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A “fixer” for a Chinese business venture

If a business from Germany or the UK arranges meetings in China to explore ideas, this is no doubt an expensive project.  No one wants it to go wrong, just because you sat in the wrong chair in the meeting room, or your shoes, your facial expression was inappropriate for the occasion. These and similar difficulties are the subject of an article in the online version of International Trade Magazine.  The advice, from the Institute of Diplomacy and Business, is to use a ‘fixer’, a cultural coach, to avoid such problems.

The approach you find on this website is that everyone involved in this venture, whether arranging the meetings from HQ or actually there on the ground, should have a little alarm bell that triggers additional safeguards when engaging such a ‘fixer’.  Is the alarm bell justified, you might say, all I need is someone who helps with the translation and explains to me the regulatory framework? The  CPI Index of China suggests the alarm bell is justified. You don’t need anything else to push for the following four steps:

1) Check what your company’s compliance code says about engaging “intermediaries”, it might be forbidden.

2) If you are permitted to proceed, do a due diligence on the person you are proposing on using: what’s his or her background; what’s his relationship to public officials who might be relevant to your business? If the due diligence check (“Gesundheitscheck” in German) is fine:

3) Make sure that the scope of engagement is set out in a very detailed way (attendance at what meetings, how many hours is he/she investing in the cultural coaching). What you are paying this coach should then be commensurate to his/her efforts, so that there can’t even be any inference that moneys are passed on to grease the new venture.

4) If you are really brave, you’ll raise the subject of corruption with the coach, pointing to the tougher legislation and ask for a signed confirmation, covering past, as well as the current project.

To assess the current thinking among those involved in the Chinese venture, consider anonymous surveys. If they were faced with a choice between a greased venture and no venture, what would they choose?


Marianne Klausberger is an English lawyer specialising in Compliance topics within German-speaking regions. During her career in private practice in London she focused on dispute resolution and company investigations in, as memories of snow storm, broken air con and varying passport offices tell her, drastically different locations, and gathered experience presenting evidence to the authorities in Washington. After moving in-house, she spent almost three years leading the development of Compliance methodologies in a global chemicals and pharmaceuticals company. She continues to work with companies on such topics on a freelance basis. Approaches to designing the company’s Compliance ‘foundation’ differ widely, yet the hurdles encountered in the implementation show similar patterns. Looking at such obstacles soon becomes the focus of a project. The know-how on FCPA, UK Bribery Act, etc might be there, but it needs to be carried into the organisation; or, wants to be grasped in German, when authorities in the UK or the US may seem far away. A realistic approach remains important to her, – as her t-shirt says: “[I am] easily influenced”, and – probably – so are most of us.

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