Posted on Thursday 10 October 2013 by Ulster Business

Interview Diaspora

Belfast-born Neal Beatty has worked in China and the far East for almost 20 years specialising in risk management and security. Based in Shanghai, he is Regional Director for Global Client Services in Greater China for Control Risks and is also the Chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. 

Control Risks is an independent, global risk consultancy that specialises in helping organisations manage political, integrity and security risks in complex and hostile environments. Fluent in Mandarin Chinese, he has a masters degree in Chinese studies from the University of Leeds and a BSc in chemistry from Warwick University.

How did you first come to be working in China?

I've been in mainland China for ten years and before that I had almost nine years in Taiwan. I finished university in 1991 and didn't really know what I wanted to do. I bought myself a one way ticket to Hong Kong and quickly moved on to Taiwan where I started teaching English. I enjoyed living there and after a couple of years joined the Swiss company SGS.

What does your current role at Control Risks involve?

I've been with Control Risks for six years heading up the business development and account management team for China. The work that we do in China is mostly for multinational companies. A lot of work around pre-investment due diligence, understanding the operational landscape, issues around fraud and corruption, and also crisis management.

How do you find living in China?

Work wise it is a fantastic place to be. The pace of life is extraordinary. I'm in London this week and even being in London it is a slightly slower pace than being in Shanghai! The energy of the place is great. You can get caught up in that and so people get rushed into things, they don't apply the same processes they would back home. Some people get too carried away with the opportunities in China and forget the basics. You can be successful in China but you have to remember it is not the easiest place to do business and the risks around fraud, corruption and compliance are much higher than at home.

What should local companies consider before trying to do business in China?

The number one rule is due diligence, due diligence, due diligence. You just can't do enough. I know that is an issue for smaller companies in terms of budget but you've just got to take it a step at a time. You can get support from the British Consulate, UKTI, Chambers of Commerce. Utilise the networks that are established in China to help you do your homework before you take the plunge. Finding a reputable distributor is also very important. It is not always how it looks on the surface. You can fly into Shanghai or Beijing and be blown away by the infrastructure and how wonderful it all looks but it is not always that easy.

What about employing people in China?

If you're looking to hire someone to run an operation in China for you, be extra careful about checking them out and making sure they can deliver. Don't just hire someone and manage them remotely, you've got to be involved. One of the main issues we see is people working to their own plan, not the company's plan. Trust is a big issue.

Is it essential to know the language?

Outside of Shanghai and Beijing it is very important. You'll still find people who speak English but if you are going to be out visiting factories or whatever there will be a lot of situations where English isn't spoken.

How do you hope to help local companies as part of NI Connections?

There are a handful of people from Northern Ireland who, like myself, have been here a considerable amount of time doing manufacturing or engineering. We're happy to share that experience and talk with people who are coming to Shanghai on business.

Would many people in China have heard of Northern Ireland?

Chinese people generally have heard of Ireland but often they are thinking of Ireland as a whole and they are thinking of sport. When I was home at the Titanic exhibition there were three or four Chinese tour groups there, but most people wouldn't know Titanic was built in Belfast.

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