ADAPT AND SUR­VIVE: BUSI­NESS IN THE ASIAN CEN­TURY

Aus­tralian entrepreneurship in the Asian Cen­tury will open up many op­por­tu­ni­ties. His­tor­i­cally, there has never been a bet­ter time to en­gage Asia writes Jon Michail.

Business First - - FRONT PAGE - Jon Michail is the founder and CEO of Im­age Group In­ter­na­tional.

Un­der­stand­ing cul­ture and im­age plays an in­te­gral part in con­duct­ing busi­ness in dif­fer­ent Asian coun­tries, but you should never as­sume that do­ing busi­ness in these coun­tries is the same in each re­gion. China is dif­fer­ent from Thai­land and even more so than In­dia. And de­pen­dent on what busi­ness you are in, there are also large dif­fer­ences you can’t ig­nore. For in­stance, large busi­nesses and gov­ern­ment will en­gage dif­fer­ently from SMEs or non-prof­its.

The one thing that does unite the Asian re­gion and that Aus­tralian busi­nesses should be aware of is that busi­nesses in these re­gions are very en­tre­pre­neur­ial and hun­gry to do a deal. They are highly com­pet­i­tive, am­bi­tious and en­gag­ing.

Yet, there are sev­eral dif­fer­ent el­e­ments we must un­der­stand about the dif­fer­ent cul­tures.

Sin­ga­pore is re­garded as clean and above board with very pro­fes­sional and Western pro­cesses in play.

In­done­sia on the other hand can be quite du­plic­i­tous – have you ever been ripped off chang­ing Aus­tralian cur­rency at an ex­change in Bali? That’s a good in­di­ca­tor of the busi­ness cul­ture that ex­ists there start­ing from a very low base. Du­plic­ity is com­mon in Asia in gen­eral from pol­i­tics to busi­ness. Yet In­done­sia is be­com­ing one of our most im­por­tant al­lies, which means we must be re­spect­ful of their prac­tices and un­der­stand how to deal with them.

China is vast and boom­ing, but there are so many as­pects in play across a broad range of in­dus­tries that it is dif­fi­cult to keep up with their pro­cesses. One of the most im­por­tant things to re­mem­ber is that im­age is vi­tally im­por­tant. In Chi­nese cul­ture a solid gold Rolex at times speaks much louder than the colour of your money.

I have launched sev­eral eclec­tic busi­nesses in China on and off for over 20 years. The most im­por­tant les­son I have dis­cov­ered is to pick the right part­ners.

For in­stance dur­ing my in­volve­ment in China as an im­porter, busi­ness was con­ducted in a fairly straight­for­ward man­ner; you buy their goods, hag­gle, pay their price and wait for de­liv­ery.

There were the typ­i­cal im­port­ing prob­lems in­clud­ing qual­ity con­trol, prod­ucts de­liv­ered that were dif­fer­ent from sam­ple and un­der de­liv­er­ing. These are com­mon prob­lems, but can be negated by choos­ing the right sources.

In re­cent times I have been ex­port­ing our ser­vices. This is a much more dif­fi­cult prac­tice as the Chi­nese do not like to pay for ser­vices if they per­ceive they can get those ser­vices for noth­ing.

This is where a good part­ner will make a dif­fer­ence in build­ing your busi­ness by po­si­tion­ing and selling the value of your propo­si­tion – es­pe­cially if it’s a new con­cept. This is also where im­age comes into play.

Asia and China in gen­eral are very im­age con­scious. You can’t af­ford to openly of­fend your hosts. There will be se­vere con­se­quences if you do.

For in­stance one client I have was in­vited to din­ner. Now there are cer­tain foods that don’t nat­u­rally ap­peal and you don’t have to eat them, although some­times it doesn’t hurt to go with the flow. How­ever if you are to de­cline you must do this in a very sen­si­tive man­ner. If you are too rigid in your ap­proach then you of­fend the host. My client has

a strong per­son­al­ity and failed to re­alise there was a sense of eti­quette in­volved. She in­sulted the cui­sine, dressed too ca­su­ally for the meet­ing and missed her op­por­tu­nity. She noted to me that her host con­tacted oth­ers in the com­pany and po­litely men­tioned if they could send some­one else. There are other eti­quette-based pro­to­cols in­clud­ing the con­sump­tion of al­co­hol and in­vi­ta­tions to clubs, where some­times it is im­por­tant to at­tend. How­ever, if you must de­cline, do it po­litely and with re­spect.

Some aca­demics or gov­ern­ment lead­ers may try to un­der­play these dif­fer­ences in cul­ture, im­age and eti­quette, how­ever in my ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery Aus­tralian busi­ness plan­ning to en­ter the Asian mar­ket must ob­serve these pro­to­cols. Un­for­tu­nately, my client who is a renowned busi­ness­woman in Aus­tralia did not un­der­stand the hi­er­ar­chies in play and the nu­ances that she should for some­one in her po­si­tion. She failed to make the right first im­pres­sion.

To un­der­stand the im­age and cul­ture you are deal­ing with, you must again find an able and will­ing part­ner.

Keep­ing with China, your part­ner must speak Chi­nese and side with you when in dis­cus­sions. How­ever, it’s not un­com­mon to have a du­plic­i­tous trans­la­tor, agent or as­so­ciate, there­fore al­ways be aware that all may not be what it seems. Al­ways re­mem­ber Asia is not Aus­tralia.

You can negate some of these prob­lems by dis­play­ing strength, ex­cel­lent brand­ing, ma­tu­rity, re­spect and an as­so­ci­a­tion with wealth. These will be seen to be in your favour. The ul­ti­mate re­spect is do­ing busi­ness your­self: don’t send a young kid to do the job of the se­nior ex­ec­u­tive. Ma­tu­rity in per­son­al­ity and age are big ad­van­tages.

So­cial aware­ness is an im­per­a­tive. Un­der­stand­ing the pro­to­cols and eti­quette of your hosts is para­mount even if you are the buyer.

For a long time to come the Asian re­gion will of­fer the world busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties that will cre­ate ex­tra­or­di­nary wealth for the dis­ci­plined and well-planned.

To take ad­van­tage of this be pro­fes­sional, well re­searched and al­ways look the part even if your host doesn’t.

You will be judged con­stantly, even if the re­la­tion­ship ‘feels’ per­fect.

Un­der­stand­ing cul­ture and im­age plays an in­te­gral part in con­duct­ing busi­ness in dif­fer­ent Asian coun­tries.’

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