Meet Peter Pronk, CEO of ‘1421’
Meet Peter Pronk, CEO of ‘1421’
According to the British author Gavin Menzies, the Chinese circumnavigated the world seas long before Columbus set sail. The title of his controversial book ‘1421, the Year China Discovered the World’ inspired Peter Pronk to name his Beijing business consultancy firm the same: 1421. With a staff of Chinese, Philippine and Dutch business experts, the strength of 1421 is to support Western entrepreneurs in discovering China the way the Chinese discovered the world six centuries ago.
Peter Pronk has an abundance of experience in dealing with Chinese businesses, as he worked for many years with and for different Chinese (state-owned) companies in operating in space technology and windturbines. The business consultant learned at least one vital lesson about the Chinese in the many years that he worked in China: “Forget about the aggressive approach of telling business partners-to-be how things should be done. Be prepared to forget all you thought you knew. Be prepared to take in new ways of thinking, of handling problems, of doing business.”
This is the philosophy of 1421, a consultancy business that aims to help small to mid-sized Western companies to ‘cross bridges’ in China. “They all have the same question: how to set up a business in China, where to start?” Pronk supports entrepreneurs in many practical ways, like finding distributors and agents, assisting in market research, accounting and legal research about possible import restrictions and tax issues, prepare WOFE’s (Wholly Owned Foreign Enterprise), finding joint-venture partners, hiring staff and even setting up administrations.
Clients can even use 1421’s office space in their first year on the Chinese market, as Pronk offers the 1421 guesthouse as a temporary office home to entrepreneurs that come to Beijing for a first orientation. “’Get a feel for the country and its people’, is my first advice. After that we focus on more pressing matters.”
The best way to start a local business presence? First, according to Peter Pronk: investigate your future partners thoroughly, as the Chinese will do with you. Be persistent in conducting your research. “Ask about things you think are important, or make sure a researcher or local partner ask these questions on your behalf. What company are they, what is their history, how about their past as a state company? You will not insult your counterparts by asking such questions. It is quite the opposite: Chinese will respect you for asking good questions.” Any don’ts? “Make sure you know what you want. Do not change your strategy all the time, Chinese do not handle that very well.”
Overcoming the main business obstacles
“We are a bridgehead”, says Peter Pronk. “Most of our clients can do without our services after the first year. Their business will be up and running and it feels good to help them overcome the main business obstacles of the first year. After that it is up to them to pioneer the Chinese business seas”, says Peter Pronk smilingly, referring to the history and adventure attached to his company’s name ‘1421’.
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What happened in the year 1421?
From 1421 to 1423, during the Ming Dynasty of China under Emperor Zhu Di (朱棣) the fleets of Admiral Zheng He (鄭和), commanded by the Chinese captains, discovered Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Antarctica, the Northeast Passage; and circumnavigated Greenland.
Due to this endeavour we can conclude that “1421 is the year that the Chinese discover the world”.