A truly global outlook: talking China with Paul Hardman
We take some time to chat with Paul Hardman, our Director of Corporate and Commercial, whose personal interest in China has spearheaded our presence in the largest country in the world.
Paul, why China out of all the other countries in the world?
I have had an interest in Chinese history since schooldays when we studied 20th century Chinese history. I still amaze Chinese students today when tell them I remember the day that Chairman Mao died! That interest continued at university when I studied economic history, and I made the opium trade my dissertation. Looking back at that time in today’s context, it is staggering what China has achieved to go from a country where the GDP was less than 1% during the time of the Great Leap Forward, to now being the second largest economy in the world. How this has been achieved under the guise of communism is nothing short of a strange and rather wonderful revolution.
When did China start to become more of a professional adventure for you?
A friend who worked for the BBC had been asked to put together some talking heads-type presentations on the Alcatel’s intranet to help their China offices connect better together. It took me a few years, but by 2010 I accompanied a trade mission headed by Bath & North East Somerset Council to Nanchang. During my years as a lawyer, I had learned that the law of a country is an extension of the underlying culture, and therefore when it comes to negotiating contracts in China, cultural differences are magnified. Knowing and understanding the signals from the other side is an essential part of a successful outcome. I realised that although I knew a bit about the history, I knew nothing about the culture.
What was the most memorable part of that first trip to China?
For about three days we simply followed the schedule, but we wanted to break out from the confines of the planned trip. On day four, having expressed our frustration, we found the local government had lined up two law firms for us to talk to and by the end of the day we had agreed a Memorandum Of Understanding, or the first stage of a formal contract, with both of them. I still have the photo of the signing ceremony! It demonstrated that official government approval of business arrangements is an important first step in China, and all the more reason why you should work with your local trade body to facilitate an official introduction.
How do Gregg Latchams operate in China?
In China, we at Gregg Latchams support our Chinese clients under the name “Ruicheng”, meaning ‘farsighted and wise counsellor’. We visit regularly, and last year we took our largest party to three Chinese cities. Some of us went to Beijing and the other to Bristol’s sister city, Guangzhou, coming together in our favourite destination, Hangzhou (where the G20 summit had just concluded). During that time we met with Chinese investors of British companies, Chinese companies that wanted to collaborate with British businesses, and a Chinese company that wanted to expand into Britain. We even had dinner with the deputy governor of Zhejiang!
If you would like to talk to Paul or one of our other experts about operating in China, then get in touch here.