Building a bridge between Chinese entrepreneurs and the world
I met Dong Bin in Junwangfu, at the southeast corner of Beijing’s Chaoyang Park.
Dong is the co-founder of the Sino-International Entrepreneurs Federation (SIEF). He previously held key positions in Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG), the Secretariat of the Boao Forum for Asia, and Beijing Capital Group, and he has also worked at China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange. The SIEF is a platform that brings together government and business leaders from major countries and regions worldwide. Dong has leveraged this platform to lead multiple summits for Chinese entrepreneurs to meet with those from Europe, Africa, and Australia. The SIEF empowers Chinese entrepreneurs to reach out to the rest of the world and has enabled Chinese firms to establish a lasting international influence in Europe, Oceania, and Africa.
Among the SIEF’s members are many world-famous figures in government and business, including Jean-Pierre Raffarin, former French prime minister and special representative of the French government for China affairs; Long Yongtu, chief negotiator for China’s entry to the World Trade Organization and former secretary-general of the Boao Forum for Asia; John Howard, former Australian prime minister; Gordon Brown, former English prime minister and UN special envoy for global education; He Chaoqiong, executive chairman and managing director of Shun Tak Holdings; Chang Yanbin, founder and chairman of Reignwood; Cao Dewang, founder and chairman of Fuyao Group; and Othman Benjelloun, founder of BMCE Bank.
For Dong, 2018 was a hectic yet fulfilling year. Against the monumental backdrop of the “Belt and Road” initiative promoted by the Chinese government, he is using the SIEF to create a bridge between Chinese entrepreneurs and the rest of the world.
Global summits under the Belt and Road initiative
In June of 2018, the eighth annual Sino-European Entrepreneurs Summit was held in Paris, France, and Andermatt, Switzerland, attended by over 500 business and political figures from China and Europe. The main topic for this year’s summit was how to promote cooperation between Chinese and European entrepreneurs under the Belt and Road initiative, as well as accelerating the transformation of the Chinese manufacturing industry and financial innovation.
As for why he organizes these summits, Dong has always harbored the dream of making Chinese entrepreneurs more visible and influential on the world stage. At the same time as China engages in business partnerships with the rest of the world, he hopes that he can help to convey the spirit and culture of Chinese entrepreneurship while seeking new pathways and solutions for the international development of Chinese businesses. Dong’s vision for the “summit” as a concept is a high-end, effective, and international platform for interaction among entrepreneurs, aimed at giving Chinese and European business leaders the chance to talk face to face, share their needs, increase their mutual understanding, and learn from each other.
Over the 40 years since China started its “reform and opening up” process, Chinese businesses and entrepreneurs have achieved incredibly rapid development. How these businesses should use their accumulated experience and technological advantages to be successful in the future, and how to promote continuous growth in the face of new challenges, are questions that Dong is constantly pondering. His many years of experience leading international projects have given him a more open and forward-looking perspective on these questions. He believes that Chinese businesses and entrepreneurs must learn from global expertise and seek common ground while setting aside their differences. Noting that “it took Europe several hundred years to complete the process of primitive accumulation”, he considers the many differences between Chinese and European businesses to be an inevitable result of their divergent development paths.
Faced with the prospect of collective transition, how can Chinese businesses find consensus in the midst of this divergence, and how can they transform into localized productive forces? As Dong continues to share his views with Chinese entrepreneurs, his opinion that “the development experience of European businesses provides a good example for Chinese businesses” has gradually become part of their group consciousness. Many Chinese companies lack long-term strategic goals and change their objectives frequently; when they discover a lucrative industry, they will jump right into it. “This attitude has caused Europeans to both love and fear Chinese investment. If Chinese companies want to remove this obstacle, they need to understand European culture and ecosystems,” Dong advises.
From Dong’s point of view, establishing Chinese companies on the world stage is not just a matter of expanding the scope of their business operations; rather, it should be a comprehensive process of internationalization that includes culture, values, and concepts. Dong Bin is also aware that China’s extensive growth in the past few decades has resulted in many companies taking a shortsighted approach to scaling their business, while companies in Europe and other regions favor gradual development with long-term strategic goals. An understanding of European culture and values may help Chinese entrepreneurs to comprehend the management systems of European businesses. Studying proven international management expertise and best practices, such as performance management and professional management systems, will provide Chinese companies with evidence and examples to follow as they intensify their internationalization efforts.
