China is one of the world’s most rapidly growing economies, with GDP growth rates at around nine per cent a year. For entrepreneurs, it’s a gold mine. “But don’t go blazing in with your own approach,” warns Norfield. “Be prepared to study theirs and learn the Eastern way.”
His £7.8m-turnover Derby-based firm sells portable mobile radios, controllers and microprocessor controlled base stations into over a third of China’s provinces. Here are his five tips for other entrepreneurs venturing East.
1. Out to dinnerThis is a ritualised process where you need to be mindful of etiquette. Rememeber: the most important person should sit at the head of the table with a clear view of the all entry and exit points to observe feng shui. As a beginner it’s always best to wait to be seated, however later on when you’re a bit more experienced you might want to organise the table yourself with your CEO at the head… but be absolutely sure the Chinese "big boss" has deferred to you, otherwise it could cause resentment.
2. A good old sing songKaraoke is big business in China and helps to break barriers in a ritualised society. You’re not expected to be good – but you are expected to put on a show! During one trip I thought I was being invited out to dinner, as it’s quite common to book a private room in a restaurant for a business dinner in China. However the true meaning of the evening was revealed when a microphone was thrust into my hand and the opening notes of the first song started to play! The best advice for a reserved Englishman to avoid the embarrassment that comes with belting out a tune is knowing that 90 per cent of what you are singing is not understood anyway.
3. More eating…There are many delicacies in China which you may find disconcerting but, typically with food, you will always be challenged to "give it a go". There was an instance when I was offered scorpion; it was a case of holding my nose and thinking of England. But every man has a limit. I resolved many of the other situations by telling Chinese friends and associates that I would eat most things except anything that still had a face.
4. Bottoms up!Older Chinese men have a penchant for a liquor called Beijou. It’s as strong as rocket fuel and has a definite acquired taste. However when your Chinese host raises a toast with the word "Gambei" you’re expected to clear your glass. To save yourself from an alcohol-induced coma, the best strategy is to think of toasts more quickly than your Chinese friends, so they end up having to drink more than you do. 5. Who pays the bill?The concept of "GuanXi" is central to Chinese society. It’s all about your importance in the social network and the other man being in debt to you… which means there can often be an unruly fight over who pays for dinner! A good evasion tactic is to slope off, or send a colleague to sort out the bill while last drinks are still being consumed. The alternative is to lose face or engage in the scrum! It’s all about forward planning.
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