Your 11-point guide to doing business in Asia

I have been unusually obsessed with Asia for many years. For me, it is the energy, pace, cultural diversity, the quirkiness, heat, and of course, the food. In my early years working in the region my eyes were really opened by spending time meeting customers, people and stakeholders throughout ANZ's regional footprint.

"You need to be on the ground to build relationships, to observe what is going on in the market, to get to know the people and culture."
Emma Davine, Head of Transaction Banking in Hong Kong | ANZ

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Before making the move to Singapore and now Hong Kong, I thought I knew a thing or two about the region and how things are done. I realised quickly that it's one thing living somewhere and another just travelling through.

The same goes with business. You need to be on the ground to build relationships, to observe what is going on in the market, to get to know the people and culture and to understand the risks you are taking.

Its early days for me but here's a few things that I have found helpful in quickly immersing myself into a new business environment:

  • Don't take on too much too soon. Understand the business risks, the market landscape and your relative capability.

    Trust your gut instincts but make sure you do your homework and look below the surface - it is dangerous to not fully understand the markets in which you operate. Get advice. Listen, observe, and talk to the right people.

    If you are entering a market for the first time, legal and consulting firms can be a very reliable source about what is going on in the market.

  • Watch what your competitors are doing and observe the market. You need to understand your competitor's offering, how you can compete and be able to articulate what your relative strength is.

    Don't be too internally focussed or you will miss an opportunity or not see the risk coming. A good way to do this is to keep on top of industry news, join an industry body and use your networks within the market to keep on top of what is happening.

    If you are in a regulated industry, your regulator will also be a primary source of information for you, including industry trends and issues.

  • Connect with your Embassy/Consul General/High Commission and Chambers of Commerce that you quickly learn and connect with others.

  • Be culturally curious – embrace difference and say yes to any opportunities that come your way. Have an open mind and don't take yourself too seriously. Take a deep dive into the culture and way of life.

    This goes both ways so make sure you take time to share insights about your own home market and culture. Be respectful of different ways of doing things – in Hong Kong and Singapore this means not scheduling meetings over lunchtime, unless it involves a meal!

  • Find a way to connect with your customers, your team and your stakeholders. For me, I have found food and humour to be a great connector and bridge across different cultures.

    In Singapore, head to Geylang for frog porridge; in Chongqing, sample a spicy hot pot and in Hong Kong, indulge in dim sum. Recently I took my team for a Sichuan hotpot dinner and I have never seen them happier or more connected.

  • If you are building a team, make sure you bring in the right people with the appropriate capabilities and local and in depth knowledge of the industry and players. You need a great team of connected locals to help you and your business succeed.

    Ask your colleagues and those with experience working in the market to help identify the top local talent. It is through these existing relationships that you will attract the best people.

    As your reputation grows in the market, so too will your ability to attract the right people. 

  • It also is important to get the right mix of people - the right mix of local talent with local market experience and expats with experience from your HQ and other markets.

    As a general rule, you need to match your people with the needs of your customers. For example, the needs of Hong Kong and Chinese customers are most likely best met by your local talent; whilst for large multinationals, either local or Western talent could be appropriate.

    There is also a strong argument for having expats in your business to work as connectors between your new and home markets, as well as acting as HQ corporate culture role models.

    Your ideal team mix will vary over time as the life cycle of your business progresses – often with flexibility required when something just isn't working.

  • If you are not linguistically challenged like me, learn the language. You will quickly build up the respect of your team, customers and stakeholders by doing this.

    The reality is that in many countries in the region, if you do not become familiar with the local language, there is really only so far you can go. It's as simple as that.

  • Also be aware that even if you do learn the language, it does not make you a local…. Understand that culturally you will always be a bit different. Recognise you have been brought up in different cultural environments, educated in different ways, and listened to/watched different music and TV.

    Whether in English or otherwise, you will find some expressions that you use will just not translate due to your different backgrounds – and will be met with very blank expressions. Find a way to translate your concepts and to simplify your expressions.

  • To succeed you need to become an insider - both in your home and host countries. Personally and in business, this means creating new connections and building your profile in your host country as well as maintaining and continuing to build relationships in your home country.

    There is no excuse to not connect widely or to lose touch anymore, with LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter now so widely used.

  • Lastly, seek out people you can trust and who already know the ropes, don't be afraid to ask for their advice or be afraid to laugh at the situations you find yourself in.

Get involved in all aspects of life and spend time really exploring your new environment. Now get on with it, you're going to have fun!

Emma Davine is Head of Government & Commercialisation, Transaction Banking.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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