Re­flec­tions on China

Be­ing at the very first sum­mit in 2010 pro­vides Mr Geir Svig­gum, Chair­man at Wik­borg Rein, with an in­ter­est­ing per­spec­tive on its growth af­ter the event’s re­turn to Shang­hai.

Norway-Asia Business Review - - F OREWORD - CHEYENNE HOLLIS

He shares his thoughts on the NABS through the years along and re­flects upon his time in China.

When Mr Geir Svig­gum, Wik­borg Rein Part­ner and Chair­man, and Mr Vi­dar An­der­sen, Head of Cor­po­rate Bank­ing In­ter­na­tional at DNB, shared the stage at the Nor­way-Asia Busi­ness Sum­mit 2019 to dis­cuss the very first event nearly a decade ear­lier, their con­ver­sa­tion turned to an amus­ing anec­dote about the panel Mr Svig­gum was on dur­ing the first event.

“I re­mem­ber some­one on stage talk­ing about how they be­lieved in­vest­ment in China had reached its peak level at that time,” Mr Svig­gum told the crowd. “Of course, as I look around the room now and see so many peo­ple in­ter­ested and ac­tive in China, that pre­dic­tion may have been a lit­tle off.”

In­deed it was. With more than

1,000 peo­ple in at­ten­dance at NABS 2019, it was the big­gest Sum­mit to date and show­cased both the grow­ing in­ter­est Nor­we­gian com­pa­nies have in China and the need for such events.

“We thought it would be very mean­ing­ful for the Nor­we­gian busi­ness com­mu­nity in Asia to gather once a year and share ex­pe­ri­ences. In 2010, Shang­hai hosted the mag­nif­i­cent World Expo, the largest ever. We there­fore started with Shang­hai as a venue for the first NABS,” Mr Svig­gum ex­plained. “It felt as the epi­cen­tre of all ex­cite­ment at the time. I re­mem­ber that there was so much go­ing on in Shang­hai at the time that we had to com­pete for speak­ers who were also in­vited else­where at con­flict­ing hap­pen­ings.”

The most re­cent event brought with it a who’s who of speak­ers from the busi­ness and govern­ment sec­tors with both Nor­way and China thor­oughly rep­re­sented. Many of those who spoke at NABS 2019 was some­thing that left a last­ing im­pres­sion on Mr Svig­gum.

“Many speak­ers at the event im­pressed me. Cilia Holmes In­dahl CEO at Kat­a­pult; Therese Trulsen, Se­nior Lawyer and Chief Rep­re­sen­ta­tive at Wik­borg Rein China; Mary Boyd, Di­rec­tor and The Econ­o­mist Cor­po­rate Net­work in Shang­hai; and Mr Vi­dar Helge­sen, Nor­we­gian Spe­cial En­voy for Ocean, were just four of them,” Mr Svig­gum said. “It was also re­ally nos­tal­gic for me to be on stage again with my old friend, the very im­pres­sive Mr An­der­sen of DNB.”

An­other thing to come out of NABS 2019 was the con­tin­ued evo­lu­tion of the event. The Sum­mit in Shang­hai dur­ing 2010 and the fol­low­ing year in Sin­ga­pore hap­pened to be much smaller af­fairs where the focus was more in­ter­nal. Even in the fol­low­ing years as the Sum­mit moved across Asia, the fo­cused re­mained on gath­er­ing the Nor­we­gian com­mu­nity

with roughly 100 to 200 peo­ple at­tend­ing dur­ing any given event.

The 2018 Sum­mit, which re­turned to Sin­ga­pore for a sec­ond time, saw a no­table in­crease in both in­ter­est and at­ten­dance with more em­pha­sis placed on strength­en­ing Nor­we­gian in­dus­try in the re­gion through net­work­ing and knowl­edge shar­ing. That would serve as a spring­board for NABS 2019

“I was im­pressed with the num­ber of peo­ple gath­ered, and not least the level of peo­ple in at­ten­dance. The con­cept has changed some­what since 2010. There was a time where we fo­cused on gath­er­ing the Nor­we­gian com­mu­nity in dif­fer­ent Asian hubs, but this was more of a plat­form for Chi­nese and Nor­we­gian busi­ness lead­ers to meet and in­ter­act,” Mr Svig­gum noted. “I would like to com­pli­ment ev­ery­one who attended on their in­ter­est in China. Un­der­stand­ing China is so im­por­tant in or­der to un­der­stand the world in the 21th cen­tury.”

Chi­nese Home­com­ing

For Mr Svig­gum, NABS 2019 was also a chance for him to re­turn to the coun­try where he was based for the best part of six years with Wik­borg Rein. In some ways, the change in the Sum­mit mir­rored the change he saw in the host coun­try.

“I lived in China from 2008 un­til 2013. I had the priv­i­lege of trav­el­ing to 21 Chi­nese prov­inces dur­ing my time there,” Mr Svig­gum re­called. “China is changing ex­tremely rapidly, but I am happy to see that the Chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics still re­main. It is also im­por­tant to note that China has so many things. There are great di­ver­si­ties in China, still, six years af­ter I left.”

