Interview with Helmut Güsten, former Nanjing Board Chair of the European Chamber.
Starting in 1998, the foreign business community in Nanjing was holding regular informal gatherings called the GM Roundtable. As this group, we made several efforts to approach government entities of Nanjing city and Jiangsu Province. The response was warm and friendly but very clear that the government cannot communicate with an unofficial group of people. This led to our search to become “official” and eventually to pick up the phone to call the European Union Chamber of Commerce in Beijing. The then head Ian Kay (back then, the title was executive director, later changed to secretary general by his successor) came to Nanjing for a meeting, and we agreed to form the Nanjing Chapter. At the inaugural meeting, 23 companies joined. This was also the starting point of the regionalisation strategy of the European Chamber. The first general manager (GM) of the Nanjing Chapter was Francine Hadjisotiriou, who stayed loyal to the Chamber and today is the GM of the European Chamber South China Chapter. I myself served as chair of the Nanjing Chapter for four terms, including the inaugural term.
We soon realised that we made the right choice. The European Chamber is an inclusive international organisation that provided the desired legitimate organisational structure. Suddenly, it was possible to engage with government entities at all levels. We started with meetings on critical topics like limited power supply, but soon engaged in regular proactive meetings, which today have been established as the Government Dialogue. We continue to provide networking opportunities for the foreign community whilst being the only legitimate representative of foreign business in and around Nanjing.
When changing jobs during my 26 years in Nanjing, I am happy to say that my employers always agreed to join the European Chamber. Companies benefit from the advocacy activities, the trainings and the networking opportunities. I myself have become more ‘European’ through my work with the Chamber. I understand that a country like China cannot negotiate deals and make agreements with each European country. Before the European Chamber, we Europeans have always been handled in line with China–United States interests. Sitting at the table as one Europe gave us the size, leverage and significance we needed to negotiate agreements with China. We definitely got better deals than any European country could have achieved on their own. Tendencies to separate in Europe hurt all of us. Brexit is bad for Europe and a disaster for the United Kingdom.
Looking back, joining the European Chamber was the right choice. We achieved what we wanted to and so much more. Happy birthday European Chamber, and thank you!
Helmut Güsten, former Nanjing Board Chair of the European Chamber.