A lot of companies think that finding a China consultant is as easy as finding someone in their industry or organization that is American-Chinese. They speak the language and know the culture, right? Not so fast. One of the biggest blunders many organizations make upon first entering China is putting someone in charge of operations just because of their heritage.
Hiring a China Consultant Based on Heritage Alone Can be Dangerous
American-Chinese might not even speak the language well. It’s a common concern in many Chinese communities throughout the US that their children are growing up unable to speak the language. There are entire industries of weekend Chinese language programs to address just this problem.
Well, at least they know the culture you say. Maybe not. They still grew up in America. Chinese business practices are incredibly different from those found here and being born American-Chinese doesn’t mean you have any understanding of modern day China. Many a business has failed because they put the wrong consultant or forerunner in place.
Finally, a note of caution to never place a Chinese consultant in or near their home town. The Chinese government used to have a rule that employees could not work within X amount of miles of their home town, and with good reason. Nepotism runs deep and the pressures of family to provide favors often outweighs any commitments to the organization or government.
Ideally, you want a China consultant that has familiarity with the industry you’re in. Much of Chinese business has to do with guanxi, or relationships. Solid and trusted contacts on the ground are often a major key to the success or failure of a business venture in China. The more contacts your consultant has in a particular area, the more confident you can be of their ability to help you get the job done.
As mentioned in my post on China Business Consultants – Do Your Due Diligence, there are a lot of scams and shady practices out there. To ensure your consultant is able to spot even the most elaborate fake or scam, they need to have a strong understanding of the product or service sector your organization is operating in.
Knowing the Right People
As mentioned above, you’ve got to know the right people in China to get things done. This could be connections with customs officials, party members, business owners, or industry experts. A China consultant with more connections means a China consultant that people trust and one you can depend on to get the job done right.
Values and Ethics
Despite President Deng Xiaoping’s crackdown on corruption, it is still rampant in the Chinese business world. As a foreign business operating in the country, you will be under sharp scrutiny by the authorities. A wrong move in the beginning could destroy any chance of entering the Chinese market.
You want to be 100% confident that your consultant will follow US business regulations to avoid running afoul of the FCPA. Bribes might be commonplace in Chinese business, and local business can probably get away with it, but, believe me, you’re not going to want to take that same chance. A China consultant based in the US will have a much better understanding of these regulations, so I always recommend working with someone based out of the US.
Finding a great China consultant requires a lot of thought and is much more than just choosing someone based on their heritage. You want an expert that knows the ins and outs of both business worlds through actual experience, so make sure you choose wisely.