Ken Applegate from Fisher Funds on doing business with the Chinese

At Euroasia, we have the privelege of meeting talented New Zealanders who do amazing things in their day jobs. For today’s blog entry, we have Ken Applegate, who has been learning Mandarin with us since early last year to share his views on the Chinese economy, why he’s investing there, and his experience in working with the Chinese.

Ken is the Senior Portfolio Manager for the Fisher Funds International Fund, a specialist New Zealand-based fund manager with assets under management of NZ$1billion spread across more than 30,000 clients. Thanks Ken for sharing your story with the Euroasia community.


As a global investor we have the ability to invest anywhere in the world and our allocation to Chinese companies has ranged from 20-40% of the fund. We have a long term structurally bullish view on the Chinese economy. This is not just our opinion; it is based on fact and history. China has been a global economic powerhouse more than once in history. Countries like the US and the UK have dominated the world economy once before and even Rome was ‘great’ once. Just a little more than 200 years ago China’s economy comprised approximately 1/3 of global GDP and it is on the rise again. To quote Warren Buffett, a legendary investor, “the 19th century belonged to England, the 20th century belonged to the U.S., and the 21st century belongs to China. Invest accordingly“. I firmly believe most people underestimate how important this shift is and the significance of its implications.

China dominated the world economy 200 years ago


I have worked as a global fund manager for more than 15 years with the majority of my experience gained while living in California. I first visited China in 2000, and I now travel to China 2-3 times per year. In addition, I speak with Chinese companies and local investors/analysts on a weekly basis and often meet with Chinese companies when I attend investment conferences throughout Asia, especially in Singapore and Hong Kong. I have described below two examples of investments made in China which highlight some of the many challenges I have encountered and learned from over the years.

I also believe in continued learning and my latest pursuit has been learning Mandarin. I began taking a weekly class at Euroasia language school in Auckland in early 2010. I have experienced first-hand the difference between speaking Chinese and thinking Chinese. While I have spent a good deal of the last 10 years trying to understand the Chinese way of doing business, I decided that learning the language could be another way to bridge the gap between cultures. Many Chinese attempt to learn English so out of respect why shouldn’t we attempt to learn the most widely spoken language in the world?

China’s future will be driven by urbanisation and the emerging middle class


It is critical to understand that while China is one country there are significant regional differences. One way to gain a holistic picture is to travel to a variety of locations throughout China. While Shanghai and Beijing are the financial and political centres, they comprise less than 5% of the Chinese population. The real future of China, in my opinion, lies in the emerging middle class so I have made an effort to travel to tier 2 and tier 3 cities. In addition to Guangzhou in the south, I have been as far west as Chongqing and Chengdu and as far north as Changchun. I like to visit similar locations every few years to see how things are developing. The reason for my travel is to visit company management at their headquarters. I have found they are much more open to a dialogue and it forms a lasting impression if a fund manager from New Zealand makes an effort to come and spend a day with them on their home turf.

This is the welcome I received from Cao Zhao Hui, the CEO of Wasion Group, when I visited them at their headquarters outside of Changsha in 2009


The first example is an investment that didn’t work out. One way we generate our investment ideas is through quantitative screening of financial metrics. We discovered a company called Dapai, China’s leading branded backpack and luggage company. I was attracted to the company because of its leadership position in its industry and cheap valuation. The valuation of the company was low because the company had made some decisions that did not fit the mold of a ‘typical’ high quality publicly traded company.

After significant research on the company and numerous conference calls with company management I believed that this was an investment worth pursuing. We are strong believers in quality management so I travelled to Quanzhou, Fujian Province, to spend a day with the CEO and Chairman at their facility. I also conducted research by interviewing customers at shopping malls (including the competition) to gauge the perception of the company and brand.

