Doing Business in Taiwan – Interview with Harm Schuurman

Soon we’ll be making a Studytour to Taiwan with a group of 26 students. We’ll be visiting multiple accounting and finance related companies, and of course enjoy the culture and nature Taiwan has to offer. As preparation on our Studytour, Britt and Luc have visited Harm Schuurman, former karting driver and the owner of Schuurman BV.

Schuurman BV is a worldwide operating distributor of equipment for motorized sports. Harm Schuurman has been in business with a tire manufacturer located in Taiwan since 35 years. We had a conversation with Harm Schuurman to find out what the differences between the Netherlands and Taiwan are in the field of business and to get some tips.

Everyone will be able to manage to simply buying equipment in Taiwan and reselling, but building a long-term relationship with Taiwanese is something different. For business with Taiwanese on long-term, a relationship of trust is of importance and not everyone succeeds in achieving this. There are specific rules in the field of business wherefore it is necessary to have a good understanding of the culture in order to be successful. For example, Taiwanese are very centered on status and age. As a 25-year-old entrepreneur in Taiwan, you will not have a voice. You will then be considered as a child and you will only be heard if you are over 30.

Another point Harm Schuurman pointed out, is that Taiwan has its own corporate culture. We often consider Asia as a whole; the same kinds of people, however this is not true. It is not the case that the manner of doing business in every part of Asia is similar, just as not all countries in Europe are the same. For example, Taiwan is less hierarchical than Japan, but it is much more important than in Europe.

When Harm Schuurman came to Taiwan 35 years ago, he had to explain the inhabitants what karts are, because they had never heard of them.  As a true pioneer, he succeeded in getting the tire manufacturer to produce tires for him. Besides Taiwan, Schuurman does business in 60 countries. Back in the days, the first communication did not run via the internet as we are used to these days, but via the telex. Telex is a way to send letters and messages electronically, or to perform written communicate.

”We have to be modest and don’t try to push our opinion, because this can lead to loss of face for the person in question.”

Because Harm Schuurman, through his 35 years of experience with Taiwan, knows how to conduct oneself in the Taiwanese culture, he has given us several tips on how we should behave ourselves during our visit. In Taiwan, for instance, it is unusual to say what you think, certainly not as a young student. Asking questions is fine, if to the boss, because hierarchy is important in Taiwan. We have to be modest and don’t try to push our opinion, because this can lead to loss of face for the person in question.

During our Studytour we will visit the Taipei Stock Exchange. Harm informed us with the fact that it is not publicly accessible as we are used to in the Western world. Therefore, it is not just possible to buy a share of a Taiwanese company. We will ask about the way of trading when visiting.

Furthermore, we have picked up on several different remarkable differences between Taiwan and the Netherlands. Taiwanese are very superstitious. That is why, for instance, we have to avoid the number four since it is the number of death. It can also be noticed by the fact that some buildings do not have a 4th floor. In addition, we should not be surprised when we hear Taiwanese sip in a restaurant since it is normal; it is a sign that the food is tasty. In the pub it is usual to make a toast or say cheers with two hands and a nod. Finally, we better not tell jokes, because they do not understand anyway. As for the rest, we will not understand their jokes, but we should just laugh politely.