Routes to Growth Conference 2016
Guests at the Routes to Growth Conference 2016, held at The Shard in London enjoyed networking and keynotes from guest speakers including Baroness (Michelle) Mone OBE and Bruce Dickinson, as well as first hand case studies from a range of panelists who are successfully doing business in Asia, including Tangle Teezer, Harris Tweed Hebrides and Kat Maconie.
Five key takeaways:
Overseas trade has historically been a key part of the British business success story. Today, expansion into other geographies is, with the right support, a venture that is open to businesses of all sizes and from all sectors. But gaining a foothold in a foreign territory, building upon this presence and then sustaining success can be a daunting prospect.
HSBC and Cathay Pacific’s Routes to Growth Conference lined up a series of high-profile speakers and business experts to explore the pleasures and pitfalls of doing business in Asia and, in particular, China. Here are five key takeaways drawn from these sessions.
- Patience is a virtue. The expectation that business will commence immediately and progress fluidly the moment you decide to enter Asia is a quick route to disappointment. Often it takes time to make things happen. As a foreigner you may be at the back of the queue but this is how it is. You may also experience some apparent contradictions within certain business processes: do not try to fight this; accept it for what it is and work with it. Patience will win through in the end.
- You have to be there. The most effective way to build business in Asia is to go there. You have to have something to offer that the market needs but this market places a very high premium on relationships. You need to meet people, talk to them and engage with them culturally. Attempting to drive business remotely will only take you so far. Being present in an Asian market will allow you to absorb ideas and really get a feel for how your business is perceived and how you can develop your products or services to meet local needs. Trust is a key part a relationship here. There is often a blurring of the personal and business life and simply being able to talk face to face will move you forward a lot faster than any other communication channel.
- People are people wherever they are. Wherever you are in the world you will come up against different cultural expectations and these must be studied, acknowledged and acted upon. The perception of a cultural outlook is often not correct and using stereotypes as a basis of operating can lead to awkwardness. However, whilst respect for, and even engagement with, a different culture is essential to enable business to succeed, culture is really just a nuanced marker. Ultimately, all humans have the same needs and, as such, ‘people will be people’ regardless of their cultural upbringing. It may not always be best to put expat management in place if you want the buy-in of local people, but if you do this, be sure to transfer knowledge because no one likes to feel they are being exploited. Similarly, it is insulting to expect the people of an emerging nation to be fully overawed and submissive to Western ways.
- Celebrate Brand GB. In parts of Asia, especially where aspirant middle classes are emerging, the heritage and perceived quality of ‘Britishness’ is a powerful ally for UK business. Use it. Enhance the ‘Made in Great Britain’ label – even to the point of increasing its size on packaging – because it is a strong statement of upward mobility for many Asian consumers and they will pay for such provenance. But do not forget that there are around 100m Chinese who are travelling or living outside of the country: learn to anticipate and generate sales leads from multiple ‘shop windows’: if you have the right product, the word will reach back home to Asia very quickly.
- You are not alone. Use the resources available to you to find connections, to build relationships, to help steer you in the right direction, and to help sustain your growth in Asia. Start with basic internet research, reading reviews and white papers but do also call upon bodies such as UKTI (and offshoots such as UK Export Finance and its overseas equivalents such as China Exim Bank), British Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates, global banks active in the region such as HSBC, Asian embassies in the UK, and private organisations such as the Federation of International Trade Associations and the China Britain Business Council.