Dong has spent many years building teams and providing guidance for Chinese businesses as they move onto the world stage. He has a deep understanding of the sense of urgency and struggle these businesses experience when trying to internationalize in the face of new situations and challenges. Chinese businesses have also welcomed new opportunities for development. Dong believes that the Belt and Road initiative will usher in entirely new developments for Chinese companies, with cooperation between China and Europe and African nations becoming increasingly visible. For instance, Chinese investors are currently seeking out channels and opportunities to tap into overseas markets, and at the same time, small businesses in Europe are facing a shortage of capital. It just so happens that these European businesses possess exactly what Chinese companies lack: advantages in technology and innovation. By building a bridge between them, Dong is increasing both sides’ cultural awareness, thereby helping them achieve win-win business outcomes while abiding by rules and market trends.
Dong places a premium on the power of culture. He believes that intensive long-term business exchange is only possible when both parties involved possess awareness and recognition of each other’s cultural essence and norms, stating that “overseas markets will only accept Chinese product quality and services if they have accepted Chinese culture.” By adding cultural elements onto basic regional concepts, the Belt and Road initiative provides the ideal vehicle for the export of Chinese culture as a whole. Dong finds it hard to contain his excitement about this perfect opportunity for Chinese businesses and entrepreneurs.
In September of 2018, Dong led a group of Chinese entrepreneurs attending the Sino-Australasian Entrepreneurs Summit. Over the course of the five-day event held in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, they took visited local businesses and took part in deep discussions on Chinese and Australian infrastructure, food, agriculture, medical, and healthcare industries.
Many distinguished attendees shared their expertise with Chinese entrepreneurs at the summit, among them John Howard, former Australian prime minister and SIEF co-chair; Andrew Robb, former Australian trade minister and founder of the Robb Agricultural Fund; Dominic Stevens, managing director of the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX); Rick Holliday-Smith, non-executive chairman of the ASX; and Sally Capp, lord mayor of the city of Melbourne, Australia.
Dong Bin with former Australian prime minister and co-chair of the SIEF john Howard at the 2018 Sino-Australasian Entrepreneurs Summit (Image courtesy of interviewee)
At this summit, Dong expressed high expectations for the Australian market on behalf of Chinese entrepreneurs and shared his own judgments on issues of economic, environmental, and regional advantages. He noted that if Chinese businesses and entrepreneurs want to put down roots in international markets, they must start with a solid foundation in terms of concepts and awareness. To this end, every day of the five-day-long summit featured a visit to a high-performing Australian company. The businesses selected for visits included Australia’s second-largest publicly traded company, the world’s top producer of infant cod-liver oil supplements, a leading infrastructure development firm, and a medical technology company. Through constant interaction over the course of the summit, the Chinese entrepreneurs in attendance were able to broaden their horizons and find new opportunities for cooperation.
Like a mountaineer always seeking taller peaks to climb, Dong does his utmost to participate fully in every one of these summits, believing that the higher one stands, the farther one can see.
On December 2, 2018, the 60thanniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Morocco, Dong Bin organized yet another summit: the third annual meeting of the China-Africa Investment Forum in Morocco. Chinese entrepreneurs gathered in Morocco to attend the event, which attracted strong support from the Moroccan government and the China-Africa Development Fund.
Dong Bin views the China-Africa Investment Forum as a key platform for Chinese and foreign entrepreneurs to put the Belt and Road initiative into practice. Partnerships between China and African nations in areas such as capacity building, financial investment, industrial manufacturing, and healthcare will become key focal points for opportunities brought about by the Belt and Road initiative.
As a builder of bridges, Dong cares more about the depth and sustainability of cooperation and awareness between Chinese and international entrepreneurs. He intends to bring about practical changes for both groups, building on past efforts to unlock enormous future potential.
Bringing international expertise to China
To take advantage of the motivational and guiding role of globalized Chinese businesses, Dong has brought global attention and influence to China.
On October 20, 2018, the Optics Valley Sino-International Entrepreneurs Summit was held in Wuhan. Under the Belt and Road initiative, political and business figures from around the world came to Wuhan to discuss Chinese companies’ path towards international transformation. Summit attendees included Long Yongtu and former Australian trade minister Andrew Robb, along with other prominent politicians, experts, scholars, Fortune 500 executives, and CEOs of world-famous companies. Attendees offered advice and suggestions regarding industry transformation and upgrade projects in Wuhan’s Optics Valley, and shared their international expertise on improving the quality and efficiency of the Valley economy while promoting environmentally friendly development.
When attending these international meetings of great minds, Dong tends to keep a low profile. He hopes that his efforts can put Chinese entrepreneurs in the spotlight and bring international expertise to China. He frequently recalls lessons learned from his teachers, which remind him to maintain an open and optimistic attitude.
