By Sam Beatson.

Mainland China, what used to be that enigmatic nation beyond the boundary of the pearl of the orient (Hong Kong), has been known as a place where fortunes have been sought…and lost… by many foreigners (老外) in years gone by. To conquer China used to be a myth. However, the opening-up policy, WTO accession and globalisation along with today’s thriving entrepreneurial willingness in China now combine harmoniously with British business acumen, administrative systems and project management expertise.

Thus, a different story can be painted for one UK-China company, humbly situated in the northwest of England, whose British headquarters I recently visited. Interestingly, its Chinese management branch is based in Ningbo, the traditional business city not far from Shanghai and where Nottingham University has its own Chinese campus.

Q: Why China?

A: That’s a good question actually <pauses for thought>. I think the key thing was it was accessible– low cost sourcing and the ability to get the product at the right price and make sure that with the controls we have in place the quality matches up…er… It’s been mainly customer lead if anything.

Q: What do you think about management standards in China?

A: In my experience, pretty poor. There are a lot of well-qualified people, but they tend to lack the experience that’s required to implement the strategies we put in place or want to put in place…but also, they…er…don’t seem to quite understand the urgency we have to make things happen. Erm…I think…hiring the right people…ensuring that even when you think you’ve found the right person …that person’s actually working for you and honesty and integrity is quite difficult… I think…just making sure qualifications are real. Making sure you get 100% focus on the job in hand and retaining people as well, they do tend to jump ship for an extra couple of RMB.

Q: How do identify the difference between a company you do want to do business with and ones you don’t?

A: We are very strict about this. We have an audit procedure which we try to maintain. We try to impose and have a clear service contract…we try to make sure that meets the client’s needs as well as our own and additionally, we audit them to the extent that where we make sure that their standards are sustainable and are maintained and that we try to go on a journey with them to improvement… so we try to help our key suppliers …reach certain standards.

Q: Were there any political obstacles or encounters for you to overcome and how did you overcome them?

A: Yes, on a local political level, we’ve got a couple of issues where we have set up our own limited company in China…and that needed us to jump through a few hoops we’re now going through a situation where we’re changing the legal representation…and …er…that means that we have to get…again and jump through a few hoops and do that.

On a local level…the main area…what we try to do is ensure that we’re completely compliant with Chinese legislative requirements….but also, more importantly, that our own people in China constantly update us with any changes and that we understand totally things like tax implications… you know….are we fully insured, are we up to date with employment legislation, ….are we up to date with the requirement for individuals health care etc and health and safety requirements…yeah…they tend to be quite…strict on certain areas. …erm… one of the key things for our general manager in China is to make sure we are always compliant with the latest issues…things like providing funds for housing, housing improvements, healthcare, that sort of thing.

The above transcript has been edited (shortened), and the interviewee (the CEO of the company) gave his permission for excerpts to be used on the CPI blog. Answers to contextual (related) questions have been merged.

Sam Beatson is a Ph.D. candidate at the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.

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