Fast boats to China

Fast boats to China

China’s huge economic growth has left a huge range of organisations and individuals looking to invest their wealth – possibly in your company.

Why would you want to get the Chinese interested in your business? Probably because you, like just about everyone else, see China as a source of investment funds and an engine of growth for the lacklustre British and European economies.

A straight comparison of growth rates testifies to the attraction for British and European business to hitch its wagon to that of China's entrepreneurial sector.

There is mounting evidence that if you can get Chinese entrepreneurs interested in your business, access to Chinese markets can be sped up considerably.

And the attractions of that are considerable.

The long-term growth in the Chinese economy – measured by the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) – from 2006-2011 was an eye-watering 10.52%.

Compare that with the UK’s 0.11% and the logic of targeting China is plain to see.

All the more so when the trials and tribulations of the European economy (which includes the high growth but small eastern European markets) have resulted in a comparable growth of 0.12% for the EU 27 (sadly, the two decimal places are needed for this comparison).

Of course China’s growth is distributed over a vast area, and finding the key markets is part of the challenge for western businesses.

Fortunately, linking up with the most vibrant Chinese enterprise will naturally introduce your business to these hotbeds of growth, and Britain is fortunate in having particularly helpful and industrious international trade and investment promotion services, such as the China-Britain Business Council (CBBC) and the governmentrun UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).

In many ways the combination of European and Chinese business is a marriage of wants.

The UK has a long industrial heritage which, when combined with the dynamic business aspirations of Chinese firms, promises to release new growth.

Typically Chinese firms have built their success on low-technology production, whereas European firms are research-intensive and boast sectors that lead the world in high technology.

All of which play to Chinese commercial priorities and the growth agenda of the West.

There are other synergies and complementarities for British firms short of growth options.

Once your business has identified growth opportunities, the question is how to raise finance.

Here again, Chinese business can help.

Encouraged by government policy, many Chinese firms are actively seeking opportunities to commit to markets abroad.

One rough and ready indicator of the financial capability of the Chinese economy is the growth in Chinese export earnings over the last six years.

China’s foreign exchange reserves grew at a CAGR of 24.6% from 2006 to the third quarter of 2011, reaching a total of US$3.2 trillion.

Even so, the ability of Chinese firms to call on this foreign exchange finance is dependent on access to finance in their domestic currency (the yuan renminbi) which can be patchy.

Entrepreneurial Chinese firms may have a vibrant business model, but often lack the scale of funds even for greenfield investment abroad.

However, taking a share of an existing business – short of outright acquisition – can be attractive and business partnerships that involve little or no capital input can also be beneficial for both sides.

Chinese venture capitalists are also looking for good opportunities to invest in businesses that have growth prospects, and may also be able to smooth the way to the Chinese market.

And, at the private investor level, China is now home to 115 US dollar billionaires, according to the 2011 Forbes Billionaires list.

More importantly, below these super-rich is a tranche of innumerable millionaires who have made their money in business, and who are naturally attracted to commerce.

Chinese firms also value western management and industry expertise in competitive, advanced markets is highly prized.

For the Chinese investor, there is nothing as attractive as a well-run firm with which to partner.

The elephant in the room is, however, Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and former SOEs, many of which do have access to major funding, both internally generated from their dominant incumbent positions in the Chinese market, and also in terms of access to credit through their relationship with Chinese government.

Those that have embraced reform and are keen to learn how to compete in the advanced markets can offer significant capital input into western business.

That’s the logic, but how can you make it happen? The key is to have good relationships (guan xi) and relationships with those who have good relationships, for which the Chinese have the term “guan xi wang” (networks).

Starting with bodies such as the CBBC that can act as facilitators.

Those with established links to China can put you in touch with other firms like yours as well as those that have already been successful and from whom you can learn.

Taking part in trade missions and attending trade fairs in China are all part of the matchmaking process and with professional advice there to help make sure any matches are good, there is no reason why marriages of want should not deliver mutual benefit.

Dr Hinrich Voss is a Roberts academic research fellow at the Centre for International Business (CIBUL) at Leeds University Business School, part of the University of Leeds.