“There was no Pearl Tower, and I was the tourist attraction at Yuyuan Garden.”
China has changed immeasurably since Susan Corbisiero first made her way to China in 1990, and as Trade Commissioner and Post Manager with Austrade in Shanghai now, Susan’s key piece of advice to Australians looking to do business in China is: recognise just how much it has changed.
Speaking at the Secrets to Doing Business in China conference in Shanghai last month, Susan used her keynote to urge Australian businesses expanding into China to look at where China is heading, not where it has been.
“When we talk about China, we always bring out the cliches about the people to people relationships, and the long diplomatic relationship of 45 years, but with China’s economic transformation I really believe we can’t be looking back on nostalgia, and we can’t be using our own biases and misconceptions about the China of the future,” she said.
“China has changed. Increasingly it’s not about made in China, it’s about created in China. We now have so much to learn about an economy that has changed so significantly and brought so many people out of poverty.”
Changing the landscape is the rise of the Chinese middle class, the ageing population, and “the millennials we’re all trying to understand,” Susan said, all leveraging technology to go about their lives.
With that in mind, Susan explained that all the old fundamentals of doing business are changing – “like the gifting of wine because it was expensive and no one really knew what it was to taste wine and have wine culture,” she quipped.
Chinese consumers are spending money just like Australians do, on holidays and lifestyle experiences, and on a good education: these are all opportunities for Australia.
Clean and green in particular is a strong drawcard for Chinese consumers when it comes to Australia, but Susan urged attendees to think beyond just food and vitamin products to what else can fall under this banner.
There are opportunities for Australians to bring medtech and healthtech devices to China, or even share Australian expertise to help China deal with the effects of industrialisation, for example in the areas of soil and water remediation.
Fintech is also an opportunity not to be missed for Australian companies.
“Everyone knows the story of WeChat: how the Chinese use it to do everything, it connects into every aspect of their lives. I too use WeChat, I succumbed to AliPay…I rarely use cash, it’s completely changed the whole way of how I shop and where I shop,” Susan admitted.
“China has the most active digital investment and startup ecosystem in the world, has emerged as the world’s largest investor in fintech, and is a world leader in payments. They’ve leapfrogged the world because they’re not stuck with the same legacy systems and don’t have the same trust in the systems and institutions that we do in the west.”
With Australia itself a leader in the traditional financial services sector and a growing power in fintech, all this means potential for Australian innovators.
While there is a lot for Australians – and the world – to learn about China and significant opportunities to unlock, Susan said there is one thing in particular about doing business there that holds true around the world.
“Your relationships in China mean absolutely nothing if you don’t have a value proposition that is articulate and evident.”
And one other thing, Susan said: “Never forget your integrity and your ethics.”
Susan Corbisiero was a speaker at the Secrets to Doing Business in China conference, produced by Pinstripe Media. You can find out more about the conference here and listen to all the panels and keynotes here.