THE MONEY ACADEMY
Doing business abroad –
A businesswoman in China
Osnat Peled, The General Director of Mentor Finance private equity, has participated in an investment delegation to China this May 2016. She is sharing with us her experience, from a business and personal perspective, opening a gate to China for more businesswomen.
Osnat Peled is the General Director of Mentor Finance (Private Equity Investments) and President of Business Women Forum Romania (www.bwfr.org).
The Asian opportunities always symbolized for me a kind of a “next challenge” to check on my list.
Meeting huge markets and new business approaches, negotiating in an unknown arena, were both appealing as well as concerning at the same time… however, opportunities knocked on my door and pushed me to go ahead and reveal the secret of doing business in China.
The 10 days schedule challenge
My business trip investment delegation to China starts a few months ago when discussions with potential collaborations have started to fructify.
Not like any kind of a regular business preliminary introduction, in this case, identifying which of the selected opportunities I am actually interested to meet was also more complex than the usual process, maybe placing the hints to the challenges which are about to come.
Once establishing the shortlist of companies to be included in this delegation, it quickly hits you - 2 days will be dedicated only to flights… and then you figure out the distance between them might be too big to cope with.
My business trips so far were usually done by 3-4 days, could easily end up here in 14-20 days (by far too long for me) and, even then, I might not be able to cover the ones I want to meet.
I realize my meeting elimination includes also geographical issues which I have never faced before and, eventually, lead to a business trip which includes also lots of traveling in between cities, domestic flights, train hours….a lot of “dead travel time“ and unneeded weekends in the middle, as well as concerns – will I get along? Will they speak English? What will I eat? How will we communicate? ….
Concerns that have never been there before when traveling to Sweden, Netherlands or any Western location. The decision was made, I am going to China!
After preliminary meetings I conducted in Bucharest with several Chinese companies, I decided to honor the fact of being their guest and have my business cards also in Chinese.
Following the habit of gifts exchange, I also managed to decide what to hand over as a symbolic gift (the results: a ‘Made In Romania’ delicacy goodie bag). A quick and efficient visit at the Chinese Embassy to get my business visa…. and I was ready to go to my new adventure!
Indeed, this business trip was nothing similar to any trip I had done before. Not only in terms of the visit duration, the distances I covered and the great companies I met…but also in terms of learning so many new things in such a short period of time, which is not that easy.
China can overwhelm you at the beginning, but once you open up, the sky is the limit.
Welcome to China!
At the moment you land, it hits you – you do not belong.
If I thought I am used to being a stranger (years of being an Israeli ex-pat in Romania), in China, I actually felt like an Alien… different smells, strange voices, new order lining up, security checks, huge massive crowds of people and noises, all caught me a bit unready (and after 20 hours of flights plus stopovers….).
However, I knew my first hostess was waiting for me at the airport, so I could appreciate the fact that soon I’ll be in good hands.
Chinese hospitality is one of the greatest hospitalities I have ever seen.
They will not rest until they know you are comfortable & happy. In every delegation, my hostess hooked me with a female assistant, English speaker, who will be with me during the whole meetings and visits to cover my needs and to translate.
This is the method that I highly recommend for a first visit and I cannot even imagine what I would have done if I had had to manage the trips and meetings without this help.
However, a few elements to keep in mind - the English level is always basic. I thought to myself: “here go my meetings jokes and sophisticated meeting analysis …”
I had to moderate the meeting level and create a simple and direct one in order to gather the information I needed.
Secondly, this assistant does not represent my interests and she is not on my side.
Sometimes, she chooses what to tell and what not to, how to reflect my messages and what parts she translates to me from my potential partner’s internal discussion.
Taking that into consideration and the fact that my delegation covered 3 cities, bringing my own translator could not help as every city uses another dialect. I simply had to adapt to the idea I am not in control over the situation and I’d better maximize my business instincts to optimize the results of this visit.
The city of Hot pot – Chongqing
My first stop was Chongqing - 3 hours flight from Shanghai having 34 million citizens (!).
Given it was not the capital, I assumed it would be less developed, but I was so wrong… there is so much to learn from Chongqing!
It is clean, organized, new cars everywhere, new shopping malls, lots of sky scrapper modern designed office buildings, beautiful hotels….that’s when I figured out China is nothing like I had imagined.
The Chinese people can be (and are actually) very proud of the nice cities and advanced infrastructure they have. Even a non-capital city like Chongqing had all the advanced bridges and roads, I even noticed how nice their schools were, and couldn’t stop comparing in my head the ones we have to the ones they have.
Coping with huge numbers of people requires order and discipline, so you keep seeing all over so many rules and all kind of warnings, such as - beware of this step, don’t stop here, don’t drive fast….lots of “Dont’s”
During long hours of meetings and traveling with my hostess, I learned how similar our rules are- our life’s, for example – their social security & health system, the penalties, and points driver are getting, the fact that a young couple has to work hard to buy an apartment and more.
However, in some aspects, the Chinese are much more stressed – mainly on the fact that they put a lot of effort into their academic education excellency (hoping this will channel them to higher incomes) and focus all their energy and time on work. They are fully dedicated to their working place, working many hours every day, have only a few holidays or free days, and find it hard to separate their personal lives from their working place.
Their facial expression is always pointing out how stressed they are and how unlikely it is for them to make any kind of mistake; this is not out of fear, but due to the high expectation for excellence and the strong competition they face at work.
On the other hand, they are happy with the public services they receive – their streets are clean, the education is very good, the health system is sufficient in their view and there are jobs for everybody (with higher salaries than in Romania!).
