Jan 13, 2015
LENNART Rudstrom knows how to do business with Chinese and he knows it well. The Swede, 55, lives in the old district of Suzhou, dines in local restaurants, and talks, reads and writes in Chinese everyday.
“In Europe, people’s average knowledge about China was very low, even zero — an ancient, faraway country. They weren’t interested and didn’t realize what what’s happening here in China,” Rudstrom said.
That was one of the biggest motivations for the Swede to work as a bridge between Europe and China.
As director of the international department of Jiangsu Agile Technology Co Ltd, a leading Chinese data security software producer based in Suzhou Industrial Park, Rudstrom is bringing products to Europe, building partnerships, and leading technical and commercial studies involving foreign markets.
“Europeans are having more respect for China over the past 10 years, but their picture of the country comes only from statistics,” he said. “They can’t even name one province of China.”
Rudstrom’s first encounter with China came two decades ago during a trip to Beijing. “Everyone was in gray clothes; there were no colors at that time,” he recalled.
However, in 2004 when he came back to Beijing as a freelance information system management consultant, he started to feel the change. “I noticed the fashion on the street changed and new things were coming out,” he said.
At the same time, he established his own company in Hong Kong, providing IT strategic plans for insurance broker operations, positioning asset management services into Chinese Qualified Direct Institutional Investor scheme, and building partnerships for banks, educational institutions, and companies in the electromechanical and software industries.
Since 2004, the information system management consultant had been bouncing between Europe and China four times a year, working as a coordinator on initial talks between European and Chinese insurance companies to seek cooperation possibilities.
With more than five years of intensive travel around China and other Asian countries, Rudstrom has gained proficiency at doing business in China, with a clear picture of dos and don’ts.
What impressed him most when he started to do business with Chinese companies was the “formality.”
“It was a different style when I walked into a meeting room with maybe 15 people sitting seriously with suits and ties, especially when I was alone,” he said with a smile.
In Europe, Rudstrom said, it was very informal — perhaps a conversation at a coffee machine.
“In China they care which friends you have, but in Europe I just go to meet and talk to him if I know a friend’s friend,” he said. “If I’m interested in a certain topic, I go to a conference and we can talk at the corridor. It’s no problem.”
But it’s another story when contacting a Chinese company.
“If you give a phone call or send an e-mail to a company, it’s very difficult because no one will answer you and no one will take the responsibility to say we’re interested or not. Your phone calls and e-mails are all in vain,” Rudstrom said.
A Chinese company often has a lot of concerns: What is this foreign company? Should we communicate with it? What should we say? The Swede now understands the Chinese caution. He soon found networking was the key.
“You have to find someone who knows this company and he can work as a middleman,” he said.
Then you have your way in. When you start to contact the Chinese company, you have to contact in a very good way — from a similar company, or from someone it knows, respects or has done business with. “It might take several months and then you can actually get into this company,” Rudstrom said. “Yet it’s just the beginning. They want to know exactly who you are, who you represent, who should be at the meeting. And if they have 15 people, I have to have some to balance the meeting. We foreigners don’t think so much about this actually.
“You have to be patient and progressive. You do business with friends, which is one of the rules in China.”
It was by chance that he came to Suzhou four years ago. Rudstrom hadn’t expected that he would be one day based in this ancient city with modernity.
In 2010, he was invited to launch a postgraduate program for international business with a focus on China and Southeast Asia for SKEMA Business School, France’s largest business college with 8,000 students — 200 of them studying at the SKEMA China Center in Suzhou.
He taught courses such as web marketing in China, doing business with Chinese, business laws, China and the global economy.
“Some courses were very new at that time. Take web marketing, for example. It was quite a new and general concept four years ago, but today it is so popular,” Rudstrom said.
In 2012, he joined the Agile Technology Co Ltd. The company has a full, end-to-end multi-OS product series, provides data security turnkey projects and consultancy.
It has received the Office of Science and Technology’s approval to establish the Cloud Security Engineering Research Center of Jiangsu Province, and industry alliance for information security that promotes collaboration between members and provides information security support to enterprises in Jiangsu.
“Suzhou is an ideal market for me. It’s not as big and international as Shanghai, which means it has more opportunities and greater potential to develop,” he said.
“What surprises me most is the city’s speed. High-rises can be mushrooming within two months!”
Another big fascination for the Swede is Suzhou’s cultures — the old, cobblestone streets, exquisite gardens, ancient architecture and rich folk traditions.
He loves to explore the city by himself after work, have meals in local restaurants and chat with locals.
“I like to get myself into the local life,” he said. “My work keeps me flying around, but I always take Suzhou as my base.”
About the Column
This series focuses on individuals who have lived in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province for a while and have a tale that’s worth telling. Age, gender, nationality and race are all unimportant in comparison with what adventures the subject has been up to, the experiences they can recount.