As mentioned previously the cheap valuation was due to subpar decisions the company had made in regards to how the stock and company was perceived. I believed these decisions were made in naivety. During my meeting with the CEO I highlighted how to change their perception which could lead to significant wealth creation. I offered my assistance and facilitated a conversation with a public relations firm and numerous specialised brokers and made myself available for discussion on any decision-making if required. They responded positively and we celebrated a fruitful day and good relationship over dinner.

I had continued conference calls with management and while the company did make some positive steps forward they were only baby steps. Unfortunately the key decisions continued to be poor in spite of my advice. This was frustrating as there was no logical rationale for the decisions. The decisions were actually made for reasons other than purely financial reasons, which meant sacrificing

their own business in the short term to maintain relationships with distributors. I understand this is important, but it was still

frustrating as management had committed to change. While I do understand how Chinese think, I am ultimately a westerner, especially when it comes to business, and our way of decision-making does not always prevail.

Touring the Dapai factory with the CEO, Chen “Perry” Yong


The second example involves a more positive outcome. The company is China Automation Group, a leading company in safety equipment for the petrochemical and rail equipment industries. It is similar in structure to the first example where my research and relationship was developed over a 6-month period. The major difference in this example is that I already had relationships with a number of players in the rail equipment industry. This added depth and meaning to my relationship with this company.

We first invested capital in China Automation Group in mid 2008 and while business for the company continued to be positive, the stock took a dive in 2008. This was frustrating for the company and for me. I remember meeting with Xuan Ruiguo, the Chairman of China Automation Group, in Hong Kong in October 2008 when the stock price was HK0.60/share.

To put this into context we bought our first shares at HK$2/share. The good news is that now the shares are trading at more than Hk$6/share. We showed our confidence and belief in the company by buying more shares and it was this day that defined our relationship. I had breakfast with the Chairman in March this year and he recalled my support during that challenging time and said that he always has time for me.


I have always believed in a long term approach to investing and this is a mindset that is critical when it comes to doing business in China. The best lessons I have learned have not come from reading books but from my own experiences on the ground. This will continue to be the focus for me in the future. We shouldn’t overestimate the ability to change others’ mindsets and this is not a sustainable outcome anyway. We need to adapt if we are to conduct business in their country, and both parties in a relationship must be satisfied. This requires a long term approach – it’s not just about trying to make a short term profit.

The best piece of advice I give people who want to try and understand China is to go there. I tell them to spend some time in one of the big cities and then travel inland to a smaller city. I have offered numerous times to provide assistance to those interested in an attempt to make the process seem less daunting. Seeing is believing. It takes time to develop an understanding and time to create relationships. Confucius said “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”…and the long term rewards can be unlimited.

Posted via email from Euroasia

Share this:

UK govt says schools should teach Mandarin to all teenagers

Every teenager should have the chance to learn Mandarin due to the growing importance of China in world events, according to the UK government. One in seven secondary schools, which teach pupils aged 11-16, currently offer Mandarin and Schools Secretary Ed Balls said he wanted to extend this through language partnerships between schools.

From the BBC website this week:

All secondary school pupils in England should have the chance to learn a less familiar language such as Mandarin, says Children’s Secretary Ed Balls.

Mandarin has become increasingly popular in schools – with one in seven now teaching the subject.

Making it more widely available is an cialis order “aspiration” rather than a pledge – and could mean schools and colleges sharing specialist language

teaching staff.

Mr Balls highlighted the economic importance of learning languages.

As well as Mandarin, he pointed to the growing importance of Portuguese for trading with Brazil, Spanish in Argentina and Bahasa Indonesia in Indonesia.

Emerging economies

“A growing number of schools are now teaching Mandarin and in the coming years I think we will see this subject sitting alongside French, Spanish and German as one of the most popular languages for young people to learn,” said Mr Balls.

“In this new decade our ties with emerging economies like China will become even more important and it’s vital that young people are equipped with the skills which they need, and British businesses need too, in order to succeed in a rapidly-changing world,” he said.

So what is the New Zealand government’s stance?

