Working on the relationship is key

Annie Govan - 09 April 2017


When you’re doing business in China or with Chinese it will always stand you in good stead if you understand and exercise their protocols as best you can.

A few years ago my husband Bert and I founded Challenge Steel – a company which has quickly risen to become one of New Zealand’s largest importers of quality fabricated structural steel.

As the company’s ‘international director’ and being Chinese-born I firmly believe our success can be largely attributed to us investing in a lot of time in building and maintaining strong personal and business relationships in China. That includes working hard to understand and reflect their many cultural subtleties.

I’ve been assigned the task of maintaining Challenge Steel’s all important supplier relationship. For us that is Shangdong Iron & Steel Group (Shan Steel) – a wholly state-owned steel conglomerate and one of China’s largest steel makers and fabricators.

As you can imagine Shan Steel is a massive entity. I am constantly reaching out to them, networking, and building and maintaining the trust. It’s also important to keep pushing up that ladder of management hierarchy - to engage with the most senior people possible.

Here in New Zealand a lot of our inter-business relationships are relatively low maintenance, but doing business in China puts the relationship at centre stage. Getting the translation right is critical, as is the translator themselves.

A translator must also reflect and filter a Chinese person’s upbringing, education, political beliefs, social and professional status. It’s a minefield but if you don’t get it right, it can cause misunderstanding and even conflict. In China it’s not about a literal translation, it’s a cultural transfer of information so a translator with good local knowledge and emotional intelligence is essential.

For most New Zealand business-people a contract is everything, but in China that is only part of the deal.

Chinese need to trust you and like dealing with you. They want to do things face to face. In China it’s about establishing a solid relationship-based foundation before the building blocks of business can be added.

In China business negotiations are ongoing. No deal can ever be viewed as totally done.