Angela Hsu Discusses Running An International Firm In China

Angela Hsu

The following is an interview with Angela Hsu where she discusses her views on running an international firm in the Chinese market and key issues related to it.


What sort of things would you advise people to strongly consider before making the decision to partake in a JV?

When you first enter a new market – it is natural to think about finding a local partner to help you out. Most firms think that it can speed up business relations.

Successful JVs depend primarily on strategic alignment between partners. JV is one of the tactics to reach our business goal – it must be guided by our business strategy. We start with a goal in the distant future and work backwards to the present.

Is patience important when implementing tactics?

It is like building different parts in your big picture. You will need patience and will power toward to your goal. You have got a big picture in your mind and you need to connect all the dots with patience.

With regards to business culture, what sort of measures can you take to make sure the potential partner company will be compatible? Can an agency brand be built in the long run?

In ad industry, it’s all about people. Your priorities should be people, strategy alliance, and then money. And you should never change the order.

Yes. Every agency can build its brand by a consistent value, and culture, and strategic plan. I always think Fun & Fame comes first, the fortune will come after. People having the same goal, like to work together – and develop a business model to make it work. Motivation is very important in what we do.

What are the best ways to attract and retain people?

Money is important but rarely decisive. People want to work for an organization with opportunities for personal development, career path plan, and monetary rewards – to attract and to retain talents, as a leader, you need to think about this a lot and frequently and keep communication. Two way communication is very important.

What are your feelings towards the job hopping trend in the the ad industry? How can a company combat this?

Before we try to answer it – we need to know the reasons why this has been ‘the trend’ in the ad industry in this market. Apart from not satisfying in basic needs in job condition, job hopping could be a result of a lack of clarity between a company’s business goal and an employee’s personal career development. Or maybe certain frustrations in internal and external communication could cause the idea & action of job hopping.

For a company to combat this is to select their staff at the very beginning. Whether the individual’s personal career development will meet with the company’s goal. A frequent & genuine communication can help, I think.

As a CEO is it important in China to interact with people at all levels of the company?

Spending time and connecting with your team, at all levels, is very important, emotionally and professionally.  Previously we brought both employees and clients together in informal situations such as ‘happy hours’ to have fun and enjoy life outside of work.  I found people start to open their mind, enjoy the time and look forward to it. That’s very nice!

How can an agency know when is a good time to open a new office and expand within the China market?

It is now essential to have offices in both Beijing and Shanghai if you have the intention of managing international, stated owned enterprises. Having said that, it relies on your business strategy. You need to have offices near the client decision makers and the pools of talent.

In China, does agency expansion to other cities gain extra benefit over upscaling operations in the current location?

Yes. China is so big – You always gain extra benefits over up-scaling your operation – it’s like you have extra connections and support in the China market – it is very important to your team and clients. Having said that – leadership and quality work are equally important to the speed of expansion in our industry.

How should a company respond to direct competition? How can you set yourself apart?

MUST WIN. I think it starts with your inner confidence in facing it. Then traditionally, a detail analysis and calculation of your SWOT (strength and weakness, opportunity and threat). It is always a long and lonely process, but a great team member will encourage you, and of course eagerness to WIN will set you apart.

Is it important to get up and running fast when expanding to a new city?

Running fast with control of the pattern, and knowing the direction. As long as you are certain with your vision, business objective and are clear with your strategy and plan – the answer is yes. As Sunzi said, “Speed is the essence of war”.

How do you ensure that the same quality of service can be delivered when opening a new office in a different city?

The people you select – Keep a clear, certain and consistent message that you communicate about your business goal.

When opening the Beijing office of M&C Saatchi, what was the biggest challenge you faced and what did you learn from it?

We ought to be certain & passionate to our goal as well as be scientific to deal with business challenges: the balance between investment and the speed of building it.

The biggest challenge is to deliver the promise to our client as well as to manage the HQ’s expectations.

Within the Chinese ad industry, how can a CEO develop business? Is the CEOs role greater in this in China than other markets?

I remember one of the greatest Indian Poets Kabir said: ‘The musk is inside the deer but the deer doesn’t look for it; it wanders around looking for grass.’

Every CEO is expected and expecting to go outside and look for new business through relationships and connections – of course, it is nothing wrong and it is basic for a CEO’s job. Having said that, before searching outside, a CEO should be able to define the company’s competitiveness and communicate this with his/ her team, clients and the outside world.  In China, with fierce competition, it is even more crucial for a CEO to ensure what his/ her firm’s strength in the market is, and how to maintain and grow it is very important.

Is there a large difference in the way to go about gaining international and local clients?

I think there is a large difference in terms of process at the beginning. International businesses have more rules relating to internal process – local businesses have more focus on the leaders’ vision. Apart from that – people chemistry and the capability of delivering quality works remain unchanged.

How can a foreign agency come to China and win local clients, especially if they are not part of a huge network?

If a huge network is not your strength, a foreign agency should define their strength in this market in ways such as being more technologically advanced, or having a higher global standard or something they can offer better than a huge network or local agencies. In a word, maybe a bit cliché, it’s your positioning and the work you are about to deliver. Everyone can sell once – but to have a return customer is crucial.

How can a new agency go about setting an overall strategy for the China market?

Positioning yourself in the market is always important before you get into actual competition in the market.

In the world, business leaders, politicians, marketers and communicators should be able to position themselves – then to set a goal, attract people and expand their plan and idea.

Is maintaining good corporate social responsibility important for an agency?

The importance should begin with your core competence which you promise to deliver to your clients/ customers. A firm’s social responsibility should be built relating to your core competences. Nowadays – some use it as a tactic to gain public favour – However, I think to deliver a solid core competence is the first step of social responsibility. I want to mention about some quality scandals in certain industries in the past years – I have seen they usually make big claims re CSR as their PR tool – but if you lose trust in your core service/ products you promise to deliver – it’s unlikely to use CSR to make it up. Having said that – CSR is an important part to build your firm’s sustainability – in the long run – you make business from your society and then you contribute to your society in return.

Does maintaining high ethical standards help or hinder in the China market?

There are many opportunities in the China market but sometimes taking them may encounter compromising on an ethical level. Remaining fair, genuine, and ethical should definitely be a basic / vital trait to run your company. Again, you may win your clients’ business by trusting yourself and your offering.

Thanks for speaking, Angela.

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