Face-to-Face is a new feature from newzealandinc.com where we sit down for a chat with young business leaders from around the globe. We’ll be running a special series of these from China where we talk to young New Zealanders doing big things on the ground here.
Shifting lenses and taking a look at China from the perspective of a young New Zealander involved in the foreign direct investment sector – newzealandinc.com speaks with Lena Skandera. A native of Raglan, Lena grew up between the Waikato and Europe where her family is from. Lena has her BA from Duke University in North Carolina and her Masters in Commerce from Virginia, and has lived and studied in Brazil, Switzerland and Madagascar before becoming a project manager at China Solutions, an advisory firm developing legal and operational solutions for FDI projects in China.
NZ Inc: What do you do in China?
I’m part of a team that builds a bridge between Kiwi, European and American businesses and Chinese businesses. I focus on strategic commercial issues (like how to build a stronger distribution relationship), and legal and operational issues (like an employment contract or trademark license).
NZ Inc: How did you come to be doing this?
Broadly, my background has been about connecting diverse groups. As a kid it was about integrating and translating between the Kiwi and Geman-Czech sides of my family’s lifestyle. Then, my academic and professional experiences themed on how to manage cross-border exchanges given varying languages, legal and regulatory frameworks, histories and business norms.
NZ Inc: What are the exciting parts of living and working in China?
Living in China has been, and continues to be, an extremely exciting experience. China, as a country, has gone through tremendous changes in the past 100 years, with acceleration of economic growth never before seen in human civilization over a 35 year period. And we have a front row seat to all of this in Shanghai! Part of the challenge is watching how this dynamic, fast-moving society is grappling with its various new opportunities, challenges and powers, and managing tensions arising between these. A walk down the street on any given night reflects some of these dynamics; for example, you see a countryside visitor playing a traditional
musical instrument on the sidewalk while a brand new Porsche drives by, carrying a member of the economic elite off into the night.
NZ Inc: What are some of common challenges of businesses coming to China?
There is a consistent lack of preparation – whether in the business model or psychologically – by business people wanting to come to China. It’s critical that a business person coming here understands that long-term, stable cooperation takes time and resources to develop. This time and resources should be applied to learning about China’s history and customary practices, developing corporate control and checks and balances with your partners, exploring different legal frameworks available. A successful distribution agreement takes more than a few meals and constructive email exchange; there needs to be deep planning, market awareness, legal and regulatory comprehension, alternative distributors, constant involvement and monitoring of the market.
NZ Inc: Can you give any examples?
A classic and very tangible example is poorly managed cross-border trade – For example, a buyer buys used cooking oil from a supplier. The buyer is seduced by too-good-to-be-true pricing (15-20 percent below market rates), rushes to contract with the seller using pro forma invoices and emails, and as a result there is no written contract with corresponding contractual due diligence performed on the seller, and the buyer has accepted heavily one-sided payment terms. The result is that the buyer literally buys garbage, for which the buyer then needs to pay even more out-of-pocket expenses to legally dispose of. Who do you blame? The seller for bad faith behavior, or the buyer for very poor decision-making and planning, and the lack of business sense?
NZ Inc: Advice do you have for Kiwis wanting to come to China?
Whether you’re an individual or business, come – because it’s an exciting and dynamic place to learn and create value. But do your homework! Become aware of history, learn the language. Start small, and grow organically at a pace that matches your accretion of knowledge. Make sure that your core competencies can add value here. Have Plan Bs and Plan Cs, and continuously review your relationships. Remember that ultimately, this is a marathon and not a race or a sprint.