|Peter Nestmann: In Business, Location is Key|
|Foreigners in China|
42-year-old Peter Nestmann, CEO of Allianz China General Insurance Company Ltd., believes it is essential to look to the future of your business and that where you are located is central to success.
In the heart of Guangzhou's Tianhe District, what looks like a gleaming blue shard of glass and steel rises 1,444 feet into the burning summer sky over Zhujiang Avenue West. Completed in 2010, the International Finance Center (IFC) is the ultimate statement of the city's quest to become the financial center of the region, three years earlier in 2010 having been named one of the five National central cities in the People's Republic of China.
Located on the 34th floor of the IFC building is the head office of Allianz China General Insurance Company Ltd., where Peter Nestmann holds the reigns as CEO & Director. The company was previously Allianz Insurance Company Guangzhou Branch (AZCN), Allianz's first P&C (Property and Casualty) branch in China. AZCN was established in 2003, and it transformed from a branch to a wholly foreign-funded subsidiary in July 2010, making it the first and only foreign insurance company with its headquarters in Guangzhou.
Nestmann explains a few reasons that make the city such an ideal location. Firstly, together with Shenzhen, it is one of the big financial centers in Southern China that between them are home to one of two stock exchanges in the region, as well as the head offices of several banks. Also important is Guangzhou's proximity to Hong Kong and "to the market, capacity and technical knowledge there."
And why not Beijing? "Beijing is a political center," Nestmann explains. "It's not really the economic center, so it was never an option. It was more a question of Shanghai or Guangzhou, and I think that the decision for Guangzhou at that time was the right one. Given the fact that it's the biggest market here… this makes perfect sense."
Born and raised in Boeblingen, Germany, Nestmann, now 42, also has a long history with China going back to 1990 when he first backpacked with a friend from Beijing to Hong Kong over the course of one month as a young and adventurous 20-year-old student.
"Based on that travel I made the decision to study Chinese History and Economics," Nestmann, who is now fluent in Mandarin, explains. He attended the University of Freiburg in Germany and spent one year on exchange in China at Liaoning Normal University in Northeast China's Dalian city between 1994-1995, before returning to Germany to complete his master's degree in 1999.
Starting as an intern at Allianz China Life Insurance Co. Ltd. in Shanghai after graduation and worked hard through his corporate ladder in Allianz, Nestmann succeeded to take the helm and become the CEO of Allianz China General Insurance Company in April, 2011. Now, sitting in Allianz's ultra-modern Guangzhou office, where they just moved in this January -- Nestmann looks very much at home in his new surroundings.
"For us it's of course important to be in the business district," Nestmann explains. The company moved to IFC, also known as the West Tower, in the city's financial hub due to their concern for the company's "next 10 years", "The IFC is one of the landmark buildings in Guangzhou, so we are very happy with our new premises," Nestmann says.
As a Member of the Board and Treasurer of the German Chamber of Commerce in South & Southwest China, Nestmann knows very well the challenges that are being faced by international businesses in Guangzhou, as well as the questions that have been raised over the future of the city and the Pearl River Delta (PRD) region. Questions like how to cope with rising labor costs, an appreciating RMB, and difficulties in finding and retaining local talent.
Yet despite these challenges and an apparent slowdown in the economy, Nestmann, like 71 percent of companies surveyed in the PRD region this year as part of an annual business confidence survey conducted by the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, remains optimistic over the local business environment and prospects.
"We are very positive about the region," Nestmann explains. "There are some challenges if you look at the world economy and the exports, of course, but I think they will manage here.
"Competition is very fierce in China," he adds, "but tell me a country where competition is not fierce. The point is, at the end of the day you have to know what you can do better than your competitors and then you have to focus on that."
This optimism is not baseless, with the Fortune 500 subsidiary's achieving an astonishing year-on-year growth of 42 percent in 2012, well ahead of the market average that is currently growing at around 17 percent, according to Nestmann.
Nestmann says that he has been impressed by the pace of growth in Guangzhou since he first visited the city in 2005, and observed that the Guangdong government under its current Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) no longer wants "the simple manufacturing jobs here anymore, they want to transform and upgrade it."
On the topic of Guangzhou's new role as a National central city, Nestmann believes that "if you look at China geographically as well as historically, it's Guangzhou together with Beijing and a couple of others cities in the past that have always been a center, so it's only logical that nowadays Guangzhou is part of this select few. It makes perfect sense. And Guangzhou, of course, was also the 'Window to the World' because of trade starting a couple of hundred years ago. The first contacts with the West were all coming through Guangzhou.
"Going forward, the question is not how to compete [with cities such as Shenzhen] or duplicate any resources, but more to combine forces and see who does the best. I don't think it should be about winners and losers, it should be about win-win."
Nestmann says he likes the local cuisine and going cycling with members of Guangzhou's expat cycling community, GZ Cycle, who meet every weekend in the University Town.
"In Guangzhou," he adds, "what I especially like is the possibility that it's easy and fast to get out of the city, and it's very green outside. You take the car and in 20 minutes you are somewhere where it's green. Try that in Shanghai or Beijing! This is one of the big advantages here."
And the Allianz CEO is putting his money where his mouth is, with no plans to return to Germany any time soon. "I enjoy living in Guangzhou and working here is much more fun," he says. "Everything is moving much more quickly than in Germany. I'm not planning to leave any time soon."