The people here are simply happy. Can they be happy under such strict rules? At first, it was hard for me to catch it, after years of “propaganda” about what is China. But being here, working closely with potential partners, meeting with financial institutions and also enjoying the night life, I quickly figured it out –life here is good, and maybe in many aspects even better than in the West.
The business meeting
The hand out of the visit cards in China is special – you must respect the card as you respect the person you hand it to, so you hand it with 2 holding hands.
You cannot make notes on the cards you received and you can just push it in your bag…I was happy with my Chinese business cards as everyone was trying to spell my name and felt satisfied to be able to do that.
One of the main challenges during the meetings, was, of course, the communication part, but even more than that – the fact that the translation is slow, doubles the meeting duration (every sentence must be translated), you must remain much more focused on the order of your messages and you can't know if the translator made any kind of mistake. Eventually, the meetings which were planned to be 1-2 hours long, came to be 3-4 hours ones…this was also affecting the efficiency of the schedule and created the fact that we actually had to run very fast between the meetings and had very short (or no) breaks at all. Add to that the fact the roads are crowded, malls and restaurants are crowded all the time and you quickly find yourself at the end of the day having half of the meeting planned and hungry.
Living in a crowded city requires better planning and more time which we didn’t have, so we had to make free time in no time. During the meetings, 2 young ladies were appointed to be the meeting hostesses and were constantly pouring tea and coffee.
These tea hostesses were constantly seating at the room, all day long, and their sole job was to serve us with drinks, host us and make sure we were fine. Even though I was warned that my “non-official” direct approach will not catch here in China, I decided to stick with the full transparency code, hoping to influence the other side to open up and engage towards an open discussion. As a result, I am proud to say, all the companies I met have acknowledged and noticed that code! All of them thanked me for keeping full transparency during the discussions, what I can only hope is that they acted the same…. (This will be found out in the second stages of due diligence).
A Chinese dinner - can I survive this?
Every night, after a long day of discussions and negotiations, I was invited to a special dinner.
As a “traditional eater “(usually finished with a Greek salad and chicken breast…) I admit this is one of the scariest points I anticipated on this trip.
How will I be able to find the balance to control what I eat without insulting my hostess?
I also couldn’t risk having any kind of stomach ache due to the hectic schedule ahead of me, so the decision was made to become vegetarian during this visit.
Having dinner with my hostess was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had in my life.
My host was of course very disappointed that I can’t eat all the great selection they have ordered specially for me (including all kinds of exotic meat selection ) but they were kind and understanding, encouraging me to try only what I want and examining me one by one at each dish I tasted.
The business dinner concept in China is as unique as the dinners that are done in restaurants or hotels, only this time in private rooms.
All of them have divided the space into large meeting rooms, totally private with a door and complete accessories, along with a private waiter. I couldn’t stop thinking about the main difference to a business dinner in Romania - when coming to a restaurant, it’s usually about meeting other people, but here it’s nothing about that. It is simply about meeting with your friends or partners and only them.
You do not see or hear anybody from the other rooms
My hostess made the orders before we entered the room and the dishes came one by one, placed on a rounded rolling circle plate always with a beautiful decoration (with a flower or a small fish aquarium).
You spun the plate and choose which dish you wish to take. The plates are shared and each one of us used the chopstick to take something from the selected dish over and over again…
The dinner can take a few hours as more dishes are coming all the time, offering another type of meat or an unknown vegetable. During dinner, the waiters pour green tea and wine again and again while every few minutes we stop to a short greeting and “cheers”.
Each one of the participants can stop and greet so I gladly did my part as well. If you want to honor a special greeter you shall “bottom-up” your glass in his greeting, so you must finish the wine after he greets you. My only problem was that I wanted to honor many of them and still remain focused …so I poured small portions each time (even though the wine was very good!).
I was surprised to see all the team joined us to this dinner, including the tea ladies from the morning and our driver, all seating together drinking wines, getting the opportunity to share a wine greeting, without any boundaries. I’ve noticed the special dynamic among all the employees, from the company’s vice president to the tea ladies.
Here, at dinner, they were equal, telling jokes like old friends and having fun with all the other colleagues without any kind of limitations. This managerial culture was simply inspiring. In the morning a whole world was standing between these people but over dinner, they were all one.
I couldn’t stop admiring that.
Over dinner, we spoke about our kids, shared pictures and, of course, drinking lots of wine in rounds…most importantly - no business talks, just greeting for successful collaborations and lots of welcoming greeting to their city.
The secret of women power
My last meeting in Chongqing finished at 23:00. Days of meetings, site visits, and negotiations were finally about to end. I was feeling exhausted but knew that the next day, I would head to Beijing starting another session with other companies. All I wanted was to go and rest. A few minutes before we said goodbye, the Vice President Assistant came to me with an offer – she said I had been working too hard and, before I leave left, she booked me a Chinese special foot massage. Of course, I could not resist it!
We headed to the special salon offering massage 24/7 and so, in the middle of the night I was in the middle of one of the best massages I had in my life…I was also delighted to find out that while I was enjoying it, the Vice President Assistant was having her massage as well!
My visit to Chongqing was finished, I headed to Beijing for a new adventure.
English version editor - Roxana Popa - Translation services
Osnat Peled, General Director of Mentor Finance (from Mentor group Holdings consortium) has relocated to Romania from Israel. Having 19 years of business experience she has been working with banks, governments, and leading companies in assisting them to achieve their business goals and recruit financing.
Mentor Finance provides financing solutions to companies, developers, entrepreneurs and NGOs in all types of domains. www.mentor-finance.com
Foto: Sebastian Moise Make-up: Monica Panait Şedinta foto a avut loc la Hotel Prince Park Residences Bucureşti *Articol apărut în Business Woman Magazine, ediţia 70
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