The Christmas decorations on the busy Huai Hai Road downtown Shanghai still cling to the trees, hoping they might survive maybe a few more days on the winter chilly city street. The Shanghainese don’t seem to notice, as they walk past and pull up their collars for the cold. Wandering on toward the warmer weather and the nearing Chinese New Year.
On the 18th floor in the Lippo Plaza building on no. 222 it has been New Year – the ordinary one and a Swedish one, and now it’s time for Mats Johansson to look back on 2010, and on what 2011 looks like from his point of view. Not from the chair at his Gunnebo Security office in the Lippo Plaza, but from his chair as vice chairman of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce – Chairman of the Shanghai Chapter.
“Well 2010 was very much dominated by EXPO. With that came lots of events and people on visit from Sweden. That characterized the whole of 2010. Plus the air has been much cleaner in Shanghai,” Mats Johansson adds with a chuckle as he looks out of his corner office window on 18th. He refers to the heavy industry around Shanghai, which was partly shut down during EXPO.
“Ah, today is actually quite clear,” he says, reminding that the industry has now been rebooted.
The struggle in 2011
The Swedish Chamber of Commerce arranged, participated and helped throughout 2010 in events together with the Swedish Consulate among others, and informed Swedish delegations about China and how to do business in China. But now when EXPO has ended, the Chamber of Commerce can return to more everyday matters, and with about 120 members in Shanghai alone – about 600 in Swedish companies established in all of China – everyday matters means lots of work and events to look forward to in 2011.
”We are not a tiny Swedish club anymore,” Mats Johansson laughs and explains that one of the Chamber’s main focus points now is the Chinese employees in the Swedish Companies. The number of local employees in the companies is growing. Not just the ordinary employees but in the management too. As a result, fewer and fewer expats hold the managing positions. Therefore the chamber specifically tries to target its seminars more towards these local employees.
“We do it to achieve a more deep connection between the employee and the Swedish company, and both here and in Beijing it has been very well received. I think it’s important to get such a connection, as there are differences between Chinese and a Swedish management.” Mats Johansson smiles. Then quickly he adds, “Both good and bad, of course.”
A strong and united voice
Another important role for the Swedish Chamber of Commerce, Mats Johansson says, is to help Swedish companies in the more and more demanding Chinese society. A help that has changed in the recent years.
”Before the help was more about establishing a company in China, how to get employees and such. It’s not that big a question anymore. Today we have established the chamber as an important part of the Swedish community, and together with the Swedish Consulate and the Swedish Trade Council we have a strong voice with the Chinese authorities. Thereby we can help Swedish companies in matters that would trouble them if they stood alone.”
Mats Johansen explains, that it has become more and more difficult to be a foreign business in China. Partly because of an increasing amount of regulations and directives from the Chinese authorities, and partly because of increasing competition from improving local companies – but also because of a change in attitude.
“Yes that’s correct,” Mats Johansson stats and explains in an airplane allegory:
“‘You have showed us how to make an airplane. Now we don’t need your Airbus anymore. We have our own’ – of course there’s still big opportunities here but it has become more and more tough.”
All business is local
All together it has changed the Chamber’s range of focus – the focus of 2011 and the future.
“I think the next step is more focused on the Chinese authorities and in lobbying – that, and then the Chinese employees,” Mats Johansson says, and tells that they too plays a role in the increasing toughness in the Chinese business venture. The wages have increased strongly, and the skilful people are harder to get – and keep, and that’s another reason why the Chamber’s focus is on the local people in the Swedish Companies.
“By that they get a better understanding and loyalty towards the Swedish companies. I think the most important thing here is to be the good example. For example show that is possible to work in teams; that you don’t need a hierarchical structure where the managers do one thing and employees do something else. An open and informative way where every employee is equal no matter position. That is something we try to achieve.”
Mats Johansson looks out of the window towards the Shanghai skyscrapers and the Chinese people on the Huai Hai road below him. Then he states:
“Our job is to make the Swedish companies attractive for the Chinese employees. All business is local.”
• Mats Johansson is born in Göteborg, Sweden
• He majored as Civil Engineer from Chalmers University of Technology.
• Since he has been around Volvo Car Corporation, Uponor and IMI Indoor Climate – a background mainly in development and manufacturing.
• In January 2004 he moved to Shanghai, where he as Executive Director Asia Pacific was responsible for establishing Fagerhult Lightning in China from scratch.
• Today he is Country manager for Gunnebo AB in China and vice chairman of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce, chairman of the Shanghai chapter