In the eyes of his colleagues, Dong is a leader with ambitious goals and ideals who possesses a strong sense of social responsibility and historical purpose. He was a successful social activist in his youth; as a student, he was an active participant in Tianjin’s city-wide student union as well as his the student union of his own university. He served as editor-in-chief of the Tianjin student newspaper, which gave him the chance to take part in a wide range of social research and hands-on work. This, in turn, provided valuable social and life experience which taught him that true personal growth is not simply about acquiring more knowledge. Rather, in terms of moral character and thinking skills, one must form unique perspectives and methods for making decisions and understanding the world. His father taught him the importance of developing healthy habits in daily life, learning, and work, as well as the need to respect traditional Chinese virtues, cultivate good manners, and improve oneself. While he continued to follow key social issues and participate in charitable efforts, Dong wanted to use his abilities to make greater changes for people. He published a series of articles entitled “Kong Fansen’s Journey Home” in the Tianjin Youth Dailynewspaper, which stirred up strong reactions among university students at the time and showed him the power of leading by example.
After graduating from university and entering the workforce, Dong continued to learn from his work. While building his professional skills and personal character, he also forced himself to connect theory with practice by transforming textbook knowledge and information into work and life competencies. His heightened sensitivity to new knowledge and penchant for innovation in his work made him adept at using new tools to solve problems creatively.
During the preparation process for the Beijing Winter Olympics, Dong held a key position of responsibility in BUCG’s International Department and served as chairman of the project management committee for Beijing’s temporary Olympic facilities. He drew upon Western countries’ experiences hosting Olympic games and other big events to promote the use of temporary facilities, a model which had never been applied on such a large scale in China.
Even at that time, Dong already possessed strategic global insight. Based on his estimates, the construction of permanent venues would require massive investment. Moreover, once built, these venues would probably not be used effectively and would require continued investment for daily maintenance. Dong noted that other Olympic host cities such as Atlanta, Sydney, and Athens consistently built temporary venues instead of permanent ones wherever possible. By building a large number of these temporary facilities, they were able to meet the needs of the Olympic Games while saving on costs. The most critical factor was that by grasping core concepts, they were able to achieve more effective use of scarce resources.
In light of this observation, BUCG chose to partner with DBH Group of the Netherlands to cooperate on building temporary Olympic facilities. Established in 1924, DBH Group is the world’s largest provider of temporary structures. It was selected as the lead contractor for construction of all temporary facilities for the Munich World Cup and the Asian Games in Doha, and has provided temporary construction services for all summer and winter Olympics held after the 1996 Atlanta Games in the United States.
Dong played an essential role throughout the course of this partnership. He not only served as an effective project manager in the field, but also increased his understanding of international firms’ operations and management systems, thereby becoming more familiar with global businesses.
With the help of DBH Group’s worldwide influence, BUCG began constructing a vast global marketing network and made active efforts to explore best practices for international project management. BUCG organized groups of Chinese workers and sent them overseas, along with Chinese-made construction materials, in search of breakthroughs in the global temporary construction services sector. Dong focused first on promoting Chinese construction materials and workers internationally; meanwhile, BUCG built an enormous database of professional suppliers involved in the Beijing Olympics construction effort, providing a vital resource to attract international partners.
A generational legacy
Dong did not take a mechanical approach to creativity in his work; instead, he innovated by drawing inferences. His positive mindset and diligent, down-to-earth work style earned consistent recognition and he achieved qualitative leaps in his abilities. Later, he went on to work in a key position in the Secretariat of the Boao Forum for Asia.
In October of 2013, Liu Xiaoguang and Wang Hao, respectively president and general manager of Beijing Capital Group at the time, were leading efforts to attract investment for a Beijing Capital project in Châteauroux, France. Dong was transferred to Beijing Capital at this time, and the three years that followed had a significant impact on his life. After observing Liu’s conduct and work style in countless meetings and business trips, he realized that the most important qualities of a true leader are vision, structure, and a sense of responsibility. Liu maintained a demanding work schedule. Every day, his secretary printed out a jam-packed agenda; at any particular moment, Dong might see him at a meeting, working, or being briefed by a subordinate.
Under Liu’s influence, Dong formed a more advanced perspective on development in the course of his work. His kindness to others earned the recognition of his colleagues at all levels. His most fundamental principle in his work was that individual interests must be subordinate to those of the group. Because of this, he always focused on the big picture and emphasized team spirit.
