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UK-China trade mission: Day 4

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Before we set off today we were given a security briefing on taking care with our Blackberrys, iPhones and iPads, which was all sounding like a downer until the somewhat grey man from security then warned us of the dangers of what he chose to call Honeypots ….Really? In three days the nearest I got to seeing one was on a breakfast table next to the marmalade.

We spend the last afternoon speed dating local businesses while the Prime Minister went to open a new school. Education is going to be a massive export for us. I met an Old Etonian who has started a business sending Chinese kids to schools in the UK.

It became so successful that he turned the business model upside down and is now building schools in China modelled on English schools with UK teachers. He confidently expects a long waiting list…

Another disrupter in education is the very smart Kate Shand who started the company Enjoy Education. As she was hiring tutors to teach children in the UK, she realised that they could only work after the children finished school at 16:00pm, leaving them at a loose end during the day. 

She has come up with the idea of using those same teachers to teach Chinese children during UK school hours on a one to one basis over the internet. Once again this is a eureka moment leading to a winning British business.

So where has all the real networking taken place? The answer has to be on the Virgin flight back. It is the first time Ministers, businessmen and journalists can meet up together and there is a real end of term feeling. 

A number of us try and bash the journalists who have been off beam and tried to turn a successful trade trip into a political commentary – but it is all good natured! The steward tells me he has never seen such a lively party on a flight before!

As we start to relax, a lively discussions opens up with me and the owners of Speedo, Zoggs and Jack Wills, with me shooting out ideas. I tell them that if those three do a deal together on the plane… I want a cut.

As the conversation turns to business, we are joined by the amiable head of UKTI, Jon Harding. He used to be a senior exec at Virgin. It is unusual to meet a civil servant who really understands business well.

The question arises how can we be sure to turn this trip into real tangible deals rather than go back to our desks to firefight and run our businesses?

He has a brilliant idea: to form a club of people who have been on this trip and see if we can harness the talent for other ideas. Shoalan of Chineasy has a brainwave: Chinese New Year is on 31 Jan and we should all meet up again then. 

There will be strong peer pressure to show to others that each of us has created something new and specific from this trip. So we have formed a new club called PMV (Prime Ministers Visits), recognising that for some of us maybe the easy part has been the trip out here, the hard bit will be to actually close deals from the leads we have made in China …..and on the plane of course.

Lord Leigh of Hurley is a senior partner atCavendish Corporate Finance.

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