Elite China entrepreneurs association lands in Canada

Stockwell Day leading the charge to add local business groups to Zhisland membership

Former federal international trade minister Stockwell Day is a senior strategic adviser at McMillan LLP in Vancouver | Chuck Chiang

One of China’s largest entrepreneurs associations has landed in Canada with a prominent public figure acting as the group’s key advocate in the local market.

Zhisland International Canada, the Canadian chapter of the international group that currently counts 7,000-plus businesses as its members and whose membership enterprises’ business volume comprises 10% of China’s GDP, is now in its infancy stages and has begun seeking Canadian business groups and companies for membership, says chapter chairman (and former federal international trade minister) Stockwell Day.

Day, a senior strategic adviser at McMillan LLP in Vancouver, is also one of the vice-chairs for the Canada China Business Council (CCBC). He said that, while Zhisland is a separate organization from the CCBC, officials from both groups felt “the opportunities in China were plentiful enough” that more than one business association in Canada can thrive by complementing one another.

“I did research on Zhisland when they approached me, and it confirmed what I already knew to a degree: that this is a very large network of successful businesses,” Day said. “There’s an impressive array of businesses of all sizes, covering all aspects of enterprise. So the more I looked at this, the more I realized this could be a great door-opener for many Canadian businesses.”

Zhisland International, established by Chinese businessman Liu Donghua (a veteran of the Chinese entrepreneurial scene who also launched the China Entrepreneur Group), said its supporters and members include Lenovo PC International (SEHK:992) founder Liu Chuanzhi and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (NYSE:BABA) executive chairman Jack Ma. The group’s Chinese members work in industries ranging from manufacturing and construction to IT and investment financing.

The Beijing-based group has been described by some media as a Facebook-esque social network for Chinese business elites, with membership restricted to founders, presidents and CEOs of companies of “high reputation” operating for at least three years with sizable revenue.

For the Canadian chapter, Day said Zhisland is requiring prospective applicants to be from a company at least two years old and with revenue of at least US$1 million in the most recent year of operation. Better Business Bureau membership is also required.

Membership fees are also substantial; officials say business leaders looking to join before the end of 2018 will pay $2,500 a year for membership or $6,500 for three years. Day added that organizers are aiming to add 100 members by year’s end.

For that price, Day said, Canadian members will have an early-mover advantage in not only doing business in China, but interacting with Chinese business leaders and potentially joining in on business opportunities in a third market – essentially allowing Canadian firms to use China’s increasing trade reach to gain business. Direct contact with China’s elite investors will also mean more potential inbound foreign investments for Canadian projects and initiatives, he added.

“If you are interested in business in China or having some co-operative business opportunities here in Canada with a Chinese business, there is so much happening – and so many countries out there are in keen pursuit of opportunities,” Day said. “It’s important to not make foolhardy decisions … but now is not the time to delay. This is a recognized international platform, and the door is opening. The first ones in will have the best access.”

Zhisland International representatives said they have aggressively expanded its international reach. Great Britain, Italy and Australia were among its first international stops beyond its outreach to Canada this year.

The group will also hosts its “crown-jewel” event – an annual Innovators Summit in Beijing, scheduled this year from June 20 to 22 – with one session at the summit dedicated to Canada and its companies.

“Having that session is vital,” Day said. “The message that’s going to send to Canadian businesses who want to join this organization is powerful, because it shows the degree of their interest in Canada. That interest is so great that they are going to set up a whole focused event on our market, at one of the largest business fairs of its kind in China, if not globally, and the fact they want to designate a Canadian section is a very strong and positive statement.”

As for public concerns about the trans-Pacific investment that Zhisland might facilitate in the future, Day added that China and Canada have had a foreign-investment protection agreement in place since 2014, and – despite the personal interactive nature of an association like Zhisland – all business activities will be governed strictly according to the laws and regulations that are in place.