Busi­ness in Asia – an en­tre­pre­neur­ial per­spec­tive

Pro­to­cols are para­mount when con­duct­ing busi­ness with Asian part­ners. Jon Michail of­fers his tips to mak­ing the best of your Asian busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence.

Business First - - CONTENTS - by Jon Michail

One of the big­gest ques­tions that arises when businesses look to ex­pand, par­tic­u­larly within the Asian re­gion, is how to max­imise or best lever­age the op­por­tu­ni­ties that present them­selves.

There are sev­eral ways to look at op­por­tu­ni­ties, but first you have to do a lit­tle re­search. The first el­e­ment of ex­pan­sion that you should ex­am­ine is ter­ri­tory.


Re­search and ex­plore which coun­tries of­fer the best op­por­tu­ni­ties for the most sat­is­fy­ing po­ten­tial re­turn on in­vest­ment: long and short term. Re­mem­ber the ground you make with re­gard to ter­ri­tory also de­pends on your com­pany and size, re­sources, con­nec­tions, ex­pe­ri­ences in tar­get mar­ket, cul­tural un­der­stand­ing and affin­ity etc.

Other ques­tions that you should ask yourself be­fore de­cid­ing on ter­ri­to­rial ex­pan­sion are: what ser­vice/prod­uct will I im­port or ex­port? Will I man­u­fac­ture or pur­chase and dis­trib­ute? Is it re­quired? Will it need to be adapted for Asian mar­ket (ex­ports or dis­tri­bu­tion)? Am I ready to ex­port my prod­uct/ser­vice to other re­gions (USA, Europe)? Is the prod­uct/ ser­vice al­ready ex­ported to other re­gions?


The sec­ond thing you should do is eval­u­ate the risk as­so­ci­ated with ter­ri­to­rial ex­pan­sion. There are vari­able fac­tors that will af­fect whether your prod­uct is a suc­cess or not. Your clients are para­mount to your suc­cess; you need to build and main­tain strong re­la­tion­ships. And this ex­tends be­yond your client to the in­dus­try you are in as well. It may be worth con­sid­er­ing a joint ven­ture, es­pe­cially if cer­tain po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic or in­fra­struc­ture pa­ram­e­ters are in play. Other things to be aware of are cor­rup­tion within cer­tain part­ners’ op­er­a­tions as well as gov­ern­ments and bu­reau­cra­cies, in­fla­tion and the value of the dol­lar.

The fol­low­ing are ways to mit­i­gate the risks:

• Have a team on the ground to re­port – this may in­clude people from HQ or lo­cal staff em­ployed by HQ.

• Cre­ate clear ex­pec­ta­tions of what is re­quired of all: your team, your clients etc.

• Set up sys­tems – People reporting in­clud­ing a ‘pulse’ on how the re­la­tion­ship(s) is go­ing.

• Ask for help from sea­soned Asia en­trepreneurs. They will add value to your busi­ness, ask them to be ‘real world’ with you as with­out straight talk the risks are too much to bear and will only be ob­vi­ous when you are al­ready in too deep. Start on the right foot­ing. Your SWOT on the re­gion should in­clude: 1. Eco­nomic dy­nam­ics 2. In­fra­struc­ture 3. Ease of do­ing busi­ness 4. Do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal risks 5. So­cial in­sta­bil­ity risks 6. Ex­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal risks 7. Sys­temic risks.


Iden­tify the right people to place and en­gage with the client this means fly­ing out with your team to meet the client. You must re­search the client: (prefer­ably prior to fly­ing out) to make sure they have the power to make de­ci­sions. Bil­lion­aire & Chair­man of Crown Re­sorts Jamie Packer re­cently said “Our suc­cess in China would not have oc­curred with­out our part­ners.” It is para­mount that you un­der­stand cul­tural pro­to­cols and eti­quette, but mostly the way your client thinks. Check out con­tem­po­rary cul­ture in each coun­try for clues.

Cul­ture works two ways: yours and theirs. Ask yourself whether your com­pany has the ex­ist­ing traits to suc­ceed over­seas. Those com­pa­nies that are able to max­imise their op­por­tu­ni­ties in Asia share the fol­low­ing traits: - Es­tab­lished in home mar­kets - Good prod­uct or ser­vice - Good rep­u­ta­tion in home mar­ket - Brand recog­ni­tion - Well-re­sourced in­clud­ing fi­nan­cially - Well con­nected - Ap­pre­ci­ate dif­fer­ent cul­tures –

speak­ing the lan­guage is a bonus - Pro­fes­sional to the point of con­serva

tive - Pa­tient and very good lis­ten­ers - Good ne­go­ti­a­tion skills - Fre­quent vis­i­tors to the re­gion - Re­la­tion­ship fo­cused - Un­der­stand that process is a nec­es­sary part to re­sults – no such thing as an overnight mir­a­cle; time is re­garded as your friend.

Cre­ate a po­si­tion of power

Once you have con­ducted a mar­ket dis­cov­ery, re­mem­ber­ing that the Chi­nese are dif­fer­ent to the Ja­panese or In­done­sians, it is time to put your pow­er­play into ac­tion. How will you po­si­tion your­selves above Western com­peti­tors? There are cer­tain fac­tors that you must ad­here to.

Lis­ten, lis­ten and lis­ten – si­lence is golden in Asian cul­ture. For you and the client. It is a sign of po­lite­ness and

‘ Iden­tify the right people to place and en­gage with the client, this means fly­ing out with your team to meet the client.’

con­tem­pla­tion. Western­ers tend to talk too much and have a rep­u­ta­tion for do­ing so. Be po­lite and al­ways lis­ten and you will gain trust and re­spect.

Re­mem­ber that ‘Yes’ does not al­ways mean ‘Yes’. It’s not com­mon to hear ‘no’ to any­thing. Busi­ness cul­ture in Asia is nowhere near as di­rect as it is in the West. It’s im­por­tant to give the people you are (or hop­ing to do) busi­ness with, a way out. If you ask them for a yes or no an­swer, you will hardly ever re­ceive a no. But if you re­ceive si­lence, a hes­i­ta­tion, or some­times even a yes, the an­swer can of­ten be no.

Once you have landed in the ter­ri­tory, get yourself in­tro­duced by the right people to the right people; you are bet­ter to have no in­tro­duc­tion than the wrong in­tro­duc­tion. Fo­cus on build­ing the re­la­tion­ship, with­out a strong re­la­tion­ship con­tracts will not come.

The best way to go about your ter­ri­to­rial ex­pan­sion is to seek ad­vice from people that have been there be­fore you. How­ever, seek the right ad­vice. Ex­pe­ri­ence tells me that the ad­vice you re­quire as an en­tre­pre­neur is at times strik­ingly dif­fer­ent to what a multi-na­tional may re­quire.

Be street smart in your ap­proach, for­get about the po­lit­i­cally cor­rect ad­vice that is so com­mon to­day, ask the tough ques­tions from people you trust and re­spect and have the runs on the board – ex­plain to them that’s how you would like to be treated. In my ex­pe­ri­ence this ap­proach works best.

If you fol­low these rules you will set yourself up to have a suc­cess­ful crack at do­ing busi­ness in any of the Asian ter­ri­to­ries.

Jon-Michail is a 30 year vet­eran col­lab­o­rat­ing in en­tre­pre­neur­ial ven­tures in Asia. He is the CEO of Im­age Group In­ter­na­tional, Aus­trala­sia’s NO 1 Im­age Coach – IGI Sup­ports Pro­fes­sion­als and en­trepreneurs to mon­e­tise their per­sonal and cor­po­rate brands. www.im­age­group.com.au

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