Up a River Without a Paddle – A Chinese Misadventure!
You cannot always avoid missteps as you pursue international business growth, but with good guidance you can be better prepared and learn how to avoid them. Below are some insights from EuroLink Managing Director, Joe Mannion:
If you push new frontiers enough in international business travel eventually you will get caught out somewhere. If only you could predict when & where! Some years ago in one of my first business trips around China, I set off from Hong Kong one morning in search of a supplier. Now normally I am very comfortable doing business and traveling internationally. After all I have been doing this for many years now. Speaking several languages fluently, and usually being on the road or in the air 50% of the time, you would think that very little could trip me up out there. While that confidence has brought me and my clients great success, on this day I was literally left up a river without a paddle. Up the Pearl river delta to be precise.
On the trip I had been meeting with potential business partners, to supply some parts to a U.S. client for significant international contracts. Over a period of a couple of weeks I had been in and out of mainland China, from Guangzhou to Xiamen, from Shanghai to Shenzen, Macao, Hong Kong and many other places in between. It was a great adventure, and very productive. Being there, and going to meet potential new partners, is part of my approach to international business which is founded squarely on building relationships and trust. Going the extra mile is crucial in vetting businesses, and seeing them in operation is the best way to evaluate their real capabilities. I met dozens of companies on that trip. For most of the time I worked with local business experts and contacts who would introduce me to them, usually accompanying me to their locations. Having strong well-introduced guidance from local market experts is critical to succeeding internationally. But not that day!
For that day I decided to go native, or at least as native as I was capable of in China at the time. I set off early on one of the many ferries leading up the Pearl river delta, sure of my route and how to get to the day’s destination for a meeting. But after a couple of hours I found myself in an unknown port, with no idea where I was and how I was going to get out of there. To add to the pressure, and besides missing the meeting (something I hate), I knew that if I returned out to Hong Kong my last re-entry visa into mainland China was used up. My trip would be a bust. There were people everywhere at this port (to this day I could not tell you the name of the place), but all were busy going about their business. Nobody that I could find spoke English or could make any sense of my attempt to say where I was trying to get to. At the time my visa meant that I had to get out of China that night, or risk trouble with the authorities! Added pressure. So I did the only thing that I could. I went to the police! I had often heard that if you are in trouble in far flung places, calmly approach the authorities and see if they can help. In China it was never hard to find a policeman or soldier, they were everywhere. And sure enough they helped me. They found a local business person who was heading where I needed to go, and better still who could speak English.
From that point on, everything worked out great that day. I thanked the local officers and the businessman, and I was soon at my destination. After the meeting I made doubly sure I was told exactly how to get back to Hong Kong without any missteps.Getting back to Hong Kong that night was a great relief, and a good story to share with my local experts over dinner. Just as I help my clients to successfully create business internationally, principally in Europe and North America, I always appreciated their local expertise and contacts. That way you save yourself from being left up a river without a paddle!
Joe Mannion is Managing Director of EuroLink International Business Development which offers global technical sales and marketing expertise, with full multilingual capabilities.