Liu once told Dong, “It’s hard to be a Chinese business leader. We all have to stick together as we go out into the world, and we also must learn from each other.” This made Dong realize that Chinese entrepreneurs must focus on continuous learning in addition to developing a strong sense of national unity, social responsibility, and patriotism.
In late November of 2015, when the first China-Africa Investment Forum was scheduled to take place, terrorist attacks in Paris killed 132 people. Because flights to Morocco required a transfer in Paris, the Forum’s organizing committee planned to postpone the event. However, this decision would have put the Moroccan government in an awkward position, as they had already invited African politicians and business leaders to attend the event. Once Liu learned of the situation, he said to his colleagues on the committee, “This summit has many uncertainties. For all of us, it’s our first time going to Morocco. However, seeing as we already made an agreement with the Moroccan government and they worked hard to organize this event, it would be bad not to go. After all, we represent the credibility of Chinese entrepreneurs.” To this end, Liu took it upon himself to lead the group attending the first China-Africa Investment Forum. His decision created a solid foundation for friendship between China and Morocco.
When the Moroccan king visited China the following year, he announced that, starting on June 1, 2016, Chinese tourists could travel to Morocco without the need for a visa. He also established a special government fund valued at two billion US dollars to support Chinese businesses’ investment in Morocco.
Inspired by the power of Liu’s faith and spirit, Dong resolved to do his utmost to help Chinese businesses go out into the world.
Thus was born the Sino-International Entrepreneurs Federation. Long Yongtu and Liu Xiaoguang were among the main sponsors of the project. Dong saw the same kind of strength in Long as in Liu: namely, the courage to take on responsibilities. At various summits, Long shared his own perspective and championed the development of Chinese businesses. He also helped international markets to better understand the Belt and Road strategy promoted by China, thereby opening the door to increased global cooperation. Liu, meanwhile, focused on handling services, logistics, and personnel for the summits. Their spirit became increasingly influential among Chinese entrepreneurs, encouraging the formation of a consensus view that Chinese business leaders must go out into the world. People began to believe that it was a good idea for Chinese entrepreneurs to become more global, and that this process would require long-term emotional and intellectual investment.
When he shouldered the responsibility for organizing SIEF summits, Dong was fully aware that he had taken on an important duty. In June of 2016, in the two days after the closing ceremony of the seventh annual Sino-European Entrepreneurs Summit, Dong was informed that the Chinese ambassador to France, Wu Jianmin, had died in a car accident. He felt a deep sense of grief; in 2015, Dong had invited Wu to serve as co-chair of the SIEF organizing committee. Wu had readily agreed, expressing a desire to promote economic exchange between China and other countries and do something to help entrepreneurs.
Together with the entrepreneurs of the SIEF, Wu had visited European companies in Paris and London, engaging in deep conversation with local political and business representatives. He was seen as a kind, elderly man full of wisdom who would give detailed explanations for any question raised by Chinese or international entrepreneurs. Once, when Dong went to Lanzhou with Wu, Wu performed an in-depth analysis of international development strategies for businesses in the SIEF. He excelled at incorporating positive factors in global political and economic trends into business development strategies.
Long Yongtu called Wu the “mastermind” behind China’s entry into the WTO. He never got caught up in details; instead, he engaged in high-level analysis of trends from a global, strategic perspective. Because he was also a persuasive speaker, everyone was willing to accept his ideas. From Wu, Dong Bin learned about the power that can be harnessed by maximizing affinity and communication.
More often, Dong conveys the spirit of what he has learned from Long Yongtu, Liu Xiaoguang, and Wu Jianmin through his own words and actions to influence more Chinese entrepreneurs. On the international stage, the presence of Chinese entrepreneurs will become increasingly well-rounded, multidimensional, and substantial, and they will have access to better partnerships and opportunities. Most importantly, Chinese entrepreneurs as a group will possess an increasingly global outlook, seeking out opportunities in national policies with a broader, long-term perspective.
Dong has always been modest, preferring to keep a low profile. His pragmatic approach ensures that every detail of every summit is taken care of and that every task is perfectly executed. However, at the same time, he continues to look ahead to the future, using hard work and wisdom to construct a bridge between Chinese entrepreneurs and the rest of the world.
Dong often tells the entrepreneurs who attend the summits to keep carrying the torch and stay true to their mission. On a subconscious level, he feels that only this sense of responsibility has the power to create a virtuous cycle for Chinese businesses within the global value chain. Only in this way can he do justice to those who have devoted their lives to this effort.
Published on NFPeople.com on January 21, 2019 | Staff correspondent Wang Yanqing, Beijing | Editor | Sun Lingyu
Dong Bin (Image provided by staff correspondent Liang Chen)
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