This week we met with Mr. Renzo Isler, director of the EU SME Centre in Beijing.
How would you introduce yourself and your experience in China?
I came to China in 2005 as the CEO of Generali China Life Insurance Co., a position that I held till 2016. After that I kept working in the same field as a consultant and, from October 2020, I accepted the position of director of the EU SME Centre in Beijing.
The Centre is a European Union initiative that provides a comprehensive range of hands-on support services to European small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), getting them ready to do business in China. You can find us here www.eusmecentre.org.cn
We have multiple services and tasks assigned to us from the EU. We are now in our third phase of the project which will terminate in March 2022. We offer, among other services, an “Ask the Expert” online chat, we organize seminars and webinars, we supply the market with reports and data and we also give free legal assistance to the European SME, including the ones from the Balkan area and other regions under the EU influence. We also implement and connect with the local authorities and institutions. We do all this through our consortium partners, which are the Italian, Danish, and European Union Chambers of Commerce in China, plus the British Business Council and Eurochambers. We aim to help, assist and enhance the business penetration of the European SMEs in China.
How do you see the advantages and challenges of being present in China?
There are always many challenges as well as many opportunities in China. It is not an easy market, companies need to have a good knowledge and understanding of it. It is fundamental to use efficiently the available resources to be successful. One of the biggest challenges is to find the right partner to talk to. At the EU SME Center, our aim is actually to create a structure and a network of contacts to assist companies in this area as well. There are big advantages in being here in China, especially now that the CAI agreements between the EU and China government have been signed. This is an important milestone for opening the respective markets to new opportunities and getting a better platform for the European SMEs’ development in China. Even though China is going in the direction of a domestic circular economy, there is still a lot of interest in importing and consuming high-quality products. Europe in this aspect has many excellences in different sectors, from F&B to mechanics, to technology and others. European companies need to understand the right way and timing to catch the right opportunities.
Human resource is an aspect that needs to be handled very carefully. In my previous experience, I had to deal with over 1000 employees, all Chinese, and it was probably my biggest management challenge. Managing staff in China can be arduous, especially for the younger graduates. The majority are “job-hoppers” so this can be a challenge if you want to retain the better talents. In any case, the labor market for local quality staff is very fluid, therefore a good replacement can always be found. All this has a cost though and every entrepreneur must weigh properly the pluses and minuses of retaining (at a cost) or letting people go. One warning in all this. CVs must be checked and head-hunters properly selected. There are many talents out there, but they need to be properly screened.
With your long and rich experience, which suggestions would you give to an SME that approaches China nowadays?
The first steps are very important. First, a self-evaluation, which is fundamental: companies need to do this check-in advance to understand if they are ready and well prepared to operate in this market. Second, do your homework before acting! Go through a checklist of things to do, people to see, experts to consult, etc. It is the necessary step to avoid wasting your time and your capital later. And even if you think you have done sufficient preparatory work, things may turn the wrong way and your project may go belly up. With our team at EU SME Centre, we try to help you in going through these steps, hoping to help you land a successful venture!
My advice is don’t walk alone in your China venture. There are many different instruments and resources provided by the European institutions, as well as by other channels: companies should “use” us as fundamental support.
Thanks a lot f to Mr. Renzo Isler and all the EuSme Centre team. Stay tuned for the next interview!
Please visit the website of the EU SME Centre for the latest news and opportunities: www.eusmecenter.org.cn
Drop a comment to let us know what you think or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to ask for further information on how to develop your business to China.