In February 2012, I was asked to move to Beijing to be international law firm, Minter Ellison’s first resident partner there. My brief was, among other things, to develop and execute a strategy to lead the office to profitability; to target significant growth of office fee revenue; to increase referral revenue to all global offices from Chinese clients and to control costs. Does that sound familiar? It certainly did to the numerous ex-pats we got to know in Beijing and Shanghai across all industry sectors and across all business sizes.
I would never profess to be an expert on China or to claim that I had the secret of success. However, I’d like to think that I had some success in business there and on a personal level my wife, children and I loved the experience.
So here are my top 10 tips for starting to do business, and more broadly to enjoying life, in China’s capital.
- Research business etiquette before you arrive
- Learn some basic geography, economics and statistics. Try and get your head around the scale of the market and markets you are entering
- Read up on the history and culture of China – it’s fascinating and crucial to get to a basic level of comprehension
- Be open minded at all times and never make Western style assumptions
- Learn the language – pick up some key words as quickly as you can and get a patient teacher
- Surround yourself with locals – on a business and personal level, mix as much and as quickly as possible with native Beijingers
- Talk to seasoned expats in yours and other industries. Our nearest neighbours worked at Deutsche Bank, Shell, Nokia and Unilever and they all had different but valuable insights
- Be patient. You need time in China. Sometimes you will just have to take a deep breath and count to ten.
- Keep focused and have a coherent strategy and get buy in on it from all your stakeholders. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the opportunities in China.
- Leave the city regularly. This was the first advice my wife and I were given. We used to go to the Great Wall regularly. A great escape. As was the M&S in Hong Kong and the beaches in the Philippines….
And one more for luck – never say ‘no’ to the chicken’s feet or the baijiu!