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Clearing Western misconceptions about China

UK business leader Jonathan Geldart seeks to portray a balanced perspective of the country through extensive experience

By Chen Yingqun | China Daily | Updated: 2024-03-26 07:39

Jonathan Geldart and two of his friends at the launch event of his book Notes From a Beijing Coffeeshop in 2015. [Photo for China Daily]

Geldart left China in 2018 but continued to try to provide a balanced perspective as to how cultural differences do not have to be blockers to progress and understanding.

His role at the IoD gives him direct access to not only tens of thousands of UK businesses and their leadership but also to the UK government.

"I endeavor to provide a neutral, apolitical and balanced approach on all we undertake as one of the major UK institutions. In this regard, I also seek to provide balance to the debate on China, its impact on the world and its business opportunity," he said.

As the world continues to develop and many countries look inward to their economic well-being, there remains the utmost importance that the world works to each other's mutual benefit, he said.

"It is impossible to ignore China from a business perspective. The country has already, and will continue to, play a significant role in the development of the global economy."

China can support the progress the world wishes to make on important matters, from climate change to artificial intelligence, the development of new medicines and scientific discoveries, he said.

"Politicians must undertake the policies that they believe are right for any individual country. However, working in a thoughtful and collaborative way at a business and personal level is essential for the good of all."

China has had an enormous influence on his work and life, Geldart said, and he remains connected to the country through his friendships and the development of IoD's governance courses in China.

The IoD works with tens of thousands of individual directors in the UK and around the world to support them to be the best directors they can be. Its approach is to teach global good practices in corporate governance and the operations of corporate boards.

It has two active China groups supporting inbound and outbound business interests in the IoD in the UK, and regularly welcomes Chinese business delegations to its flagship headquarters in the heart of London.

Enormous opportunities

"If there is a secret about doing business in China, it is respect," Geldart said. "Respect means taking the time to learn about China. Take the time to read about Chinese history and its culture as well as understand a little of the language. Cast aside received Western wisdom of what others tell you about China. Make up your own mind and be open to investing a bit of your time and of yourself to building the relationships you will need to benefit from the enormous opportunity for collaboration and business that working with China and the Chinese can offer."

The Chinese economy continues to grow and there remains enormous potential for business development in the country, he said.

"I receive more and more reports of businesses believing it is just too difficult to do business in China. Perceptions of difficulty mean the enthusiasm of Western boards to invest is diluted.

"The reality is quite different as China is trying to open investment opportunities and increase attractiveness across many industries and locations."

Geldart said he is very optimistic regarding the future of China-UK business development. Recently, the IoD has signed a memorandum of understanding with the China-Britain Business Council to deliver specialist courses in The Role of the Director and the Board which focuses on good governance, to British businesses in China during 2024. The courses are designed to support businesses to develop their leaders to understand Western board governance.

While living in Yorkshire, England, Geldart said he still regularly drinks Chinese tea and misses the variety of real, freshly prepared Chinese food. And he yearns to return to China some day. "I am still fascinated by Chinese culture and the rich and absorbing history of this often-misunderstood country," he said.

Jonathan Geldart

Director-general of the Institute of Directors

Born: The United Kingdom

Education: 1976-80: Master's in Geography with Archaeology, University of St. Andrews


・ 1988-90: Director, Morrice Partnership

・ 1990-2006: Director, Mid Market Practice, PwC

・ 2006-18: Global Board, Grant Thornton International

・ 2019: Director-General, Institute of Directors


・ The Thoughts of Chairmen Now (2013)

・ Notes From a Beijing Coffeeshop (2015)

・ Inside the Middle Kingdom (2017)

Hobbies: Hiking, mountaineering, mountain running

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