Sir David’s colourful upbringing, remarkably generous spirit and always challenging opinions can be enjoyed in his book, An Apple a Day, but, for now, here are some of his thoughts on doing business in China, as told at a conference HSBC held in 2006.
Do your homework“We talk about China as if it is a mystical country, but nothing beats research. You’ve got to go there and live there for three months, six months, do whatever you need, but bring back some critical information.”
The consequences of the one-child policy “We’re a country with thousands of years of history and we can’t now congregate as a big family.”
Advice for shoe-makers in China“Chinese are very lazy; they want slip-on shoes.”
The migration of Chinese talent“I opened a Chinese restaurant in the Dorchester Hotel. This created some problems with my stoves because when we cook Chinese food we have to turn up the heat. Under EU regulations, the maximum amount of heat generated by a stove for which we can have proper insurance cover boils a wok of water in 52 seconds.
“However, the kind of stove I need for my Chinese food is four times more ferocious and would boil water in 9.5 seconds. But we can’t put that in, even though other Chinese restaurants in the UK fudge the issue.
“So I was in a dilemma: should I serve my customer sub-standard Chinese food without that characteristic Chinese wok flavour” Or could I find another way?
“I sought the advice of a consultant, who told me: ‘It’s very simple. The EU regulations only stipulate certain pre-approved designs. But it is open to new design as long as qualified inspectors certify that they are safe.’
“So, at a huge expense – £15,000 – I flew two guys first class all the way to the depths of southern China to where I’d had the stove made. And they designed a protective system so that it would fall within the EU regulations. They came back – and bingo – everything was approved.
“Now I asked the man in southern China: why don’t you tell people about your new design that’s used by China Tang in the Dorchester Hotel and approved by the inspectors” You could sell this design to every one of the thousands of Chinese restaurants in Europe.
“It’s just one tiny example of how Chinese expertise can be exported abroad.”