"While China continues to attract multinationals to extend their footprint in the world's second largest economy, increasing number of Chinese companies and investors are expanding and competing globally," said Sun Baohong, associate dean of global programs at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB), a leading Chinese business school with a US campus in New York City.
In the second quarter alone, Chinese companies spent $2.1 billion in the US with more than $10 billion worth of deals pending, according to New York-based Rhodium Group.
"Chinese companies are on a US buying spree. We see them in various sectors such as capital market, commercial real estate, hospitality, manufacturing as well as high-tech industry. In Alibaba's case, the shift toward online retail allows business to operate without borders," said Sun.
Western companies are clearly mindful of China's evolving role in the global market. Adapting the trend means seeing China more than a manufacturing base or a vast consumer market, but to grow organically and have more productive interactions with Chinese counterparts, said Sun.
"More and more companies are not necessarily worried about moving into China, but how to manage to work with the Chinese," said Greg Marchi, chief representative of CKGSB-Americas. "That's the reason we named our program Doing Business With A Changing China instead of in China."
CKGSB is hosting the program jointly with Columbia Business School next month at Columbia's Morningside campus. For three days, 20-plus Western executives, primarily from the US, are taking classes with 50 to 60 Chinese CEOs on intercultural management styles, the skills, knowledge and behavior to work effectively in and with China.
Past participants include Ma and Guo Guangchang of the board of directors of the Fosun Group, which acquired One Chase Manhattan Plaza last year for $725 million.
"We are hoping the strong bond built through studying and networking will be maintained once the program ends. When future business opportunities arise for either, the students can explore those together," said Marchi.
The expanding opportunities for multinational corporations in China are also growing in complexity, acknowledged Teng Bingsheng, associate dean of CKGSB's European campus.
"The risks at a highly volatile market environment such as China are threefold — industry structural stability, information reliability and law enforceability," Teng said in a webinar hosted by Columbia Business School Executive Education on Oct.6.
Questions abound, said Teng. "How do we perceive China's economic outlook in the long term, with rising labor costs and the government's anti-corruption campaign for example?"
The recent corruption investigation ofGlaxo Smith Kline (GSK) seemed to bring more sympathy on the Internet for the British drugmaker, as many lamented China'sdeficient regulatory systems and some were worried if multinationals were singled out. "But my contention is that those were steps of regulatory reform toward a more responsible and better corporate citizenship in China. It's like when you get a speeding ticket on the highway, you cannot make a case by pointing fingers to others and arguing why they didn't get caught," said Teng.
USsmallandmedium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly looking to China for export, investment and business expansion opportunities, according to the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai's 2012 SME Challenges Survey.
"Some hold that only the largest multinationals are able to succeed in China," said Sun. "But I begged to differ. China's rapidly expanding middle class and the untapped potential in the second and third-tier cities, for instance, all lead to market opportunities."
The five biggest business challenges for SMEs in China are red tape, communications, human resources, business culture and relationships, Anthony Goh and Matthew Sullivan of US-Pacific Rim International noted in their article.
"Cultural understanding is essential," Teng said.
In 2008, China rejected Coca-Cola Co's $2.4 billion bid for the HuiYuan Juice Group, one of the country's biggest beverage makers, on antitrust reasons. Rather than seeing the case as death of foreign private equity investments in China, Teng said: "what we need to learn is how HuiYuan and Coke could have better dealt with overwhelming oppositions to the deal.
"A good PR strategy, which Coke didn't do in its attempt to acquire HuiYuan, is a critical starting point. The sequence of steps would be very important. Coke should have developed in alliance with HuiYuan first and then turned that alliance into an acquisition. Dividing one difficult step into two relatively easy steps would be the strategy to go," said Teng.
"Knowing the real intention of your counterpart is also critical," he said. "It's better to target the strong, but perhaps not the largest, firms in order to avoid the heat from regulators."
Joint ventures werethe preferred way when foreign investors first entered the Chinese market. The trend turned to establishing their own enterprises and growing either through M&A or organic growth after China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, in recent years however, many multinationals "are slipping back into joint-ventures", especially in the areas that require licensing, according to a KPMG study.
"While initial structure is critical, the process of managing the alliance could be more important. It is better to form mid-term alliances in China, as the external environment evolves much faster than other places," Teng advised.
When investors were gearing up for Alibaba's IPO last month, analysts recommended looking into emerging trends in China in terms of innovations and entrepreneurship, particularly in the high-tech sector.
"Doing business with China isto leverage the trendsin their infancy, and be part of the future of Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu," said Sun.