By Sheila Mason

Our team’s visit to Southwest Hospital of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) 3rd Military Medical University stands out as a highlight of our week in Chongqing. This is likely due to the fact that in this one morning, we had the opportunity to experience a number of aspects of doing business in China that had, until this visit, remained theoretical. These included: guanxi, generous hospitality, face, gifts, and our own preconceived notions.

Guanxi. Left to our own devices, the likelihood of our team arranging a meeting with a top-tier hospital in a city half-way around the world was near-zero. As students, we were hoping to engage with a culture that thrives on hierarchy. As foreigners, we were seeking to cold-call on a culture that transacts on old friendships. Without the established network of Peter Liao, Trade Commissioner, Canadian Consulate in Chongqing, we would not have secured a meeting with Southwest Hospital, let alone a meeting with its President who, as Lieutenant General, also happens to be a very senior-ranking officer in the Chinese military. That is the power of guanxi – the complex network of established friendships uniquely characterized by reciprocity and obligation.

Generous Hospitality. When we were greeted upon arrival at Southwest Hospital by a large electronic billboard displaying the words “Warmly Welcome EMBA Delegation,” we knew that this would be no ordinary meeting. Surrounding us were military medical personnel – some hooked up with wireless mics – and a media crew. After initial introductions and a lot of photographs, our military hosts guided us on a 45-minute tour during which we received nothing less than VIP treatment.

Face. Our meetings in Chongqing were typically arranged for only our team members and our interpreter. However, out of respect for the President’s status as Lieutenant General in the Chinese military, our attendance was augmented by Peter Liao, Trade Commissioner, Canadian Consulate in Chongqing; Ryan Baerg, Consul and Senior Trade Commissioner, Canadian Consulate in Chongqing; and Dr. Terrence Kulka, Director, Telfer EMBA Program.

Gifts.  Quite content to be offered a simple cup of tea, we were astonished to each receive our own engraved plaque commemorating our visit to the hospital. We were instantly grateful to Peter Liao who had advised that we be prepared to present the Lieutenant General with a bottle of Canadian ice wine. Being the first item on the agenda following introductions, this exchange of gifts was a significant part of our meeting, aptly accompanied by more photographs.

Preconceived Notions.  During our research, we believed that Chinese private hospitals were most likely to serve the market segment that could afford our client’s liver cancer therapy. This initial assumption was based on our North American understanding of the term “private hospital” whereby the well-to-do pay for the privilege of receiving private healthcare. In our meeting at Southwest Hospital, and subsequently confirmed during our next meeting with a private hospital in Chongqing, we learned that the military hospital – and not the private hospital – is the ideal portal for accessing our client’s target customers. Treating 2.8 million outpatients annually, Southwest Hospital has patient volumes such that our client would have little need to find many other hospitals, if any, to capture the desired market share for its product. Furthermore, the military hospital is extremely well-funded, the results of which are observable in quality attributes that range from innovative digital workflows to leading-edge sustainable building designs to staff that includes some of the country’s most renowned medical doctors and researchers. These conditions make the military hospital the preferred destination for affluent residents seeking unique treatments that improve their quality of life, both of which characterize our client’s product.

The depth of real, practical experience relevant to our client’s needs acquired from planning and executing this project will forever affect our own perspectives on international business. With an increased level of sensitivity and respect for engaging in a new global economy, we graduate from the Telfer EMBA Program stimulated for international growth.