What does it take to form an effective partnership with a Chinese investor, or for that matter, a contractor?
Jianxi Cheng, project manager with Wanda One in the UK, has a few illuminating suggestions.
Speaking at the CIOB International Inspiring Construction conference in London today, he offered advice amidst the pointed backdrop of £30bn of deals agreed during the Chinese President’s recent visit to the UK.
With Chinese infrastructure investment in Europe having quadrupled to more than £105bn over the last decade, of which the vast majority has been invested in the last couple of years, it might be advice that’s worth lending an ear to – whether you agree with all the sentiments or not.
“The Chinese build relationships before doing business, the UK does the opposite,” he offered as one lesson to take away.
Building on the theme, he explained that in China there is a strong adherence to “respecting the face”, where the decision maker is not challenged. Indeed, he elaborated that the chair at a Chinese meeting dominates the proceedings.
Neither of which is, generally speaking, the UK way, I trust you’ll agree.
“Chinese engineering is underrated in the UK,” he said, adding that conversely, UK consultants are well respected in his homeland. And this from a nation that is capable of knocking up a 57-storey tower in 19 days.
Yes, I hear you ask, but what about the most obvious barrier, language?
When stacked against these other cultural and perception differences, Mr Cheng was phlegmatic. “People think that Chinese people can’t speak English, and that British people can’t speak Chinese, but language isn’t a barrier at all, it’s just something we have to pay attention to.”
Bouygues Construction’s London MD Arnaud Bekaert followed Mr Cheng on stage.
“The biggest challenge [for Bouygues] on entering the UK was a lack of references and reputation,” he said. “Bouygues persevered and it took seven years to secure our first private sector project. Now, our balance is fifty-fifty between the public and private sectors.
“Be resilient and persistent, adapt and diversify. Learn from people here on the ground to blend cultures,” he said.
That all sounds like solid advice doesn’t it?
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Our skills and diversity week continues today with a guide to thinking outside the box on recruitment. Plus Tideway CEO Andy Mitchell writes for CN on how the ‘super sewer’ can help to tackle gender imbalance among construction employees.