Heathrow and Asia House have expanded their series of tailored guides designed to help SMEs trade with Asia.
The series now includes Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Pakistan, The Philippines and Turkey, and follows a successful launch last year of an initial range of eight guides.
The guides, produced by Asia House and supported by Heathrow, have been written in collaboration with trade bodies, associations and British Embassies to offer expert tips on business culture, language and market opportunities in eight new Asian economies. They also provide first-hand accounts from British businesses which have succeeded in the region.
With a still struggling Eurozone, UK businesses are looking to fast growing regions such as Asia to boost their trading prospects. The first set of guides featured well-known markets such as China and India. The countries featured in this expansion are often considered more challenging but have vast potential. Kazakhstan, for example, already has strong trading links with France and Germany whilst Mongolia’s economy is forecast to grow by 14% this year but there is no direct flight connection with the UK.
One country which has recently gained a direct link to Heathrow is the Philippines. ITRS, a company which builds software for investment banks has entered the market there. Former COO Keith Waterton, said: “On entering the Philippine market, one of the first things we had to learn was that imposing the British business culture would not work. For example, asking closed questions such as ‘can you complete this in half an hour’ were often answered with an automatic ‘yes’, rather than a more realistic response. Asking how long something is likely to take works much better.
“When we officially opened our office in Manila, we made sure to include traditions native to the Philippines to help build a connection with the local community – for example we used feng shui practices and had the office blessed by both Catholic and Buddhist priests. Doing so helped to create a bond between the London and Manila teams and showed our respect for Philippine culture. Likewise, seconding our UK staff over there and vice-versa was essential in building connections.
“Overall our experience in the Philippines has been fantastic, but a guide helping us to navigate the differences in business practice would certainly have smoothed our way in the early days. Our Manila office now has a staff of 50 and our experience in the Philippines has allowed ITRS to expand globally.”
Heathrow is supportive of businesses trading with emerging markets, which is why it commissioned the guides with Asia House. There are certain aspects of business culture that each country shares, for example there is a strong cultural preference to develop a personal connection or relationship to strengthen business, with many Asian businesspeople looking for signs of a long-term relationship from the outset. The concept of ‘face’, describing a person’s reputation, influence, honour and standing is also important. However, there are many more aspects of business etiquette which are specific to each country. For example:
•In Azerbeijan, small talk conducted over tea is essential to building a relationship. Business meetings can often begin with topics such as family and health in order to strike up a rapport. Without this interpersonal relationship, the chances of doing business together are slim.
•Like many cultures in South East Asia, Malaysians will not often say ‘no’ outright, preferring instead to leave opportunities open.
•Drinks are customary at the conclusion of business in Mongolia – toasts with shots are expected, although it is acceptable to decline after a couple. Small gifts are also common at the completion of a deal.
Michael Lawrence, CEO, Asia House, said: “Asia House is delighted to have worked with Heathrow to produce this second set of guides to Asian markets. Despite the intense interest among British businesses in Asia, there remains a lack of understanding about how to operate successfully and reluctance among some to move into these growing markets. By providing advice on the culture of doing business in these eight countries and highlighting SMEs that have successfully established operations, we hope we can encourage British SMEs to grasp the opportunities that Asia provides. Key to that success is building personal relationships, establishing trust and getting to know the peoples and the cultures.”
Colin Matthews, Chief Executive, Heathrow, said: “Having lived and worked in Asia, I know the importance of export growth for UK firms and for the country. UK businesses trade 20 times more with emerging markets that have daily flights than those with less frequent or no direct service. We are working with airlines and doing our best to provide new routes, such as the first direct flight to the Philippines which started in November. But Heathrow is full. Rival European hub airports have spare capacity and are able to add more flights to more destinations while we look on. As Asia’s consumer class expands, UK firms’ potential to trade with them must be realised and developed. As the Prime Minister says, this is a global race we cannot afford to lose.”
The guides are available to download and through local Chambers of Commerce. The first series is also available and covered China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.