There have also been no­tice­able changes in Wik­borg Rein’s Shang­hai op­er­a­tions since Mr Svig­gum moved to a dif­fer­ent position with the firm ear­lier in the decade. Of course, this is to be ex­pected with grow­ing in­ter­est in the coun­try from the Nor­we­gian busi­ness com­mu­nity.

“Our prac­tice has grown a lot since 2008. We han­dle dis­putes, trans­ac­tions, com­pli­ance work and other forms of ad­vi­sory,” Mr Svig­gum pointed out. “I be­lieve a trend we have seen is that as­sign­ments are get­ting larger and more com­plex.”

Part of that shift owes it­self to a more di­verse busi­ness mix. When Mr Svig­gum lived in China, he es­ti­mated that 75 per­cent of Nor­we­gian busi­nesses ac­tive in the coun­try were re­lated to en­ergy and mar­itime ac­tiv­i­ties. That has changed in the past few years and the busi­ness mix is cur­rently much more di­verse.

One ques­tion peo­ple want to know the an­swer to is just how dif­fer­ent the busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment is to­day than when he was work­ing in China. Mr Svig­gum be­lieves the pic­ture is mixed with some things be­ing eas­ier now than they were when he lived in China. On the other hand, new chal­lenges have arisen that busi­nesses must con­sider.

In terms of the most com­mon chal­lenges Wik­borg Rein clients in China have faced over the years, the firm con­tin­ues to see some old prob­lem rear their ugly head while new is­sues also come up.

“Many clients have strug­gled with cul­tural as­pects. There have been many ex­am­ples of chal­lenges re­lated to un­happy busi­ness mar­riages and Nor­we­gian in­vestors choos­ing the wrong part­ner in the first place. There have been in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty chal­lenges as well,” Mr Svig­gum stated. “I must also em­pha­sise con­fu­sion due to fast­pace de­vel­op­ment of le­gal frame­work and some­times lack­ing pre­dictabil­ity in reg­u­la­tory cir­cum­stances. I be­lieve there are few chal­lenges faced by Nor­we­gians in China we have not been in­volved with in one way or the other!”

He con­tin­ued, “If you are work­ing in China or con­sid­er­ing it, pre­pare very well and use an ad­vi­sor with a mixed cul­tural back­ground, mean­ing that they un­der­stand both the cul­ture you are com­ing from and go­ing to.”

The en­tire re­la­tion­ship needs to be looked at as a two-way street. Both China and Nor­way can learn and part­ner with each other on mul­ti­ple lev­els. For ex­am­ple, there are op­por­tu­ni­ties for knowl­edge shar­ing be­tween the two coun­tries with Mr Svig­gum cit­ing China’s tech­nol­ogy trans­for­ma­tion com­ing out of Xinghua Uni­ver­sity and other hubs be­ing some­thing that is worth watch­ing and learn­ing from. In­bound in­vest­ment to Nor­way must also be con­sid­ered.

“Nor­way has in re­cent years been one of the most at­trac­tive des­ti­na­tions for Chi­nese in­vest­ment in Europe. We see large in­ter­est in our en­ergy and mar­itime in­dus­tries. We also see keen in­ter­est in our north­ern ar­eas and the Arc­tic,” Mr Svig­gum stated.

Look­ing back to the first NABS and the panel he sat on, Mr Svig­gum isn’t ready to make any procla­ma­tions about in­vest­ment peak­ing on ei­ther side. In fact, with re­la­tions be­tween Mr Svig­gum im­prov­ing, it could be some time be­fore we do see that peak.

“I be­lieve there is still lots of po­ten­tial. It is sim­ply in­cred­i­ble to see the level of busi­ness in­ter­ac­tion that took place dur­ing the years with a chal­leng­ing bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship. Now, af­ter nor­mal­i­sa­tion of bi­lat­eral ties, we see fur­ther de­vel­op­ment in the com­plex­ity and mag­ni­tude of Sino-Nor­we­gian re­la­tions,” Mr Svig­gum con­cluded. “A free trade agree­ment will con­trib­ute to fur­ther growth. We have much to learn from one an­other, and I do not be­lieve we are close to the peak still.”

PHOTO: NABS 2019

PHOTO: NABS 2019

Above left and above: Mr Geir Svig­gum, Chair­man of Wik­borg Rein with Mr Vi­dar An­der­sen, Head of In­ter­na­tional Divi­sion at DNB. The two gen­tle­men to­gether with Erik Bor­gen (above), Chair­man of Sin­ga­pore-Nor­way Chamber of Com­merce and at the time Chair­man of Nor­we­gian Busi­ness As­so­ci­a­tion Sin­ga­pore were in­stru­men­tal in or­gan­is­ing the sum­mit in 2010 and in 2019 they were again par­tic­i­pat­ing at NABS 2019 in Shang­hai.

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