Having lived in China for over half a decade and worked through a number of turnaround cases for European corporates in the country, Aventura Board Chair Michael Thurow shares his thoughts on the Chinese market, keys to success in this booming economy, as well as his vision for Aventura as a pre-IPO company.
You have had close ties to China since the early 2000s. Tell us more.
I will start with my background as it has played a major role in my choice of education and career. I was born in an international family, to a Swedish mother and a Russian father, who came to Sweden as a war refugee and worked his way up to later becoming the head of a Swedish company.
I studied Business Administration in university and my first job was at the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Germany before I became a Trainee at SEB (then the largest bank in Sweden), where I spent the lion share of the next 20 years working and living across continents in countries such as Bahrain, USA, Australia and Singapore. In 1986, I was able to visit Guangzhou, China for the first time, which was a very memorable moment for me.
In 2008, I left the banking industry to join a large Finland-based bathroom ceramic firm, Sanitec OY. As the Chairman of the company’s branch in China, my family and I relocated to Shanghai in 2011 for a six-year stay, during which I was able to travel across many parts of the country. When I left the ceramic business at the end of 2012, I had already started my own consultancy business in Shanghai as well as started representing a Shanghai-based advisory firm, InterChina Consulting, focusing on Strategy and M&A for Western companies wanting to grow in the Chinese market. I became involved in several interesting transactions and concluded a few turnaround cases for Western firms in China. During these years, I was also on the board of the Shanghai chapter of Swedish Chamber of Commerce. In 2016, I moved back to Stockholm to continue my corporate restructuring business for Swedish companies and to work for InterChina.
What are some of the key learnings from your experience with China?
Since I came to China in 1986 for the first time the country has, as we all know, been through an enormous development. During my Asian years in the 90´s, I witnessed the growing trend of professionals pursuing training and higher education programs and making differences in many areas such as industrial production, finance and innovation. But the most striking developments during these 35+ years, as I observed, have been the development of people in rural areas, the economic growth of so many people and the impressive progress in technology and innovation.
By becoming the world´s leading economy, China has, in my view, to take on larger responsibilities for global issues. We all appreciate the efforts by the Party to lead China from its role as the “manufacturing hub” of the world to expanding into more creative and innovative areas. China is still learning how to play a greater role on the global stage. Naturally, one cannot cross the river in one jump.
What is unique about the Chinese consumer market compared to the European consumer market?
In my view, China has a long tradition of embracing trends from the outside world. The 1920´s is a great example of how Western and Chinese influences came together and created a lifestyle of foreign influences with Chinese characteristics. From the beginning of 80´s, these trends have lived a more subdued existence. With increased financial wealth, Chinese consumers started becoming curious, receptive and often quite innovative.
Policies started in 2011-2012 by the Party saw local consumption highlighted as a key priority. I believe the mix of increased wealth, influences from the West, and maybe most importantly, the curiosity to test products, to set local standards and to try local designs and new ways of shopping have all led the consumer market to boom. The differences are so visible from year to year. Having spent some years in Shanghai, I still get fascinated every time I see how local designers come up with bright and creative ideas. Today, environmental-friendly products and brands are even becoming the norm.
What are some of the keys to success for international companies in China?
With the very rapid development of the last 1-2 decades, along all aspects of life, I think the key for international companies will be to get the people at headquarters aware of all the developments happening in China. The international companies looking at expansion in China must, in these days of the pandemic, be willing to trust the local teams and empower them to invest in the Chinese market. If the companies do not take proactive decisions to invest, they may well be left standing at the station when the train moves. Having said that, many companies may think that the efforts required are too cumbersome and may decide to focus on other markets.
Tell us about how you got to know Aventura (and its founders) and why you believe in this company?
I got to know Gustav around 2013-14 when I became his client. Over the years, I have been meeting with Gustav several times a year and he invited me to be a sounding board to him at the time when he turned his company into what it is today. A few years back, I also met with some other members of the team including Niklas, Patrik and Johan.
What is your vision for Aventura for the next 5 – 10 years?
The keyword here is growth – for the company and for our clients and partners. We are and will continue to be one of the go-to market partners for international brands who have the ambition to crack the Chinese market and to sustain long-term growth. Backed by our highly integrated team of local and international talents, our strong suit remains to be the ability to provide one-stop-shop solutions which include both top-down market strategies and solid operational execution, together leading to tangible growth in market traction and profitability. Combining the three pillars of our business model – Market Partnerships, JV & Investments and Business Enabler, we look to bring up a string of fast-growing consumer brands in China for the future.
Aventura is a Brand & E-commerce Accelerator that drives growth for both category leaders and niche international DTC brands in the China consumer market. With decade-long brand building experience, we offer brand owners a holistic one-stop-shop growth solution that includes Brand Management, Channel Management, E-commerce Operations (TP), Logistics, Marketing & Branding and Consumer Intelligence & Analytics services. We work with brands in diverse categories including Fashion & Accessories, Beauty & Skincare, Health & Wellness and Home.
Aventura is based in Shanghai with satellite offices in Hong Kong and Stockholm.
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