International Operations in China: Local Experts Key to Success

With incredible annual growth leading to its title as fastest-growing economy in the world, China is an economic powerhouse that cannot be ignored, and is not surprisingly the target of many companies considering international expansion.  As a result, this year’s Association for Financial Professional’s Annual Conference in Boston hosted the session “Awakening the Dragon—Take the Lead in China”, to address issues specific to the finance function of organizations looking to manage international operations in the country.


On the panel were a diverse group of financial professionals with extensive experience in China and the entire Asia market: Judy K. Bouchard, banking coordinator for cash management and banking at ConocoPhillips;Wyatt Wu, director of treasury international operations at Magna International; and Michelle Wen, global treasury manager at Brady Corporation.

Shared services are key, but with on-the-ground support

In discussing their company’s structure for managing international operations, all three panelists pointed to relying on experienced, on-the-ground support to ensure smooth execution. Additionally, all three of the organizations represented either already have existing shared service centers for managing finance functions in the Asia Pacific region, or are looking at developing them in the near future. The panelists talked about the benefits of such a model, including being “able to have standardization and implement standard processes within each location,” according to Judy Bouchard.

But employing shared services also presents some challenges specific to the Asia Pacific market. “In Europe and the Americas, it’s all English based… not the same challenges as in Asia,” Bouchard said. And it goes further than just the language barrier. Culture plays a huge role in not only how business is done, but also how receptive local companies will be to working with foreign enterprises. Wyatt Wu mentioned his experience with local banks and service providers, noting that oftentimes providers in coastal areas are much more open to overseas influence than those based in more rural, remote places. “Asia is fragmented,” said Wu, contrasting business practices in the region to those in the more unified Europe. “Each country is widely different… [they are] not integrated yet.”

Key-to-success-950Advice for setting up international operations in China

Each of the panelists was asked for their recommendations for businesses considering expanding overseas into China. Michelle Wen stressed the importance of local partners: “Find local experts to help you … [they] bring the local knowledge and understanding.” Wen also reminded U.S. based businesses to be patient when working in the country, and provided a reminder to companies hungry to jump into the emerging market: “China just opened to the world economy 30 years ago.” As a less mature economy, infrastructure is not fully developed, causing business processes to require a longer lead time.

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