A Dynamic Experience in China Requires Humility: Perspective from The Economist

As institutions are a strong milestone for SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) investing abroad, another crucial aspect that managers need to constantly pay attention to is the information sources to be up-to-date about international trends, politics, and economics. At Sinosee we rely on fresh updates and deep-dive insights reports, news, and briefing

as the winning start for a successful project worldwide, especially in China.

Therefore, this week we met with Miss Mattie Bekink, China Director for The Economist Corporate Network. The Economist Intelligence Unit is the research and analysis division of The Economist Group, helping businesses, financial firms, and government to navigate the ever-changing global landscape. To analyse political and economic developments, forecast economic trends, and understand country-specific regulations and business practices: these are the instruments given by the media to managers facing international projects.

What has been your experience in China?

What brought you to China in the first place and what keeps you here?

I moved to China with my family as a teenager in 1993. We arrived in Beijing in August of that year and I vividly remember leaving the airport on a dirt road and the taxi being stuck behind a donkey cart, the shadow of the not yet open airport expressway looming over us. My father had learned Chinese in Taiwan in the 1970s when everyone told him he was crazy because Japanese was the language of the future. He was hired to open the Chinese market for a machine tool company and moving to Beijing was among the greatest blessings of my life. I never chose to come to China as a child, but have repeatedly returned to live and work in both Beijing and Shanghai. Most recently, I moved back with my own family in December 2020 to accept a position with The Economist Intelligence Unit in Shanghai. As you might imagine, moving from Europe to China during the pandemic was not uncomplicated. And although the circumstances of our arrivals could not be more different – the Pudong airport scrubbed extra clean thanks to Covid is a far cry from a dirt road! – it has been very special to see my children adjust to life in China. I have also found it tremendously personally and professionally rewarding to be here amid what is a fascinating and dynamic time for China. As China Director for The Economist Corporate Network, I can leverage the collective intelligence of The Economist Group while engaging with business leaders on the ground in exploring issues of business, geopolitics, and more.

What do you think are the biggest challenges and advantages in international business in China?

One of the things I am most grateful for in my life is the humility and perspective prompted by living in a multicultural environment and speaking languages each day that is not my native tongue. This is, of course, not without challenge. One of the biggest adjustments for me this time around has been understanding and being sensitive to differing attitudes to the pandemic. I was in the Netherlands for nearly all of 2020, so my lived experience of the pandemic was very much a European one. I soon realized that there was a real disconnect between my perspectives on Covid – level of fear of the virus, ideas about risk, etc – and that of some of my colleagues. As a manager, I needed to understand where they were coming from. It was a good reminder of how much context informs our thinking.

There is rarely a dull moment in international business, and certainly never a dull moment in international business involving China. This brings richness and a sense of urgency to our analysis and our conversations with companies. We are living through a consequential time for the global economy as we come out of the pandemic. The disruption of covid-19 underscored our global interconnectedness in illuminating and sometimes uncomfortable ways. It also exacerbated a lot of tensions and trends that had already been surfacing – anti-globalization and economic nationalism, for example. It highlighted and perhaps contributed to how geopolitics and business are intertwined as never before. The pandemic arguably galvanized more enthusiasm for action on climate change. And the fact that so many vaccines were developed so quickly is a real testament to human ingenuity and the globalization of modern science. Now, we are starting to recover from the pandemic and the great uncertainty it has created just as we are adjusting to multiple shifting political landscapes with new leaders in three of the four largest economies recently installed or soon to be – Japan, the United States, and Germany. Amid all of this, China has a significant role to play in shaping the new geography of global business. So I see real advantages in engaging with China.

Which piece of advice would you give to companies involved in international business with China?

I am not sure that I have any universal advice except to remain open-minded, curious, and to listen. Cliched though it may be, being effective in business requires authentically connecting with people. Those skills are in some sense universal but are especially useful in contemporary China. I would perhaps add being prepared to adapt and having a sense of humor. If the last year has taught us anything it has been to learn to live with the discomfort of uncertainty. In the business world, this means new concepts of risk resilience, a greater focus on data and agility, and having contingency plans.

With those precious tips, we close this interview thanking Miss Mattie Bekink for her insight and her unusual point of view to China.

A special thanks goes as well to our collaborator, Jane.

If you liked our story or if you have any questions, leave a comment below or find more business chats here.

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