Wednesday, May 17, 2006

China Hand

It's official - I'm now a China Hand

Yesterday we were visited by a group of executives and business people from a variety of countries and industries who are on an organised fact-finding tour of China. I think this proves my theory about China Business Knowledge, and that these people sensibly subscribe to it. I can show this best on a graph.
Doing Business in China is such a complex beast in terms of the rules, the people, the culture, the geography, the infrastructure, etc., etc. that there is simply a vast amount of potential knowledge out there. Most people who've never been to China simply don't understand - there have been numerous attempts by people who think it's going to be easy to crack China who've then fallen flat on their faces. Big-time wheeler-dealers must read Mr. China because it's fascinating and hilarious how two men managed to lose sooo much money.

The best way for anyone thinking about doing business in China is to talk to as many people who are doing business in China as you can. The reason for this is that: Many people, like myself, who know something about 'our bit of China' and the way we interract with it know some of the right ways of doing things and some of the wrong ways. As is clearly demonstrated from the above graph, I don't know much about anything but to most outsiders, it's still something they can benefit from.

Many of the people who are much more into it than I am (10-20%ers - there are probably very few people that could argue they're truly over 20%) are likely to fall into one of two cagegories:
  1. Old China Hands - they've been there, done that. They've also had 1000 sets of people eagerly trying to find out what makes China tick and to learn from their experience. This has left them somewhat jaded of passing this information on, in many instances only for China newbies to think that they know better and to ignore this advice.
  2. Consultants - people think they know so much about China that this knowledge has now become a saleable product in itself. The problem with many consultants (and we've come across a number) is that their advice will generally be that you should either follow a course of actions that matches the core competency of the consultancy (failing to mention that it's not the best course of action for you) or you should follow a course of action that the consultancy has no experience in at all (but they'll not mention that to you and assure that, of course they can help you with that) .
So - people are left with the option of talking to people like me. Still enthusiastic to share experiences and bring other people along but happy to be honest and pragmatic about it. I guess its easier for me to be open with the people in the 'Know nothing about China but want to know' category because they're so much more pleasant and interesting than people in the 'I've been doing x business for years and do see why China would be any different' people. One thing they learn quickly is that it's themselves that need to adapt, not China.

Yesterday was the first time I've been asked to be the panellist on a discussion about China and, surprisingly, it wasn't that daunting. Probably because to some of the people there you could have said pretty much anything and they wouldn't have known better but then again, whilst there were China virgins, they were a pretty seasoned bunch of businesspeople. It was also nice that my, er, observations about doing business in China and managing Chinese staff were backed up by the two experienced Chinese managers in the room.

I'm actually looking forward to the opportunity to do it again!


HistoryElephant said...

I like the idea of you being a panellist; did you have to talk for 60 seconds about China without hesitation, repetition or mentioning the word 'guanxi'?

dB said...

I mentioned guanxi once but I think I got away with it.

JP said...

What a double act you pair are; you should colaborate.

dB said...

Don't collaborators typically end up being shot?

schmee said...