A China Joint Venture Survival Guide. 22 Facts and 22 Practical Tips.

Joint-Ventures (J-V) in China can go well, and can also go very wrong. When the latter is the case, problems come up from where you less expect them. “Mike Smith” (not his real name) spent two years in rural China supervising his employer’s interest in a Chinese joint venture where they were the majority partner (deal signed before he landed there). His case falls within the second category I’ve mentioned (I would in fact say that all that could go wrong went wrong) but that has given him invaluable lessons on how to ensure things are done right. He has also met on the way a number of joint-ventures facing quite similar challenges to the ones he experienced.

We met to talk about his time representing the foreign partner and I’ve drafted a series entitled “A Joint-Venture Survival Guide” composed of three posts based on his experiences, opinions, tips and comments .

A Joint-Venture Survival Guide (I).(First 8 Facts and 5 Tips)

Some introductory thoughts
1. China is a noble and good society… but when it comes to doing business, the value system changes. Ripping off a foreigner may be seen as a clever thing rather than a bad one.

2. Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou are in a universe of their own. Drive just 100 km away into central China and reality changes. It is a hardship environment and corruption is readily encountered.

3. You may have successfully set up joint-ventures and businesses in other countries. Do not assume China is going to be the same. You are lost without an expert if you are going to deal with a local partner.
“My company had successfully set up J-Vs across the world, and nowhere did they face the situations they faced here. They assumed they knew it all, and that was a big mistake”.

“The Essentials”
4. The foundations for your success will be laid before you sign the deal.
Preliminary work is essential, and I cannot stress this enough. Once you have signed you are helpless. And later on, once your million dollars are in China, you will not be able to get them out unless you exit the J-V. There is plenty of room for disaster so make sure you dig into every single hole to figure out where the problems may be.
! Tip: This is the time to get as much information as you need. You need to be able to access all books, information about operational manual, … You may hear the somewhat overused sentence “What is the problem? Don´t you trust me?”. Well it is not about trust, it is about business, and companies that have nothing to hide will share the information with you.

5.Confidentiality and know-how protection will be difficult in a small cities. All the legal issues about this will be judged in the city in which it happens, which means that if you have a company in Shanghai and someone “copies” your product in Ningxia, the legal procedure will be carried out in Ningxia so you will be dealing with all the difficulties of operating in a place that is not a business hub.
! Tip: We are a European SME. If that is also your case you canhave free brief advice from the European Chambers of Commerce. Also a free advice for intellectual property, copy right, etc in China IPR SME Helpdesk.

6. A GOOD consultant/advisor: Priceless.
You need real in-depth expertise to pull this one off successfully:
! Tip: “J-V conflict resolution and dissolution in China is really complicated compared to other countries. Consultant/Advisor companies have an instinct for knowing the real situation”

7.[On consultants] … But find the one suited to your size
“The reality on the ground for SMEs is quite different to that of MNCs. We don’t have their leverage and muscle power and we deal with different issues/situations. It is essential to get on board a very good consultant but I wouldn’t recommend one of the big ones. I think they are better suited for big companies.”
! Tip: MNCs are often interested in high tech, setting up R + D centres, the pharmaceutical industry, medical issues and they will find some decent protection from the Local Government. In the case of SMEs that do business outside big business hubs, protection will be very difficult to guarantee and there will be unimaginable issues unless they hire the right consultant/advisor. And believe me, consultant/advisor big names will not help you to find the back door of your J-V.

8. Sign the right “pre-nup”
You obviously don’t want your relationship to go wrong, but if things happen you need to have put in place the right “break-up” conditions.
! Tip: Always use the Chinese or Hong Kong Arbitration Court. Most companies feel more comfortable with international arbitration, but what do you do when your Chinese partner doesn’t show up or doesn’t comply with the resolution? It needs to be done in China or Hong Kong where the resolution will be mandatory and enforceable.

Coming soon “A Joint-Venture Survival Guide (II)” with more interesting and useful tips to help you navigate a J-V negotiation.

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5 comments

  1. 22. Have native members of each culture in the engagement teams: Ideally, at least one pivotal member of the buyer’s engagement team should be someone who is native to the supplier’s culture and well versed in the buyer’s culture. This can significantly reduce the number of surprises that may occur because of cultural differences. If possible, there should also be a member of the buyer’s culture active in the supplier’s culture.