Share this:

2010 New Year Resolution: Learn a language

In recessionary times, it’s even more important to keep improving and to consider learning a second language. Now is the time to be upskilling to future proof yourself. The ability to speak

a second language puts your business or your job prospects one step ahead of the competition. You are also demonstrating to future employers that you have what it takes to stick to something. Employers realise that people who embark on language learning have some key characteristics that are highly valued in such times: commitment and dedication being some key ones. Part of what makes knowing a language a great skill to have is simply because it’s not that easy for someone to acquire fluency. If it was, it would quickly lose it’s value and won’t be treasured as much. Some of you would already have mastering a second language set as a 2010 New Year resolution.

How do you ensure you achieve your 2010 New Year resolution? Your goals have to be SMART. The reasons people give for not learning a language include lack of time, the cost involved and the difficulty of the subject area. The good news is you can craft a SMART plan to overcome the obstacles mentioned, to achieve your goal of speaking a foreign language by the end of 2010.

1) Specific

What does “speaking a foreign language” mean? Should your goal be to know enough French in order to survive in a remote town in France without relying on interpreters?

We have a specific learning outcomes for people who enrol for courses at Euroasia. For example, at the end of the Level 1 French course with Euroasia, you should know enough to “get by” in French: you will be able to cope with the most common everyday situations by asking and answering simple questions, and you will be able to understand people when they speak to you about the situations covered.

2) Measurable

How do you know you’re on track with your goal? You need some objective measure of your progress. This is the main reason why self-help language courses don’t work. This is because learning a language is not like studying history. You need constant feedback from experienced teachers who know how to provide constructive suggestions and correct you when you make mistakes. CDs and software programs can’t do that as well as humans. You need to be regularly “tested” either formally or informally so that you know you’re making progress. Language schools follow lesson plans that introduce progression over time. As long as you keep on top of the coursework, you will keep improving.

3) Attainable

Your goals have to be realistic. Sometimes we get calls from people who need to master a language within a matter of weeks because of an impending transfer offshore, or because they have to meet the future-in-laws who don’t speak any English. Learning a language, like everything else, takes time. There are certainly people out there who promise the world, and will tell you that you do not have to put in the hard yards and yet will emerge fluent within a short timeframe, simply by spending an hour a week listening to CDs or playing some games on your laptop or iphone. This is obviously appealing, in the same way that expensive infomercial weight-loss programmes are. The real secret to learning a language (and weight loss, saving money etc) is having a realistic plan and keeping to it. At Euroasia, we follow a language learning programme that allows people to realistically gain fluency over time. If we did have magic pills that make clients instantly fluent in Spanish, we would be selling them at a thousand-a-pop and not bother investing so much money in establishing and running a school.

4) Relevant

Why are you wanting to learn a foreign language? If you’re just wanting to learn Italian for fun so that you can order a beer and have a simple chat with hot locals as you roam around Rome, then your goal should be to complete Level 1 or Level 2 with Euroasia. A Level 1 course can be completed within 2 weeks, 5 weeks or 10 weeks, depending on how intense you want it to be. If on the other hand, you wish to conduct business negotiations with your suppliers in China, then a Level 1 course is not sufficient, and realistically it would take a year or two to get a point where you can engage in everyday conversation, comparing your life in New Zealand with other people’s lives overseas; discussing matters of interest, including politics and economics. The more solid your reason for learning a language, the longer the staying power. Visualise your end-goal. When the going gets tough, keep reminding yourself of how it feels to be able to ultimately converse freely with locals. What would also help is if you have career-oriented language goals such as planning to gain a foreign language qualification. If your goal is to pass a formal certification exam like DELE (Spanish), DELF (French) or HSK (Chinese), then you are also more likely to have stronger motivation.

