How to run your APAC business when you can’t get on a plane

By Alex Gover, VP of Business Development, Intralink

I just spoke to a friend who leads his tech firm’s APAC business. 

“Life’s good,” he told me. “I’ve now got more time with the kids and a video business call saves me trekking across the region for something that turns out to be a waste of time.”

On quizzing him further, however, he admitted it’s not that simple. For his biggest customer in Tokyo, his main supplier in Shenzhen and his partner in Seoul, if he’s not physically there on a regular basis, things can go seriously awry. 

“Sure, you often already know a fair bit about your problems. But sometimes you don’t. And sometimes you don’t even know there are problems until you get out there. Being blissfully ignorant is just asking for trouble.”

APAC VPs frequently spend more time travelling than on any other part of their job. Sometimes, it’s to visit their corporate headquarters or their family back home. But more often they’re visiting clients and partners across the region. 

And, whereas face-to-face relationship building is important the world over, it’s vital for growing a successful business in APAC.

This is where things have suddenly been thrown into turmoil, thanks to COVID-19. With strict international travel restrictions now in place, jumping on a plane — for most — has had to stop. And many regional heads are finding that, while video calls are invaluable, they’re not a substitute for a physical presence. 

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APAC bosses need to be there to demonstrate commitment to their partners and customers, iron out glitches and identify new opportunities as they arise. So, what can you do when you can’t travel? 

The most effective answer is to partner with people who are already embedded in your main territories. Of course, they need the language and cultural skills, the business connections and the commercial acumen to represent you.

But if you find the right people, they will act as an integral extension of your team, managing your customers, partners and suppliers and troubleshooting local issues – just as you would if you were there. In fact, they can be more effective, simply because they’ll be on the ground every day.

I used to work in such a role in our Tokyo office and typically reported to clients’ APAC VPs in, say, Singapore or Hong Kong. I remember my very first client telling me: “Your role is to fix the problems in Japan that I don’t know I have.” 

His comment threw me at the time. But a few weeks into the job and I’d learnt exactly what he meant.

Alex Gover is VP of Intralink and has worked in and with East Asia for the past 25 years, including for Sony's head office in Tokyo. You can reach Alex at [email protected]

Intralink is an international business development consultancy specialising in growing clients’ businesses in East Asia. The company has offices in Shanghai, Tokyo, Seoul and Taipei – as well as across North America and Europe. See www.intralinkgroup.com

For more information on business topics in APAC, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief APAC

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