In Hong Kong, businesses come in all shapes and sizes and although dominated by a few very large conglomerates, its beating heart is made up of hundreds of thousands of small to medium sized family-run businesses.
Company structures will reflect the type of company being dealt with – with the myriad of smaller companies being run along very centralised, paternalistic lines.
Although the importance of building good business relationships should not be underestimated – it is of much less importance than on the mainland or in Taiwan. Relationships rarely get in the way of a deal.
In traditional family-run Chinese businesses, the head of the company, who is very often the oldest male family member, will make most decisions (even minor ones). It is important to ensure you are dealing with the decision-maker.
Family-run businesses are very fast on their feet and can make decisions, adapt to changing circumstances etc. very quickly.
Management style and approach may vary depending upon the type of company but the basic Confucian values of respect for seniority and age still hold sway.
It can be difficult for people to give bad news up the chain for fear of loss of face for all concerned. Thus, certain vital information can remain hidden at crucial moments. Are you sure you have all the information you need?
Show respect to key people by standing as they enter the room, treating their business card with regard and addressing issues through them rather than through the most fluent foreign language speaker.
Voices can be raised and tempers may seem frayed, but this is more likely to be a sign of animation and interest than hostility
Long-term loyalty to the organisation is not necessarily expected from anybody other than family members. The entrepreneurial spirit drives people on to bigger and better things.
Team members expect to be given clear and precise instructions, which will then be carried out diligently. Anything omitted from the original brief is unlikely to be performed. Do not necessarily expect initiative – the assumption being that if you want something doing, you will ask.
It is important that people are allowed to maintain face at all times. Do not indulge in gentle mockery or overt reprimands.
Be aware of the variable levels of English to be found in Hong Kong – they range from completely fluent to very poor. Try to do a little research in advance in case an interpreter is needed.
Do not be surprised to encounter an un-Asian directness in the use of language. Hong Kong Chinese sometimes seem abrupt – especially when contrasted with the Japanese.
Try to express an interest in people, which goes beyond simply work-related issues. Family, general health and your impressions of Hong Kong are good topics of conversation.
It is probably best to avoid raising issues to do with the transition to Chinese rule.
Gift giving is common amongst business acquaintances, but it is not necessary to exchange expensive presents. Wrap any gifts you intend to give.
Women play a more significant role in business life than in many other Asian countries and western women should not encounter any great difficulties when travelling on business.
Dress codes are variable so check in advance, if possible, what is expected. If in doubt, err on the side of conservatism.
A great deal of business (and certainly relationship building) is done at mealtimes. If entertaining, do it well.
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This World Business Culture profile is designed as an introduction to business culture in Hong Kong only and a more detailed understanding needs a more in-depth exploration which we can provide through our training and consultancy services.