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Understanding 'La Chine'

Jean-Marc Meffre 2008
Posted 25th Aug 2011 by Chris in manufacturing, china, jean-marc meffre, financials, asia, touch probes

We’ve spoken a lot about the rise of China in past posts and in our full-year financial results which we announced last month, this remarkable country was confirmed as our single largest market, now accounting for some 19% of sales. However, as mentioned in ‘Four seasons in two weeks’ we are now reaping the rewards from a long-term commitment to China, and Asia in general.

No longer home to primarily cheap and cheerful goods, China has grown up fast, and is now the second largest global economy. Today it leads the world both in the manufacturing and consumption of cars and local manufacturers are constantly being pushed up the value chain, with their high-tech products topping western shopping lists as well as meeting China’s own sky-rocketing needs. It now aims to focus on and produce goods of the highest quality which is good news for Renishaw.

But what is it really like to live and work in Asia, and what is the future there for Renishaw? We asked Jean-Marc Meffre (pictured), our French Managing Director of Renishaw (Hong Kong) Ltd:

Q: Based on your experiences, what differences are there between Asian and European markets?
In 1988 I began working for Renishaw in France and probing techniques were not well known. We had to sell a concept before we could sell a product. This was a steep and difficult learning curve for potential users who were unaware of the benefits. Ten years later I moved to Hong Kong and faced the same problem, but this time it was magnified because manufacturing was mainly low-tech. The Chinese didn’t need probes.

Now, of course, all that has changed. I believe we’re at the start of the kind of intensive automated manufacturing seen 15 years ago in the West.

Q: What are the main challenges you have had to overcome?
Asia is a vast continent, very different both in size and culture to Western countries. But the benefit of being European is our historical understanding that different countries have different personalities. This helps us better appreciate the gaps between Eastern and Western culture and behaviour. We are aware that we must constantly remain open to different ways of thinking and adapt to different practices, always respecting other people’s views. What we mustn’t do is try to impose our ways upon a world they’re not suited for.

Renishaw has an excellent reputation in the Far East for expertise and support for a host of applications, and this is where I believe we can make a real difference.

Q: How do the Chinese approach business?
I think Westerners have many misconceptions about the Chinese, as the Chinese do of us. Time doesn’t have the same value here, so, even though things get done quickly, building long-term relationships is what really matters. This applies whether a relationship is commercial or personal. Once your company is accepted the Chinese are trusting and reliable business partners with a keen sense of fair play. Once a personal relationship based on mutual trust and understanding develops, you are accepted and you’ve made a very caring friend.

Q: Is there anything that still surprises you about the country?
Coming from Europe, the sheer size of this region and its population is a constant surprise. It’s impossible to remain indifferent to the size of the companies we deal with, the speed at which the country’s infrastructure is being built and the amazing progress that is achieved year on year.

Q: What’s next for Renishaw in the region?
Despite the tendency of most companies to focus specifically on China, it’s my belief that we should diversify and continue to build our presence in other Asian markets. Having already proven that being ‘first in’ brings significant competitive advantage in the market, we are already developing our presence in the rapidly growing economies of Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.

In this region, however, intra-trade takes precedence over Western-led export, and all these economies rely on China’s performance. China can succeed on its strength in Asian markets, and is not looking to the US or Europe exclusively to spur its growth. That is one of the compelling reasons for believing in China’s, and Asia’s, continuing success, and for making the region an on-going priority for Renishaw’s sales and future growth.

Thanks/merci/xie-xie Jean-Marc for his thoughts on this fascinating country.