Some insights into doing business in China



At the start of the week, I knew nothing. Now, well I know a bit more. Over the past two days I have been at a conference representing The Slovenian Times. Bled School of Management has been hosting the 13th European Leadership Center Conference. The event, on 4 and 5 June was co-organised with The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Slovenia.

Panel discussions and presentations were led on the first day by Emeritus Prof Jean-Pierre Lehmann of IMD Lausanne, Switzerland who has been a “China Watcher” for more than 50 years and a visiting professor at the Faculty of Business and Economics at the Hong Kong University.

Day two was led by Professor Hellmut Schütte, Dean Emeritus at CEIBS which he joined in in September 2009 as Distinguished Professor of Management and European Chair for Sino-European Business Relations.

In the audience and on the panel were equally prestigious representatives of business, industry and politics from China and Slovenia, Italy, Albania and beyond.

So, I was in distinguished company.

I am no fan of panel discussions, but this morning, more than 15 solid points came from one particularly good discussion. So I amalgamated those points with others from yesterday and came up with this. They might be right, they might be wrong, but they are genuine insights from people experienced in doing business in China

21 Insights on doing business in China. (in no particular order)

“Get to know the people the history the culture before going and there.”

“Because your product worked in Europe does not guarantee it will work for clients in China.”

“It takes time. Bringing in a few brochures, taking a few meetings is not going to be enough to get orders. Think of investing a decade or more.”

“Relationships, partners, personal relationships; their importance cannot be over estimated.”

“Synchronisation. HQ (in the country far away – not the country of operation) and market need to be in sync.”

“When you go abroad you begin to realise your strengths and weaknesses. A fish does not know it is in water. Go to China to know who you are.”

“Even if you are a buyer, going to China to buy products in Europe it takes 2 years to research your suppliers.”

“Communication is getting easier as English becomes the “bridge” language. China is This is how we start the day here. Because China is so big, Chinese business people don’t need to speak any other language. But they do.”

“Even if you don’t make much/any profit in China, the experience enriches work in other countries.”

“If you have the right product you will find the right customer; but it probably won’t be easy”

“Don’t think of China as being a gigantic country: think of cities regions, provinces.”

“Some companies from outside China which have gone there to manufacture products to sell at home, are now looking at China as a market.”

“Think Software: an iPhone might cost $10 to manufacture in China It might sell for $500 in the US. What gives it value is the software. Software is not sold by the kilo.”

“E-Commerce: It’s hard to carve out a place in Chinese e-Commerce; for high-end  style led European products fakes sold online are a problem. However the pressure is building in China to prevent the sale of fake products.”

“If you want to negotiate well, learn to play golf.”

“Understand the nature and mechanism of Chinese business hierarchy.”

“Chinese companies have challenges getting into Europe etc, help -add your experience.”

“Chinese like to do business with people they like and where there is mutual respect.”

“China needs innovation, and SMEs and start ups do have an advantage over big slower moving companies.”

“It’s not about being smaller, its about being smarter.”

“The opportunities will not last forever. If you don’t grasp them and act fast, they may well move on.”

There were many other interesting and salient points which I might cover in a second post. The one I really liked was posed as a question. “How come when American business shows interest it is potential FDI. When a Chinese business shows interest it is a threat?”


If you have got this far, you might also be interested in this from 2009

Look East young man/woman/developer

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