Arthur Jackson & Co Ltd
An interview with Managing Director Andrew Jackson
Arthur Jackson & Co Ltd is a family-owned engineering firm from Brighouse, West Yorkshire. Founded more than 60 years ago, they custom-design and manufacture high precision patterns, dies and other tooling for some of the world's biggest brands including ABB and MacDonalds. Their products are used to make items as diverse as high-speed turbos for diesel engines and papier-mâché egg boxes.
How did they come to be exporting to China? "In a sense, China came looking for us!" replies Andrew Jackson, their managing director (second from right in picture above). It all began because one of their regular customers – Cummins – had a Chinese engineer (Dr Zhu Qiang) working for them, who Jackson got to know a bit. After some years with Cummins, Dr Zhu moved back to China in 2008 to become a deputy director at the Beijing General Research Institute Non-ferrous Metals (GRINM).
At that time Jacksons' subsidiary in Denver, Colorado, was short of orders, and struggling. The answer? – Dr Zhu proposed that GRINM buy the Denver operation, and move it to Beijing. Jacksons was asked to help set things up there. The relationship grew and after a few years resulted in some good sales to Beijing and elsewhere, including a recent tooling order for the production of turbos for ABB. In spite of these successes, Jacksons don't have a representative in China – they don’t feel that one is needed.
So what does Andrew Jackson think makes Chinese business culture unique, if anything? His reply – "nothing, it's just doing business. What matters is good business practice. Plus time – the time it takes to talk about things. In the West it might just take a couple of months to decide something, but with China you may need to spend much longer discussing things with a client, while they consider making changes and adjustments". There's no secret to success when working with Chinese customers and partners, he says, just "patience and good business practice. Nothing is quick".
It's clear from the way he talks that Jacksons have really liked working with China - "I've found them very trustworthy and trusting of us too". The only thing he wishes he'd realised in advance was "we could have been less suspicious of China’s business culture in general”.
That's great to hear, but it could well be that one reason things worked out so well is that this company began with an existing trust-relationship, forged over a number of years before Mr Zhu returned to China. Jackson agrees, "Our situation was unusual, and we couldn't have planned it".
So, was this company's experience unusual? In our experience, quite a lot of SMEs find their way into China through unexpected routes and relationships. Is it possible to plan for relationships like Arthur Jackson & Co's have?
Sometimes it feels like businesses get lucky with their relationships, but at Chamber International we believe that some that good relationship-building habits can be learned and shared, and that they make quality international business partnerships much more likely.
Contact us for more information about China-specific training opportunities.
British SMEs who want to connect with China in the future can try to build links in the present through all sorts of creative means: paying attention to Chinese employees in their own and other companies, offering research projects to Chinese students based in nearby universities, or even befriending them through programs like HOST. At the very least such practical steps can help our understanding of China, and make us better prepared to do business there. But more than that – they can lead to successful long-term business there, as Arthur Jackson & Co has discovered.
By Chamber International’s China Affairs Associate, Matthew Grandage