolved in China from when you first arrived?

Williams: Intellectual property laws have been on the books since before I got here 15 years ago, but now they’re being enforced. For us in the licensing industry, that’s huge. Back then I would go in and say, “Hey, you should license this brand and put it on your product.” They’d look at me and say, “Why should I? I can just put it on my product myself and sell it down the street. Nobody is going to worry about trademark law.” Now, especially as China begins to develop its own brands, there’s a big emphasis on enforcement.

CBM: What’s it been like working with Allan, a fellow graduate of Chicago Booth?

Williams: Phenomenal. When I think about Booth and the people I’ve met and continue to stay in touch with, the most important elements are, first, mentorship, and second, the quality of the people and their willingness to network and help fellow classmates succeed.