Business in Hangzhou

Turntable dinner in Hangzhou

Doing buisness in Hangzhou

I have no clue what this was and I passed.

Let me start by saying that doing business in China is completely different from anything I have ever experienced. We were in all day meetings with government officials, business partners and service providers. The rooms are set up to make sure you are on the opposite side of the conference table, apparently so that they can address your questions and see your face. We have had a steady stream of long meetings all over the city and the scenarios below were repeated in almost every meeting.

The meeting is attended by an enormous amount of people. There were about fifteen Americans from different parts of the US deciding on the best location for our future business and approximately fifteen Chinese teammates that had done preliminary work to narrow the choices of future locations. Doing business in China is largely based on relationships, and our Chinese team had strong ties with the local government, city government and the local vendors playing a key role in every meeting.

The government plays a pivotal role in every negotiation. They want to ensure that there are plenty of incentives to convince you to do business in China. I never could figure out the government matrix of responsibility…. As they introduced themselves it went something like this:  I am in charge of business in the city.”  “I am in charge of working with foreign workers.” “I am in charge of the province.” “I have the province across the river”, and on and on. To make matters more confusing the officials are all in competition with each other and all fighting for your business in their particular arena. I could never figure out the hierarchy but this I know… You need the Chinese government to get anything accomplished.

The Chinese hate losing and typically they want to close the deal as soon as possible.  “Saving face” is culturally inherent, in every negotiation there must be a plan for a gracious exit or a chance to meet again.

Now let’s talk about the company with whom you are potentially doing business. All the executives are in the room. The CFO, the CEO, the general manager, the VP of this and the VP of that, Human Resources, an interpreter, someone giving the presentations, someone pouring tea, someone bringing cold water, all in the same room, all to assist you. In addition there can be a number of people who are available to give supporting material. There are lots of attendants to say the least.  

 

 Long presentations were the order of the day to insure they were addressing all your needs.  The back and forth communication became quite complicated and convoluted and was almost comical to watch. I never heard one answer to a question answered directly. Instead the answers were in a long and meandering sales style that was intended to convince you to do what is in their best interest.  At one point the Americans were eyeing each other, puzzled that we never seemed to get the question answered even when the question was repeated. At first we thought that the language barrier was the problem, but honestly after several attempts it became obvious that language was not remotely the problem. Simply stated, they kept telling us what they wanted us to know.

 

Really, you have never seen anything like it and when they tell you they will guarantee they will be ready on time with 100% assurance…. They mean it. They have the resources (human beings) to make things happen.

 

 At night we usually have a large turntable style dinner.  I actually like this approach to dinner because you can pass on the weird stuff. I did try jellyfish and it was not like anything I could ever imagine. The flavor was very good but the texture was very crunchy. When I first saw it on the plate, I thought it looked slimy and limp but when you pick it up with your chopsticks it is very stiff. I actually liked it. 

 

During the long dinners with the government officials and the business partners the beer or wine flows freely and you don’t have just one or two toasts. You might have ten or more in a dinner. This is not your usual clinking of glasses and “cheers” toast.  Every time there is a toast everyone stands up and says “Janbo”. Now the trick here is that “Janbo” means bottoms up, meaning you drink the whole thing in one slug and then slam your glass on the table.  After two of these I leaned over to my teammate and said “they are trying to get us drunk.” I knew if we had a few more I would never be able to stand.  We both order apple juice because It looks like beer but not so lethal.  These dinners could go on for a very long time and I needed to maintain a certain level of sobriety level. The men in particular delight in the whole Chinese drinking game scene.

Every meeting and every dinner seemed to follow a prescribed format.  There was a sense ceremony with every encounter and customarily served with Green tea. “We will not only take care of your business we will take care of your health.”  Every occasion ended in the exact same way with lots of hand shaking and “It is my pleasure doing business with you.”  It is a nice tradition.

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