Navigating Global Business Landscapes with Steven Yeo

In this episode, we sit down with Steven Yeo, a senior leader in international business expansion and founder of his own consulting firm, Yang & Co. With a wealth of experience and a background in angel investing and advising startups, Steven shares valuable insights into his journey and approach to mentoring executives.

Prior to founding his own firm, Steven held senior leadership positions across numerous companies, including serving as the CEO and board member of TD Tech China, a joint venture between Huawei and Siemens, the APAC president of Ingersoll Rand, the China Managing Director of Johnsons Control as well as the regional CFO of Siemens AG.

*The responses provided here have been rephrased for brevity and clarity. For the exact answers and a comprehensive understanding, we strongly recommend watching the full video podcast or tuning into the audio podcast.

Q: What inspired you to start your own consulting firm, Yang & Company?

I founded Yang & Company after over three decades of international business experience. In 2007, I decided to leverage my experience and mentorship to assist mid to senior-level executives in achieving success.

Q: Could you provide an overview of your day-to-day role at Yang & Company?

In a typical day, especially when on a project, I dedicate around 70% of my time to people-related activities, such as networking and engaging with key stakeholders. People are at the forefront of any business, and this aligns with our mission to prioritize individuals. The remaining time is spent strategically planning and developing blueprints for upcoming tasks.

Q: How do you tailor your approach when working with clients of varying sizes, from Fortune 500 MNCs to SMEs?

When dealing with multinational corporations (MNCs), securing a senior executive as a project sponsor is critical due to the complexity and matrix structure. Collaboration with various teams and functions is essential. SMEs demand a more straightforward approach, typically with CEOs or chairmen leading the project. In both cases, involvement of senior management is vital for optimal resource allocation and success.

Q: In your experience, what is the most crucial factor for companies expanding into new markets?

The initial challenge in entering a new market is assessing whether the existing team is suitable for the task. Typically, the answer is no, leading to the critical task of acquiring the right people. You need the best people doing the job, each one with precision and each one knowing how they support each other and doing the work. 

Q: How has your experience in China shaped your perspective on business strategy and your advice to clients?

My two decades in China have allowed me to witness its tremendous economic transformation. The cultural traits of the Chinese people, especially the younger generations, stand out. They are highly entrepreneurial, adaptable, agile, and fast learners, particularly in high-tech areas like artificial intelligence, green tech, renewable energies, and electric vehicles. When working with Chinese partners, establishing trust and delivering credibility through performance is crucial. Clear alignment of goals and a focus on adding value to partnerships contribute to success.

Q: What advice do you offer to companies looking to expand into the Chinese market?

When entering China, it's essential to leave preconceived notions behind and approach the country with an open mind. Acknowledge the rich cultural history and be willing to learn and adapt. Establishing trust through performance, clear alignment of goals, and putting upfront the value one can bring to the partnership are key. Patience and time are required for mutual adaptation, akin to a dance that becomes smoother with time.

Q: How do you continue to maintain and build relationships with business partners in China?

Maintaining and building relationships involve treating each party as a personal friend, evolving beyond business transactions. Shared values and common hobbies, such as golf, provide opportunities for bonding. Whether with joint venture partners, suppliers, clients, or mentees, fostering relationships involves open-hearted discussions and shared activities. This approach ensures that relationships extend beyond professional contexts.

Q: How would you advise companies on selecting cities in China for expansion?

Choosing a city for expansion depends on the industry. Different cities have distinct ecosystems. For high-tech startups, cities like Shenzhen and Beijing are ideal. Shanghai is notable for FinTech, and various locations are relevant for renewable energies and electric vehicles. The key is to align the city choice with the industry's hub. Also, it's advised not to choose a location solely based on the comfort of expatriate managers.

Q: What key practices do you consider when evaluating potential investment opportunities in startups?

When evaluating startup opportunities, the founder and their core team's personal values are paramount. Trust is crucial, and the founder's character is as important as the business proposition. Checking if the founders have invested their capital demonstrates commitment. The uniqueness of the value proposition is also a critical factor.

Q: Are there any differences you've observed in startup landscapes between the United States and China?

In the Chinese startup landscape, especially pre-COVID, areas like robotics and big data were thriving. The immense size of the Chinese domestic market allowed for significant data analysis and compilation, driving up the valuation of Chinese startups. This was a notable difference compared to the United States. The availability of vast amounts of data in China, given its population size, contributed to the unique dynamics of its startup scene.

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