5) Time-bound

What’s your plan in order to achieve your goal? Where do you want to be in 3 months? 6 months? An ineffective resolution is “I will be rich someday”. An effective resolution is “I will save $20K

by December 2010″. You then break this down further into quarterly and monthly targets. In the same way, you would set targets for yourself in learning a language. You may wish to complete the Euroasia Gold Package (4 courses) by the end of 2010.

We wish you all the best in setting SMART goals for 2010!

Share this:

UK held back by poor language skills

The UK will be held back as it seeks to emerge from recession unless it boosts the number of language graduates, campaigners say. From BBC this week:

The National Centre for Languages (Cilt) points to a worrying decline in the take-up of modern languages.

Cilt chief executive Kathryn Board said: “English is one of the great global languages but it will only take us so far. Our engagement with the non-English speaking world will remain superficial and one-sided unless we develop our capacity in other languages.”

Recent research from Cardiff Business School suggests improving languages could add an extra £21bn to the UK economy and that export businesses that use language skills boost their sales by 45%.

That's not surprising, simply because foreign-language capable staff make a big difference in terms of engagement with clients. At the moment, many Kiwi firms use amateur translators (friends and family or Google Translate) to process enquiries and then respond to clients. This is tedious and messages can get lost in translation. Worse still, many NZ companies do not even bother translating documents in dealing with foreign language speaking customers. The expectation is that the buyer will deal with us in English.

Much has been said of New Zealand's increasing trade engagement with China, especially since the signing of the FTA last year. But the clomid reality is much of our trade with China involves NZ importing Chinese-made goods. In terms of our exports

to China, I wonder how much we really sell once we strip out the contribution of Fonterra (dairy products), Fletcher and Carter Holt (wood products). Partly our dismal performance in terms of exports offshore is due to our inability to service foreign-language speaking customers.

The reason English is so dominant globally as the language of trade is partly because traders have always learnt the language of the paying customers. Our arrogant attitude in assuming everyone speaks English has been tolerated when NZ firms are the customers (which is most of the time looking at our current account deficit). If on the other hand, we are selling to overseas customers, the onus is on us to speak the language of the customer. Failure to do so could result in us losing the deal to those who can. The scary (or exciting?) thing for New Zealand is that we are becoming far less dependent on our traditional English-speaking markets and more dependent on other foreign-language speaking markets.

The English are getting very worried because of the dramatic decline in the number of students taking up foreign languages at school. In 1997, 71% of England's GCSE pupils (roughly NCEA Level 1 or School Certificate in NZ) took a foreign language, last year the rate was down to 44%. The equivalent rate in NZ is about 14% (8400 taking international languages out of approx 60K Year 11 students).

Cilt's director of communications Teresa Tinsley said: “We are going to be held back as a nation as we seek to emerge from the economic downturn or recession.

“Companies are looking to recruit people with language skills and if they can't find them amongst our home-grown graduates they will obviously bring in people from other countries to fill these gaps.

“We really need to buck up our ideas or we are going to be stuck in a mono-lingual world when everybody else is taking global opportunities.”

If the English believe they will be “held back” as a nation because “only” 44% of their kids learn a foreign language at high school, what about NZ where only 14% of our Form 5 kids do? There is simply no way we can be a serious player in world trade when we cannot even communicate at the most basic level with our customers. We are not even at first base.

Share this:

Economist: China's capital spend to overtake US

Economist: China vs US capital spend

The Economist this week reported China's fixed-asset investment leapt by an astonishing 39% in the year to May, or by a record 49% in real terms.

This year China’s domestic investment in dollar terms is likely to exceed that in America (see chart).

There are concerns that a lot of the investment is directed by the Chinese government, and hence a lot of it would be wasted in pushing out overcapacity.

Investment amounted to 44% of GDP last year (compared with 18% in America), which many economists reckon was already too much. Worse still, as well as forcing state firms to invest, the government is directing state-owned banks to lend more, despite falling corporate profits.

The fastest expansion in spending has been in railways (up by 111% this year). As a developing country, China still lacks decent infrastructure; railways, in particular, have long been an economic bottleneck. Investment in roads, the power grid and water should also yield high long-term returns by allowing China to sustain rapid growth.

