China’s leader, Xi Jinping, is no stranger to an ambitious plan. In May this year, speaking in Beijing to 29 assembled heads of state—Russian president Vladimir Putin included—he promoted China’s Belt and Road Initiative, his grandest and most far-reaching plan yet.
Xi’s vision extends across the vast plains of Mongolia, to Russia, India, Pakistan, across 60 countries mostly in Asia and Europe, covering around 65% of the world’s population, and a third of the world’s GDP.
The plan: to lead a massive infrastructure development project along the old Silk Road trade route—on land and sea—to boost trade, and stimulate economic growth across Asia.
According to Fitch Ratings, the credit agency, more than $900 billion in projects are already planned or underway. In late 2014, China set up the $40 billion Silk Road Fund. Its first project, to build a major hydropower station in Islamabad, Pakistan, started in January 2016.
Xi’s grand plan epitomizes China’s increasing influence in world affairs. But the infrastructure development of the Belt and Road Initiative will bring more business opportunities for foreign companies too and, in particular, more China-focused career opportunities for executives in the West.
Grant Thornton—the world’s seventh-largest professional services network—has 23 offices, 220 partners, and more than 5,000 employees across mainland China and Hong Kong. Simon Bevan, head of Grant Thornton’s China Britain Services Group based in the UK, is focusing on increasing his UK staff’s China knowledge with the Belt and Road Initiative in mind.
“We believe that, post-Brexit, Britain is going to have an even greater focus on exporting to China and cooperating on China outbound investment activities. This includes the Belt and Road Initiative which is likely to spawn many projects that should benefit from British infrastructure expertise, in professional and financial services,” he says.
“China’s importance to both today’s and tomorrow’s business generation is immense,” Simon continues. “Whilst Chinese businesses essentially have the same needs as Western ones, there is always a China-characteristic, whether it be cultural, linguistic or technical. Being able to successfully navigate these characteristics improves the experience of such situations—both for the professional and for the Chinese business as well.”
In today’s environment, even for executives based in the UK, gaining the insight and skills needed to do business with China is becoming increasingly important. But for many Western execs, the language barrier, close personal networks, and foreign concepts like Guanxi, can make operating in China tricky.
With this in mind, the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB)—China’s first independent, faculty-governed and non-profit business school—has just launched a new China Mini EMBA+—a nine-day, five-city program for Western executives looking to learn how to do business with China.
CKGSB’s China Mini EMBA+ helps Western senior managers and execs gain access to the Chinese business elite. Out of Fortune’s China Top 500 companies, 66 are led by CKGSB alumni, including Alibaba founder Jack Ma.
The Belt and Road Initiative will create huge openings for Western manufacturing and mechanical engineering firms in China. But Bo Ji, chief representative of CKGSB Europe and the new program’s director, says opportunities in China are not limited to government initiatives.
Bo lists a number of industries ripe for disruption in China—anything tech like fintech, blockchain, AI, but also businesses that can help Chinese society with some of the problems it faces—solutions for clean energy, medicine, food safety, and an aging population.
“There are a lot of industries where China needs help and participation from foreign companies,” he says.
China, of course, has its own success stories too. 25% of unicorns—startups valued at over $1 billion—are native Chinese. WeChat, Tencent, Jack Ma’s Alibaba—new, disruptive business models are being created in China which leaders in the West need to be aware of.
Why? “It’s about the way people do business in China,” Bo explains. “Most Chinese consumers use WeChat, so that changes the way you market and sell your product; it changes the way you deal with the Chinese consumer.
“Some of this disruptive tech is coming back to Europe and the US as well,” he continues. Like Mobike, the world’s first station-less bicycle-sharing platform.
Heading up CKGSB’s new China Mini EMBA+, Bo and his colleagues will show participants how to negotiate with the Chinese; how to build a successful Chinese business presence; how to enter the Chinese market; and how to make the most out of China’s many business opportunities.
Starting in London in February 2018, the program’s participants will complete three modules over the course of six months; four days in Europe—in London and Paris—either side of a five-day expedition in China—in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, visiting companies like Didi Taxi, China’s Uber alternative.
With China’s unrelenting ascendancy, there’s a patent need for Western executives to gain China-specific knowledge and take advantage of new business opportunities in the East.
“Going out there, visiting companies, learning why they use a particular type of business model, how they get and retain customers,” says Bo, “that’s of real value to executives, and entrepreneurs, who want to expand their company’s business in China.”