Be Ready: China Is Not For Everyone

This week's interview is with one of the milestone figures for the Italian presence in China, Cristiana Barbatelli. We are particularly proud to introduce her. Active in the territory for over 35 years, she is one of “the” pioneers and expert voice and a key figure in helping Italian companies in China . She arrived in China to study, then worked for an Italian bank in Shanghai and in Chengdu and since 1994 she is active in the management consulting business in Shanghai. Cristiana has also held courses in Italian and Chinese Universities: Macerata University, Ispi-Bocconi University, Rome Tor Vergata University, Jiaotong University, Shanghai Normal University.

She is now heading B&P (Barbatelli&Partners) as managing partner.

Which changes have you witnessed until today?

I have seen the presence of foreign and Italian companies evolving over the years: in the 80s in Shanghai, there were only around 200 foreigners. In the 90s some Italian companies started to enter the Chinese market. Even if they did it with a significant delay compared to other countries, they slowly strengthened their presence here. After the 2000 s more and more Italian Companies arrived in China; they were better informed of the business environment and more mature about the China market. At the present the Italian managers I see are more aware of the elements needed for an investment project in China, I suppose they do their “homework” before starting the project and therefore they can better handle the challenges that they face day by day in this dynamic market .


Which ones are the commitments that managers have to take in China and which are the benefits they can get with their local presence?

There has been a common refrain lately: “Is China a threat or an opportunity?” Well, I believe it’s too reductive. We should be asking the same question for any of the foreign markets Italian companies try to approach.

This country requires from companies a commitment that not all Italian SMEs can afford. The commitment is not only in financial terms but mostly in terms of human resources investment.

This latter is the most important and decisive element to be taken care of when approaching this market .

The right people can make the success of a project , so to build up a good team is fundamental while investing in China .

We should analyze the problem from an opposite perspective. The right question is are the Italian SMEs suitable for such an articulated and dynamic market? Can they have success ,can they grow and develop and add value to their equity ?

For many years, I have analyzed the risk elements of an investment project in this market, as well as the barriers and daily challenges that foreign investors are facing.

I am quite sure that many of the Italian SMEs can make it in this business environment. The necessary condition is that the Companies need to be “in good health” at home and need to have the right determination to get the project done. They need full information ahead and they have to show a great capacity of flexibility to evolve their organizational model.

I believe that being successful in China depends for a big part on the ability of the Italian Companies and their managers to adapt to the macro-terms to this dynamic environment.

Overall, I am quite positive. I see young Italian managers nowadays that are enthusiastic, curious, and willing to give value to their projects in China .


With your long-lasting and rich experience, which advice would you give to Italian SMEs that approach China today?

Audacity, desire to learn, and curiosity. A good manager should leave the prejudices at home and get an even younger mindset. This market offer multiple chances to companies and even small companies can be successful if they are willing to learn, adapt, develop and adjust .

Dynamic markets want dynamic Companies and managers . Italian SME are in most cases adaptable and fast to learn, so in such an environment they have good chances to succeed!

A warm thanks to Cristiana Barbatelli for her time and to her team in Shanghai for their cooperation. Stay tuned for the next interview!

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