Further evidence that increasingly New Zealand will be engaging more with China as reliance on our traditional Western markets wane. The Americans will struggle with maintaining market dominance, and the developing economies will no doubt emerge stronger as a result of this recession.

Share this:

Why Auckland will attract more migrants

Economist Intelligence Unit just announced their list of most liveable cities in the world. Vancouver came out tops. The City of Sails was ranked the 12th best city to live in. Wellington is ranked 23rd. This is a poor showing for Auckland compared to the April 09 announcement by Mercer that Auckland is the 4th most liveable city in the world. According to Wikipedia, the EIU and Mercer surveys are the most authoritative surveys of liveable cities.

When Mercer announced the list of most liveable cities for 2009, the Aussie paper Daily Telegraph headline was “Auckland beats out Sydney in Worldwide Quality of Living Survey“. If there is one thing the Aussies hate more than losing, it’s getting beaten by the Kiwis. Anyway, the order 5mg cialis cheap online latest survey from EIU released this week will surely make the Aussies happy. Their 3 major cities, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth all rank within the top 10 list.

These most liveable city surveys look at factors like stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, infrastructure etc in deciding the rankings.

I think most people choose to emigrate to New Zealand because of one or both of these reasons:

1) Clean and green environment, generally safe ie. great quality of life

2) Children’s education


As more and more people get burned out living in the larger European and Asian cities, I’m sure the appeal of New Zealand will only increase. Most migrants end up in Auckland, largely because it’s a good compromise. Auckland may be the big smoke in a South Pacific context, but not really if compared to

the major European and Asian cities. 1.4m is approximately the population of an average Shanghai suburb.

Living in Auckland is about getting the best of both worlds. Easy access to some of the most beautiful spots in the world, reasonable climate, and generally good quality of life. These reasons will surely keep people coming.

Immigration policy should focus on facilitating easy access for skilled migrants. We also need to define skills pretty widely. Smart people may not have university degrees. In fact the majority of the self-made billionaires on the Fortune Magazine Rich List don’t either. Current immigration policy makes it difficult for people who may not be well qualified but could add a lot of value to New Zealand to be granted residency.

EIU’s list of most liveable cities in the world 2009:

Vancouver Canada
Vienna Austria
Melbourne Australia
Toronto Canada
Perth Australia
Calgary Canada
Helsinki Finland
Geneva Switzerland
Sydney Australia
Zurich Switzerland

Auckland ranked 12th

Share this:

Forum brings together Chinese and NZ businesspeople

Flat out at the moment

putting this forum together. Counting down to next Monday. A few tickets left if you're keen to come check this out.

The International Sustainable Cities Forum to be held on 30 March brings together government and business leaders from both China and New Zealand, in conjunction with the first anniversary of the signing of the China-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement.

The organisers have managed to secure the attendance of approximately 50 senior business and government leaders from China to attend this Forum. Amongst those attending is Wang Shi, the Godfather of Chinese real estate, Chairman of Vanke, with market capitalisation over US$10b, the largest property developer in China. Wang Shi is al

so the he oldest person in the world to complete the 7+2 (scaling the highest peaks on seven continents and to trek to the two poles). Many of the delegates are members of the China Urban Realty Association (CURA), and are well-known entrepreneurs and investors. Government delegations from Chang Xing County in Zhejiang Province and Wu Jin District in Jiangsu Province will also attend.

The Chinese participants are keen to look at partnership possibilities in New Zealand. They also want to better understand New Zealand’s capabilities in the area of sustainable development, especially given the significant challenges faced in China.

Continued >

Share this:

Working with China – key tips

I came across a good story in the Summer issue of Bright, the NZTE magazine that goes out to people interested in international business.

