The structure of businesses in Hong Kong depends very much on their cultural influencers. Chinese businesses tend to be hierarchical in nature, and decision-making very much top down. However, the large numbers of western businesses operating within the territory often retain their parent-country’s flatter organisational structure or show a compromise between the two styles.
Personal reputation is very important in Hong Kong, and managers do command a great degree of respect. Employee’s positions are also respected though, and it is unusual for anyone to be told to perform a task which is below someone of their stature as this would reflect badly on both the employee and their manager. Although business in Hong Kong is considered more westernised than in mainland China, many managers prefer to maintain a professional distance from their staff and tend not to socialise with them outside work.
Politeness and honour are important values in Hong Kong, so it’s best to remain relatively formal, particularly with new contacts. Address people by their title and surname. People of Chinese heritage who do business in Hong Kong often adopt a western name to make it easier for their foreign contacts to address them correctly. Beyond the customary handshakes, physical contact is unusual in Hong Kong business culture, so avoid exaggerated gesticulation, backslapping or hugging.
Although perhaps less important than in mainland China, networking and relationship building remain integral to doing business in Hong Kong. It can be tricky to develop rapport with new contacts, so giving and receiving appropriate gifts in line with Chinese culture can be helpful. The value of a gift is not particularly important, but the ritual will create a good impression. Gifts should be wrapped in a sensitively-chosen colour and are not usually opened in front of the giver. Don’t be surprised if your gift is refused initially – persist and it will most likely be accepted.
In Hong Kong, business dress is fairly conservative, with both men and women typically choosing dark business suits. Men should wear a collar and tie, while women tend to go for a blouse or modest top in muted colours. Remember that colours have specific meanings in Chinese culture – for example white is the traditional colour of mourning.
Most business associates shake hands on meeting, although a small bow may also be appropriate. Try to greet the most senior person first, and if your contacts speak Chinese it will create a good impression if you take the time to learn a local greeting. Business cards are usually exchanged as part of the greeting, so ideally prepare some with one side printed in Chinese and one in English. Show your respect for the person by accepting their card with both hands and reading it carefully rather than putting it away immediately.
Punctuality is important, but deadlines are often flexible in Hong Kong. Make sure you confirm meeting details well in advance and keep checking deadlines with the various stakeholders in case there are any changes.
Patience and contemplation are valued highly in Hong Kong and despite the perceived fast pace of life there, meetings tend not to be rushed. Don’t be surprised to find you are discussing the same topic repeatedly, or if there are periods of silence while people consider the situation. Avoid the hard sell or high pressure tactics – remaining patient and selling modestly will almost always give better results. It’s vital to be well-prepared for meetings and to support your presentation with facts and figures.
Be aware of Hong Kong’s multiculturalism. In the course of your business dealings there is every chance you will meet people from all around the globe and open-mindedness will be really valuable. Discussions of political history or the relationship with mainland China or Britain are probably best avoided with new contacts as these topics can still provoke a lot of emotion in Hong Kong.
As the most international language in the world, English is most commonly used for business dealings in Hong Kong. However, the majority of local people are Cantonese speakers, so it’s always best to check whether translation will be required when you arrange a meeting.