Thanks to the good work of my colleague, David Wright, Mandarin-speaker and China expert, Turquoise recently played host to a large delegation of business and government people from Zhejiang Province. Located to the south of Shanghai, Zhejiang has China’s highest per capita GDP and is home to many of the country’s largest, privately-owned companies. Turquoise’s longstanding connections with the provincial government resulted in the Vice Governor, Mr Zhu Congjiu, bringing over 60 company owners and officials to London for a series of meetings around the theme of outward investment and technology acquisition.
I am sorry to say that I have never visited China, so was unsure about what to expect from the visit. We did know in advance that language would be an issue; given the seniority of the Chinese delegates, the vast majority had not been brought up in an era when English was widely taught. (You can guess at my command of Mandarin…) We also knew that most of the visitors were company owners who had founded their businesses decades ago and grown them into very substantial, listed enterprises. Lastly, we were aware that the delegation would also be visiting Germany and Israel as part of the same trip and that Turquoise would be expected to do its bit for UK business.
In the event, the visit was enjoyable, exhausting and went very well. There were a large number of one-on-one meetings between the Chinese representatives and a selection of UK industrial technology companies from the Turquoise portfolio and extended network. Those were complemented by presentations and detailed discussions on the benefits of investment and M&A by Chinese companies outside their home market. Although some of the companies had previously made foreign acquisitions, this was new territory for many of them.
What did I learn from this ? Firstly, that, despite language barriers, Chinese and UK businesspeople had few problems in communicating when it came to matters of mutual interest. Secondly, that anyone, like Turquoise, involved in investments in the industrial technology sphere should be looking to establish relationships in China to access finance, markets and potential acquirers. Thirdly, that London in particular is home to a large number of young Chinese students who speak good English and have excellent academic credentials (35 of them acted as translators for the event and I saw at first-hand how quickly they grasped the technological and commercial issues being discussed).
Lastly, and possibly most importantly, I learned the etiquette of toasting a Chinese guest by clinking glasses. To demonstrate humility, it is important to make sure that the rim of your glass touches their glass somewhere below its rim. Of course, your guest will also be trying to ensure that they do the same, so this can quickly develop into a race to the floor…