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Asian relationships in business

This week I spoke at the bi-annual conference for the New Zealand Credit and Finance Institute about forging relationships with our Asian communities - it is a credit to the Institute that they have recognised the importance of understanding what makes Asian people tick.

It's currently estimated that 8% of our population is Asian. In 1991, there were 99,736 Asian people living in New Zealand - between then and 2001 the population doubled and continues to grow today, albeit at a slower rate in recent years.

It's important to note that 78% of our Asian population were born overseas, and of that 75% have been in New Zealand for less than 10 years. This trend has had a profound effect on both the established Asian and wider communities, and has caused a considerable backlash due to differences in customs, culture and languages. Politically motivated debates on this issue have only added fuel to the fire.

Those who migrated under skill based or similar categories have faced problems in finding employment due to our small business economy and tough employment laws. Despite the barriers, these people have gained higher education with many becoming self-employed. According to the 2001 census, the proportion of Asian people who are self-employed is the highest amongst all ethnic groups, and second highest for being employers.

The Investor and Business immigration categories have brought migrants to New Zealand with capital and valuable business skills. According to an Asia New Zealand Foundation paper, large Asian investors in Auckland have been estimated to have each put $20-30 million into the region.

Asian migrants who arrived under similar business migration schemes between July 1992 and June 1998 put NZ$969 million in investment capital into the economy. Overall, Asian investment in New Zealand through resident companies, as well as individuals, has been estimated at around $7 billion. This is not to mention the personal networks that underpin the $21.5 billion dollar trade and investment ties between New Zealand and Asia.

These people have established significant businesses such as private tertiary institutions, supermarket chains, property development firms, finance institutions, and import and export businesses. They also tend to foster businesses opportunities between New Zealand and their countries of origin.

One then has to ask the question why the current immigration policy continues to reject these migrants. Recently the Sunday Star Times reported that in the two and half months since the investor category rules were changed in July 2005, only 12 expressions of interest were received, 8 were invited to apply and only 2 were approved. This is a stark contrast to the 1,000 approvals in 2001.

The previous Labour Government said that these policy changes aimed to attract quality migrants - I believe that this is an insult to the thousands of investors who came to New Zealand between 1998 and 2002. I labelled these changes as anti-Asian and some immigration consultants labelled them as arrogant.

The spending power of the Asian communities cannot be underestimated. Currently there are 28 Chinese language newspapers, magazines and websites and 4 dedicated Chinese language radio stations. In the Korean community there are 12 dedicated papers and magazines and at least 2 radio stations, in the Indian community there are 4 newspapers, 2 Indian radio stations, and more than one Indian television production company. Although many of these media outlets are in Auckland some of the publications are distributed throughout the country.

These newspapers and magazines are not supported by subscription; they all rely on advertising revenue largely from their communities. While some of these publications come and go, the numbers remain consistently high which means that no one should complain that they can't reach Asian communities.

In order for Asian New Zealanders to be able to successfully integrate there are some issues that need to be addressed on both sides. In my extensive interaction with new Asian migrants I have found that they have concerns about a lack of respect, understanding and getting a fair go while they settle in.

There is also a notion among some that a few Asian countries are developing economies and that the quality of their products and processes are less than desirable. It's believed that this is being used as a reason not to give Asian business opportunities a fair go - the reality is that if you are firm, have detailed specifications, and are prepared to pay for quality the other party can deliver.

Many people will say that they have migrated here to have a balanced lifestyle, when in reality many do not separate business from relaxation. They work hard and many do not observe holidays or weekends in order to get things done. It is therefore important to build strong relationships in order to communicate the rules of operation. Ultimately, these are business people who are looking for the best deal and with a strong foundation will enable effective bargaining.

Asian business people don't see deals as a one off, but as a continuing occurrence and even if an agreement isn't always reached, it's important to maintain the relationship for future possibilities. It's also crucial to overcome the language barrier - non-English speakers feel that local business people look down on them because of this. My suggestion is to take a bi-lingual speaker along to meetings or to invite the other party to take someone along who can interpret.

Asian migrants have networks in markets beyond New Zealand, and if people aren't interested in doing business with them they can look elsewhere. They are hardworking, enterprising and aggressive; anyone who is interested in growing their businesses, customer base, and network cannot afford to ignore the growing Asian population.

I believe that the question facing New Zealand businesses shouldn't be how do you go about working with the Asian community, but how do you get started on building the all important relationships?

Pansy Wong
www.pansywong.co.nz
www.national.org.nz

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