For seven years now, Chinese executives have been attending ZEW’s month-long training programme ‘Fit for Partnership in Germany’. The programme, which is funded by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi), is overseen by Barbara Hey, deputy head of the ZEW Department “Knowledge Transfer and Qualification Programmes”, together with her colleague Manuel Lauer.


Interview with Barbara Hey about Chinese executives participating in ZEW programme
Barbara Hey, deputy head of the ZEW Department "Knowledge Transfer and Qualification Programmes".

In this interview, she talks about how managers from China engage with Germany and what they expect from their business partners. Participants in the ‘Fit for Partnership in Germany’ programme attend seminars at ZEW and visit companies on-site.

What do the participants learn in the seminars?

In our experience, Chinese managers are very inquisitive and have diverse interests. Participants are perhaps most interested in learning about the German way of doing business and German culture. Besides visiting partnering companies, each group attends seminars on business management and interpersonal skills. In addition, we provide individualised assistance with specific questions and challenges, such as how to do business with German small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), where to find potential partners, and how to contact them. At the beginning we were surprised by the strong interest in training related to fundamental business skills, including how to act with confidence and communicate professionally at trade fairs, or how to network with German partners. Ultimately, the participants simply want to feel confident when doing business in a foreign country.

The programme includes opportunities for Chinese executives to meet managers at local companies.

Why is there an interest in German companies?

German companies enjoy an outstanding reputation in China. Chinese managers want to learn from German experts in order to find out what has made the German economy the largest in Europe and one of the strongest economies in the world. Germany is regarded as an attractive sales market for Chinese products – as well as an important source of imports to China. Our participants see German companies as valuable cooperation partners who can open doors to the EU. We therefore combine classroom instruction with real-world visits to local companies. Participants thus experience first-hand how a German SME operates, including how it organises ‘dual training’, conducts quality management, or selects sales channels. Our groups greatly appreciate the opportunity to take a look behind the scenes, and they learn valuable lessons for their managerial practice back home.

What can German managers learn from their Chinese colleagues – and vice versa?

Chinese entrepreneurs are extremely self-confident; they want to be treated as equal partners and expect their partners to adapt somewhat to their corporate culture. Specifically, this means being more flexible when planning as well as a higher willingness to take risks. Chinese entrepreneurs are often surprised by German punctuality, as well as by management and training practices. It is difficult for them to accept flat or uncertain hierarchies and they necessarily expect to have the managing director in the room for a meeting, even if, from a German point of view, a lower-ranking specialist would be the best contact person. In this connection, the Chinese could learn from the German focus on proper expertise and efficient organisation.

How successful has the training programme been so far?

The BMWi manager training programme is a definite success story. It has existed for 20 years, and more than 30 groups from China have taken part. In our experience, each programme session lays the seeds for numerous partnerships. In some cases, contracts are signed before the four-week programme is over. Many German SMEs use the programme as an opportunity to internationalise their activities, a step which would be more difficult or even impossible to take without external assistance. Overall, the programme has been very successful, generating benefits for all sides.




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