What do you know about doing business in Taiwan and why the heck should you care?
To be honest, a few months ago I wouldn’t have known where to start in answering those questions. Sure, Taiwan is an island off the coast of China, it’s in the news and we see ‘Made in Taiwan’ labels all the time. But, I would have struggled to come up with much more than that. Perhaps you’re in the same boat?
Well, I’ve spent the last two months learning about Taiwan - first through detailed research and then via 12 days in the country with an international business trip as part of my Executive MBA with Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). So, now I do know how I’d answer those questions.
For starters, don’t lump Taiwan in with China! The island is home to 23 million people and has its own unique and divergent culture from that of mainland China. There’s a detailed history and ongoing political tensions between the two that go way beyond what I could capture here. So if you’re really curious to learn more on the history, I recommend checking out this little video documentary!
Getting back to business, here’s my top 3 reasons to do business with Taiwan:
- Quality and Innovation
Taiwan prides itself on an uncompromising dedication to quality. While at Hyperbola, the creative fabric manufacturer behind brands like Lululemon and Patagonia, we learned just how far the firm is pushing the boundaries of what fabrics can do. They’re on a mission to ‘improve the experience of dressing’ and are creating high performance materials that are not only fashionable, but even recyclable! I was amazed at what they’re doing and how dedicated they are to their customers.
Meanwhile, over at Altek in Hsinchu Science Park, we saw a great example of Taiwanese resilience and innovation. The company, which was once the behind-the-scenes producer of nearly every camera I’ve ever owned, has diversified in a huge way. They’ve used their imaging expertise to break into medical and autotronic imaging, pushing into emerging technologies rather than resting on their laurels.
Long story short: Taiwan ‘gets’ innovation and understands that its competitive edge rests on the quality of its people and products.
- Fair play
Given Taiwan’s heavy investments in science and technology, it’s no surprise that they carefully protect Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). It’s also a straightforward place to do business and has consistently been ranked in the top 10-15 countries worldwide for ease of doing business by the World Bank. Sounds good, right? Well, it is! We met with venture capital and private equity firm Sedai Group and heard from their entrepreneurs firsthand about the low barriers to starting their own businesses.
The Taiwanese are also shrewd, yet fair negotiators and business people. They believe in keeping their word and follow the Chinese business tradition of guanxi. This approach places huge value on relationships and views them as long-term investments. Sure enough, Hyperbola’s CEO explained how the firm’s growth has been largely organic. As their customers succeed, they take their relationship with Hyperbola and their trust in its quality with them to their next (and bigger!) role.
If you’re an entrepreneur or a small/mid-sized company, Taiwan not only has the technical chops to help you solve your most challenging problems, but they’re also willing to take the long-view and invest in a business relationship that will grow together.
- The People
Finally, I’ve been to countries all over the world, but rarely have I felt so welcomed. Here’s a perfect example: at one point a group of us stopped by a local karaoke bar and were approached by a serious looking man who introduced himself as the owner. For a second, we worried we were too loud or obnoxious. But instead of quieting us, he cracked up laughing and begged us to sing ‘New York, New York.’ He was thrilled that we were there and wanted us to share his city with us. Every person we met, from executive Jay Lo at Grant Thornton to entrepreneurs selling sweet potatoes on the streets of Taipei, had a great sense of humor.
Having spent the last two weeks in Taipei, it’s no surprise to me that Taiwan is ranked #2 in the best places to live as an expat according to InterNation. Taiwan is a perfect home base for doing business in SouthEast Asia with easy access to Vietnam, Myanmar, Japan, Hong Kong, etc. Its cities are clean, relatively affordable and friendly. Meanwhile, the land is strikingly beautiful offers outdoor enthusiasts plenty of activities to choose from.
Plus, we found that the people went above and beyond to communicate. Many speak English fluently as its taught in school and Taiwanese youth frequently study or work abroad in Australia, New Zealand or the US. For example, the last four presidents of IRTI, one of the world's leading high-tech applied research institutions, all held PhDs from the US. Amazingly, salaries have stayed relatively low despite the quality talent in Taiwan.
Whether you’re looking for talent from abroad or interested in the expat life yourself, the people and country of Taiwan are an absolute pleasure and have so much to offer!
Whew! There’s so much I’d love to share about Taiwan that it’s hard to stop there. Everything I’ve learned and seen over the last few months has shown me that if you haven’t considered how Taiwan might fit into your business, you probably should!
Lauren Grimshaw believes in virtuous disruption and loves helping teams tackle the tough stuff! She is currently the Chief Operations Officer of nonprofit The Paradigm Switch (TPS) as well as the Founder and CEO of COVI Consulting. Lauren uses a combination of best practices in design thinking, agile methodologies, coaching and innovation leadership to drive change that actually sticks.
Read more reflections and perspectives from the global study trip to Taiwan: