Having started Crown Worldwide in Japan 50 years ago and headquartered the company in Hong Kong, I’m often asked for advice on how to make it in Asia -- and specifically on whether this is the right time to set up a business there.
My experience of doing business in Asia has been incredibly positive. We started Crown Worldwide in Yokohama in 1965 with an investment of just $1,000 and have grown it into a global business with a turnover of more than $840 million. We now have 265 offices in almost 60 countries and a global outlook.
Despite that, I think it’s fair to say the heart of the company remains here in Asia. I live in Hong Kong, and have for many years, and although there have been ups and downs, the region has grown. I don’t see that growth stopping in the near future. Asia is going to be a very influential region throughout this century.
Looking forward, it’s the Asian century we’re living in, and already we’re seeing amazing development. There’s growing wealth here, there are a lot of determined people who are very optimistic and there are a lot of benefits to doing business in the region.
It’s interesting because I’m not sure that other businesses have always seen the potential of Asia. Perhaps they tended to see the region as a somewhat unstable place, looking back on World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Cultural Revolution.
But the reality is that since the passing of Mao Tse-tung and the opening of China in the late 1970s, Asia has enjoyed a period of peace that has continued for more than 40 years. The prosperity that’s come with peace has caused a lot of investors of all sizes to look at Asia again.
When they look closely at the region, these companies will see a massive population that provides many opportunities for all types of businesses. There’s a lot of different countries and cultures, but it’s a big place to do business with well over half the world’s population. We’ve been the beneficiary of that as people have moved in and out and we’ve continually solidified our position in that part of the world.
An increasing number of European and American companies, in fact businesses from all western countries, have finally said, "we have to be there; we’re going to be part of it."
The global nature of business today means it’s now fairly normal for companies of all sizes -- from trading companies to manufacturing companies to service business -- to have international operations. Any company that neglects the global nature of the business world today is making a mistake.
For businesses thinking of expanding into the region, here are some things to consider:
1. Don’t underestimate cultural differences.
Each country has its own laws and some of them seem very strange, but you have to comply with them. The mistake some businesses make is they think, "We’ll do business the same way in Indonesia as we do it in New York or London." That doesn’t work. You have to understand how things work in all those different countries and adapt to that local system of doing business.
Successful companies have worked very hard at understanding how to do business in other parts of the world, whether it be Asia, South America or Africa. The successful ones try to adapt their business models to comply to the local situation as much as they can.
2. Employ staff that understands the languages.
There are complications in setting up in Asia, but in my opinion these are not big hurdles. Obviously, though, there are language differences in places such as mainland China, Japan and other countries. You need to ensure that some of your staff really understand both the language as well as the culture, including local practices.
3. Have a "can do" attitude.
A lot of people get hung up on the idea that setting up somewhere different is going to be extremely complicated and difficult. But generally the laws of many of the countries in Asia -- particularly countries where England had an interest such as Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong -- follow English common law that we're familiar with in the west. These countries have built their models of operating to western standards but with some Asian features, so generally it’s easier to adapt to them once you get there.