Business alumnus Blake Margison traveled to China with Professor Pang’s group in 2006, the year he graduated from UAB, and decided to extend his stay indefinitely. He’s currently working for an international environmental protection agency NGO (non-governmental organization) in Beijing. Hear what Blake has to say about doing business in China…
The UAB in China program led by Professor Pang opened a two-way communications channel for Chinese and UAB students and teachers. Through the university’s partnership with Anshan Normal University in northeast China, I gained a great understanding of the Chinese language and culture in a fantastic learning environment which inevitably led to my extended stay here.
Since my arrival in Beijing in 2008, I have worked with an international environmental protection agency NGO that assists Chinese and foreign companies develop green projects around China.
Through my experience thus far, I would estimate over 50% of the foreign companies in China do not understand how to do business in China. The huge potential often spoken of is indeed here for many industries, however doing business here is like no other region in the world. It requires "learning all over again from scratch" how to engage. It takes years to understand China. Foreign companies need to place people here long-term that have an ability to fit-in, learning the language to become a respected local (you will rarely do well in China unless you can speak Chinese which "brings you across the bridge" in the eyes of the Chinese). You can't read about China in a few hours, as the country, its people and 5,000 year old culture are some of the most complex in the world. You have to learn the language, learn the cultural aspects of its people, and of course its totally unique business culture. The companies that rotate their people every 2 or 3 years, and keep them isolated in 5-star hotels or luxury villas, with drivers sending them between home and work essentially have placed their experts in an isolated world within China, which greatly slows their learning process about the real China. And just when they "begin" to learn, they rotate back to the US. Simply put, this doesn't work. Companies need to identify "suitable" people who are willing to live in China long-term.
In terms of the environmental field America and China’s two systems are completely opposite at this time. The American system is a bottom up approach where China is a top down approach. Where our association fits in, is working at the local level with different city mayors and development park leaders. Helping Chinese and foreign companies develop green projects around China. As I mentioned previously, most companies fail in China because they don’t know how to do business here. Luckily for me our staff is all Chinese, our office runs in Chinese and I get to work with many Chinese officials and learn the business culture. This full integration into the Chinese culture allows my learning curve to become shorter.