The business chat for this week is with a young Italian manager, Michele Mazzei, whose connection with China is rooted in Tuscany, in Prato (an industrial city close to Florence), his hometown. Here lives the largest Chinese community in Italy, mainly employed in the textile industry.
Since the early 90s the fashion and textile manufacturing industry in Prato, and the surroundings of Florence, has been the scene of a growing transformation, sometimes controversial, where the Italian craftsmen met with the Chinese community. The second and third generation of immigrants and new generations of Italian locals are now getting closer and building a path of cultural and business integration. The experience of Michele Mazzei is a good example of it.
- How would you introduce yourself and what brought you to China?
I am the China and Sout-East Asia branch General Manager for Toscana Spazzole Industriali, an Italian Textile, and Nonwoven Industrial Brushes Company. I’ve been living and working in China since 2016. My passion for this country sparked a long time ago in Prato, where I was born. It always looked natural for me to get closer to China, building my career path on it. I started with a clear goal in mind: studying Chinese culture and language, both in Italian and Chinese universities. This gave me the advantage of a powerful understanding not only of the language but of the cultural practices of this environment, as well. I can happily say that I achieved my dream and ambition to live and work in Shanghai.
- What are the advantages and disadvantages you faced in your experience so far?
The advantage of living and working in China, especially in sleepless Shanghai, is that you can peek from a window opened to the entire world. Not only a mere peek, indeed. And not only peek; establishing a China-based enterprise allows you to gain access to the largest world market. There is a market for almost every product imagined and a product for every possible market. Far from me to say that any of this is easy. Cultural differences exist and even though they are possible to overcome, the mindset of a foreign entity (person or company) must adapt to them. Differences exist even inside a company between colleagues from different backgrounds, no matter the nationality, so of course a multi-national team is even more complex. If your mindset is complying, all these differences will enrich your personality (as well as your business) and your skills instead of wearing them down through stress and dissatisfaction.
- Generally speaking, when talking about China, we always have in mind Shanghai or Beijing. However, China is indeed far more complex than these two cities. What is your experience in doing business in 2nd or 3rd tier cities?
From my experience, in 2nd and 3rd tier cities tradition and “business rituals” become stronger and stronger. That is the reason why, regardless of which kind of company you are opening, if it is your first experience in China, you need specialized ground-rooted support. I do travel a lot for work and I encounter many different small environments in each different city. I also lived in Nanjing for two years before moving to Shanghai and this experience helped me to understand and live the development of this country from the ground level. Cultural and communication-wise, the first impact is the difference in the language spoken. Knowing Chinese mandarin is surely a plus, but when visiting smaller cities you realize that dialects are prevalent there, so there is an even more complex level of interaction and communication that businessmen need to pay attention to. Business-wise, opportunities in 2nd and 3rd tier cities are growing and becoming more and more appealing lately. Practices in this kind of environment are slightly different than in Beijing and Shanghai, but this is a great opportunity if taken with a positive attitude. In the future, I see an even bigger market expansion in these cities.
- Since last year's COVID-19 pandemic, one of the biggest changes is the merging of online and offline markets: what is your experience?
In terms of events, like exhibitions, I saw a massive change. With my company, I usually attend at least 2 or 3 international exhibitions yearly, in Shanghai mostly. Last year we started to attend online exhibitions. I found this new experience very interesting and also effective for the business. However, even though for me there is no language barrier, in this special case in my opinion the need for third-party assistance is fundamental. Certainly, online visual exhibitions will be part of the future, especially considering a world shaped by recent events.
In terms of sales and communication, it is interesting to be here and have a ground-in experience of how the new technologies are shaping the whole environment. The widespread use of chat messaging apps, especially WeChat, has grown a lot. The weight that it is gaining on the overall Chinese market is a new trend that the rest of the world already cannot avoid paying attention to.
The speed and richness in resources compared to our Western apps or messaging systems are a phenomenon that I am proud and happy to witness.
A kind thanks to Michele Mazzei for his time and cooperation. It has been an enriching, positive and interesting conversation that gave us a different point of view in doing business between Italy and China. We are confident that this is a meaningful example of how new generations are fully understanding and building an enriching way of dealing with different cultural backgrounds.
Stay tuned for the next interview!
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