Key stories in this issue include coping with the international credit crisis; insights on trading in the Middle East; tips on perfecting your sales pitch; the world's growing bioeconomy; interviews with two members of NZTE’s China Advisory Board; carbon-labeling of exports; staying sharp in the adventure tourism market.

I want to highlight some salient points from the  interviews with the 2 members of NZTE’s China Advisory Board, who have in-depth China market knowledge and have lived and worked in China for a long period.

chinaIf you have some time, do read the article. The 2 guys interviewed are:

David Mahon, Chair of NZTE’s China Advisory Board.

  • Worked in Beijing for 25 years, heading a private  equity firm Mahon ChinaInvestment Management Limited.
  • He says change in China has been so great though that he says it’s largely his last two years’ of experience that are relevant to clients.

Andrew Browne, partner in a corporate communications advisory company, Beijing Brunswick Consultancy Ltd.

  • Advises clients on business development acquisition and listing strategies.
  • Previously worked for Reuters for 20 years and in 2007 won a Pulitzer Prize.
  • Grew up in Hong Kong.

Some quotes from Mahon:

  • “If you’re looking around the world and trying to see sources of global growth, China is one of the bright spots”
  • “Brand New Zealand is strong but we lack unity. There are all these meat producers and wine producers selling fragments. We need to approach in a unified way – then Brand New Zealand can be protected.”
  • “Language is important”. “I learned five words a day – no one can afford not to learn five words a day.”
  • “Too often you see companies with a product in China and it doesn’t do well. China demands products unique to Ch

    ina. For example, media is very culturally sensitive.”

Quotes from Browne:

  • “What is it that China

    needs? They need brand, technology, marketing and sales channels. You’ll see a very serious shopping expedition going out in search of all those things.”

  • “It’s a truism that China is a complicated country”
  • “We each have a vision which is only a tiny slice of the whole. For all New Zealand companies, it’s critical that they meet as many people as they can and get as broad a view as possible. The secret of doing well is asking the right questions.
  • The economy has been far too focused on exports and heavy industry. The low-end sweat-shops
    along the coast have resulted in excessive use of raw material and energy. In that sense, the old
    model has run its course and was looking unsustainable before the credit crisis hit.
  • “Would you advise a top Chinese company manager coming down to New Zealand to learn a little English? The notion you can send a senior manager to China without language is ridiculous. China is changing so quickly. Language gives you a feeling of engagement and
    learning about the market.”
  • “If you’re an architect, there is nowhere in the world doing building like China,”
  • “Take parks. China needs parks; in the West, all the parks are there. Companies in the West that have long become dormant have sprung back into life in China. China is not something
    to fear at all. China is creating vast opportunities across the manufacturing and service sectors.
  • “If you’re a banker, China is your big opportunity. I’ve watched the private equity funds
    of the world trooping through the lobby of CICC China Investment Corporation with their hats off.”

Also want to highlight an opportunity for Kiwi businesspeople to connect with Chinese investors and businesspeople at an upcoming event on 30 March 2009 – known as the International Sustainable Cities Forum. A delegation of high-level business and government leaders will be in New Zealand for 4 days to explore partnership opportunities.

It's the perfect opportunity for those wanting to do business with the Chinese to attend.

Share this:

Job summit the answer to unemployment?

When I started working as a graduate in 1999, the unemployment rate was 7.5%. The unemployment rate now is about 4.2%. It just seems to me like everyone is so much more despondent this time around. Is this because we've had so many years of low unemployment and economic growth that we've forgotten what a recession looks like? OK so the New Zealand Institute is projecting a rise in unemployment to 11%. At this rate, it seems it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Everyone knows we're going through a serious recession, but hey, we can't change that.

All we can do is to choose our response. The last thing that we should do is to keep complaining about how bad the recession is to our colleagues, customers and suppliers. That's not the best way to build co


Source: Businessday

So, will the Job Summit on Friday make a difference? I don't know. Ultimately, it's up to individuals to make a difference. People with the right attitude committed to delivering superior value.

Share this: