Don’t be scared of doing business in China, says Plymouth consultant


By WILLIAM TELFORD, Business Editor

Ed Hillier

Clever Student Lets, Ed Hillier, Business consultant

 PLYMOUTH business consultant Ed Hillier says companies should not be scared of operating in China – and he should know, because he lived and worked there for 10 years.

Mr Hillier now works for Plymouth’s Clever Student Lets as a consultant specialising in the Chinese market.

The firm, which finds accommodation for students in the city, sees China as a growing, and lucrative, target.

“There is a tremendous amount of opportunity; it’s a very large market,” Mr Hillier said. “Ten years ago they were looking at cheap manufacturing, but British products are now seen as high quality there, they have kudos.

“In future there will be even more opportunity for selling in the Chinese marketplace.”

He stressed British firms aiming to compete on cheaply-made products are on a hiding to nothing – the Chinese want bespoke goods.

“There’s an opportunity for niche goods and potentially food and drink. Things like whisky are well known and British beers are starting to appear,” he said.

And he thinks there are tourism opportunities for Plymouth – including shopping.

“Chinese tourists want to come to London and Paris for shopping,” he said. “But I don’t see why someone should not create an opportunity for Chinese tourists in the South West.”

He stressed outsiders will find China a friendly place but warned: “That doesn’t mean it’s an easy place to do business – there are cultural and environmental differences – but nothing insurmountable.

“But China is basically safe, I’ve not experienced petty crime, Chinese people are less confrontational.

“So stick to business rules and don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at home and you’ll be fine.

“And China is definitely open for business.”

Mr Hillier had been in contact with Clever Student Lets while working in China.

The firm approached him for help accessing the Chinese market and building a web and social media presence and looking to link with Chinese educational services, providers, agents and academic institutions.

Mr Hillier’s Chinese adventure began when he was a law student in Manchester in the 1990s.

He decided to learn a language, Mandarin Chinese was being taught, and he’d been to Hong Kong.

“So I thought I’d learn Chinese,” he said. “I did three years at night school, then moved into teaching, which is a good way to travel.

“There is a lot of demand for English teachers in China so I went there originally for a year – but ended up being there for 10.”

Mr Hillier taught for three years before moving back into law, hooking up with a huge multi-national commercial law firm in Beijing where he was one of 10 westerners out of 70 staff.

But he decided to return to the UK in January this year.

“China is a fascinating place, and I have a strong attachment to it,” he said.

“But as an outsider it’s a serious step to consider it a permanent home.

“It’s not a multi-cultural society, I’d always be an outsider, that’s why I left.”

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