Port of Newcastle’s Graduate Accountant, Larissa Banney, recently returned from China after completing an International Study Tour with the University of Newcastle. 

Now in her final year of a Bachelor of Commerce, Larissa was awarded the scholarship as a result of her excellent academic achievement and the importance of China to Port of Newcastle. During the trip she visited several significant organisations in the energy and resource sector and participated in cultural immersion activities in Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an and Rizhao along with 13 other students. 

We spoke with Larissa upon her return about her experience and how it has influenced her role here at Port of Newcastle.

Why did you apply of the scholarship?

I saw the scholarship as a way to add value to my degree by applying the knowledge gained from my studies to a real-world international context and China is of particular interest.  The Chinese economy is seeing a shift as its growth drivers move from urbanisation and basic manufactured goods to domestic consumption and more complex goods and services. Local companies are becoming increasingly sophisticated, continuously developing better products for Chinese customers. 

Given the focus of the trip I knew it would be a valuable experience to visit world-leading organisations to gain an insight into where technology and innovation is heading. I have studied the cultural differences between Australia and China quite in-depth previously, so it was great to be able to experience the culture firsthand and understand how differences in corporate culture play out.

Tell us about the tour and the activities you participated in during the trip.

The study tour took place across the cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Rizhao and Xi’an where we visited a number of major organisations. During the company visits we were given a tour of the organisation, an overview of their operations, a high-level business strategy, including unique issues and challenges faced, and were given the opportunity to engage with management and ask questions.

We also had the opportunity to visit several significant cultural sites such as the Great Wall, Terracotta Warriors, Tiananmen Square etc. We also participated in traditional Chinese customs such as morning Tai-Chi, calligraphy painting and a tea ceremony.  

Of the companies you visited, which was the most impressive to you?

I found that different companies were the most impressive for different reasons. With respect to corporate culture, Hyundai Transys (A subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Group) was a standout for its commitment to employee wellbeing. They built a ‘theme park’ for employees that includes a pool, running track, and facilities for tai-chi, and meditation. Within the factory you could find mental health consulting rooms, several rest areas and even breastfeeding rooms. All employees are encouraged to take regular breaks and are paid 15 months per year. Unsurprisingly, the company has the lowest turnover rate amongst all companies within similar industries in China. 

As a producer of pulp and paper, Asia Symbol has an impressive approach to the environment and sustainability. The company has developed a fully-sustainable production process, right from the initial planting of trees. Remarkably, their idea to retrieve and reuse sewage water in their pulp and paper production saves 10 million cubic meters of freshwater resources per year (equivalent yearly water demand for 200,000 families). The final product is cleaner than tap water! 

BYD was the most impressive in terms of innovation and automation. We were taken through their factories with fully-automated production lines. We witnessed robots build cars from the initial components, right through to painting and testing the finished products. The robots were capable of producing 13 components per minute and then completing the body of a car in one minute. 

Why do you think it is important for professionals to develop understanding and awareness of other cultures in a business context?

In the increasingly globalised economy in which we operate, it is unrealistic to assume that a business or individuals will only transact with people of the same or similar culture. 

Different cultures have different ways of doing business and different perceptions of what is considered right or wrong, rude or polite, ethical or unethical. I believe being culturally aware is something that could benefit all professionals at some level, whether you are an employee in a multicultural workforce, a large multinational organisation or, as in Port of Newcastle’s case, a company operating in Australia with a mixture of local and international ownership.

What are some of the cultural and/or business customs you learned during the tour that you weren’t aware of before?

The main Chinese cultural values that stood out for me were the ideas of ‘Guanxi’, ‘Mianzi’ and collectivism. Guanxi refers to the relationship networks a business develops with others and is seen as a vital aspect of doing business in China. The Chinese culture believes that no person exists except in relation to others, and that maintaining strong guanxi makes business easier by speeding up processes and allowing the business to run more smoothly. 

Mianzi essentially means ‘face’ (how others regard you), and in the Chinese culture maintaining face is regarded as more important than anything else. For this reason, business professionals from Chinese culture are more reluctant to talk in public or open forums, will tend to avoid conflicts and even hesitate to decline an invitation or avoid immediately refusing someone or saying no. This is all out of respect for the other party, to ensure they do not lose face.

Collectivism is a value of the Chinese culture which I found quite interesting in the way that it affects every aspect of how they live their lives. Unlike Australian culture, which values individualism, collectivism refers to a sense of belonging to a clan or group and acting for the collective benefit of the group. This differs to Australian individualist culture (where individuals want to regard self as important and look after self-interests). In Chinese culture the ‘goal’ is not to be better or worse than others, but to be somewhere in the middle. The Chinese culture favours collective work and are motivated by contributing to the collective interest of the group. 

How do you think the study tour will influence your work at Port of Newcastle in the future?

This experience gave me a greater understanding of the value chain between Australia and China as our largest trading partner. This is even more relevant to me given that Port of Newcastle is integral in facilitating global trade. Working in the office, it is easy to forget about the resources and commodities being imported and exported through the Port.  

Tracing the flow of goods through these organisations in China has really helped me visualise the entire process, allowing me to see the bigger picture. I have gained a greater sense of engagement in my role. During the tour we visited Asia Symbol, whose paper products are made from wood pulp imported from Australia. At Rizhao Port I watched the team unloading iron ore which was imported from Australia. At Port of Newcastle we occasionally import general cargo, such as wind turbines, that likely originate from Envision Energy, another place I visited.

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