Keys to doing business in Asia

[Story and photo by Mike Foley: Published originally in the BYU-Hawaii online “Newsroom,” November 5, 2002]

Stanley FongA BYU-Hawaii alumnus originally from Hong Kong, who now lives in Japan, told current School of Business students that respect for the cultures and networking are the keys to doing business in Asia.

“In a lot of ways Brother Fong is what we hope most people who graduate from here will become,” said International Business Management department chairman Norm Wright in introducing Stanley Fong [pictured at left] at the November 5th Entrepreneurship Lecture Series.

Fong, a 1993 BYU-Hawaii alumnus in international business management, is the China operations manager for Inscriber Technology Corporation, a multinational company dealing in digital signage and information channels, as well as the Japan representative for Nelson Jewelry Arts Co., Ltd., and other ventures. He and his wife, and four children, live in Tokyo.

“It is a privilege and an honor that I can share some of my experiences in Asia,” said Fong, who focused his remarks on doing business in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Fong, who speaks Mandarin, Cantonese, and Japanese, attributes some of his success to his multilingual abilities. “In Asia, you have to have language skills. In Hong Kong, we also have ‘Chinglish,’ which is what I am speaking,” he joked.

He stressed that the economy of China, with its 1.3 billion population, has grown tremendously since the PRC was founded in 1949, and opened to the West in 1979. “When you look at China, the most developed areas are along the east coast. The most successful city is Shenzhen, the [mainland] border city of Hong Kong,” Fong said, pointing out that the Yangtze delta, which includes Shanghai, and his hometown of Hong Kong are also major commercial centers.

Fong recalled there were mixed feelings among many people when the former British Colony of Hong Kong — which was China’s “window on the world” — reverted to the PRC several years ago. “On that day, we thought it was over, because the PRC didn’t have the experience to administrate the city,” he said.

“Since then, there have been a lot of changes,” Fong continued, noting Hong Kong now competes for economic growth with Shanghai, which is catching up.

Fong emphasized that there are many foreign success stories in China, but others have failed, and even non-PRC Chinese struggle. “There are a lot of opportunities in China, but many things there are not mature yet. For example, how do you deal with companies steeped in the practices of the past?”

“Some things that happen in Asia don’t make sense to people in the United States,” Fong said, stressing that “you have to respect the culture first before you enter the market. We also have to learn the market…and localize pricing.” He explained that East Coast Chinese earn approximately US$1000 annually, while people in the western provinces earn about US$100 a year.

Asked if bribery is part of doing business in China, Fong replied, “This is a gray area. If you have contacts, you talk to the guy, buy him lunch, buy him dinner, and you speed up the process; but you don’t have to give him cash.” He added there are a lot of temptations as well as opportunities.

“You’ve got to be honest, and have a lot of integrity. One more thing, look for long-term relationships,” Fong said, pointing out that he cultivated one customer for almost seven years before he made his first sale to him.

Fong encouraged Chinese from countries other than the PRC who are interested in doing business there “to respect the people. Overseas Chinese have a lot of opportunities in China. They need us to work as coordinators, because we’re familiar with western values. But you also need to know Chinese values. You have to adjust yourself. You also have to speak good Mandarin.”

Asked how to set up a personal business network in China, Fong answered, “I am so blessed to be a member of the Church, but there are a lot of good people in the world who are not members. It takes time. You can always go to the embassy, and check websites; but if you have a good network of people you know, you can jumpstart your business.”

Fong added a lot depends on your personality, meeting people, engaging them in conversation, and eventually making friends. “You’ve also got to have a business card in Asia,” he said.

“Start networking now. Make friends with people from China, Korea and Japan. You have a very good environment here with people from other countries. It’s important to have interpersonal skills with people from Asia. You can benefit a lot from your friends,” Fong said.

“I’m pleased to say that BYU-Hawaii has a very good network in Asia.”

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