In what we believe is an Australian first, KPMG and the University of Sydney Business School conducted a research project into Chinese-born Australian entrepreneurs and the shape and state of their Australian businesses.
Migrants into Australia are a vitally important part of this country’s economy, with their collective contribution expected to add an estimated $1.6 trillion dollars towards the economy by 20501.
Migrants not only offer important economic benefits, they also bring diversity of thinking, innovation and growth to the Australian business landscape. Our research uncovered new business models and other innovative approaches that these Chinese Australian migrants brought to our business communities. These entrepreneurs, who grew up in China and experienced Australian tertiary education, have an understanding of the norms of doing business in both countries and can offer a bridge between the two cultures and markets.
Presented in conjunction with The University of Sydney.
The following key findings and common characteristics were noted from the responses of the sample of Chinese Australian entrepreneur interviews completed:
|Chinese Australian entrepreneurs:
Business operations in Australia:
What differentiates these businesses from other SMEs?
In 2019, and again in April 2020, KPMG and The University of Sydney Business School extended our strategic research collaboration on Chinese direct investment in Australia to the new field of Chinese migrant entrepreneurs and their businesses in Australia (hereafter Chinese Australian entrepreneurs). The purpose of the research was to gain a better understanding of Chinese Australian entrepreneurs: how they operate, what makes them successful, how they view themselves compared with other businesses and the challenges they face.
The majority of our interviewed entrepreneurs agreed that Australia is a good place to start and run a business, citing transparent rules and a level playing field as two key reasons. Their businesses have experienced significant growth in the past 5-10 years, and harbour ambitions to grow further. Many of them assist in exporting Australian domestic products and services to the global market, contributing to the Australian economy and employment.
Most of them are young entrepreneurs, who grew up during the opening of the Chinese economy in the late 1970s. They are seeking further capital support, continue to modernise their business’ operating models, and aim to develop their capabilities to attract and retain talent for the future expansion.
This group is different from previous generations. They value the importance of continued corporate culture over hiring members of their family or handing their business over to their children. They are quick to take action and stress the importance of harmony when managing stakeholders. However, the lack of understanding of this market, compared with other Australian private and family businesses, is a disadvantage.
When Australian businesses want to enter the Chinese market but are unsure how, these Chinese Australian entrepreneurs can be great partners and facilitators – they understand the two cultures and their different ways of doing business.
While the impacts of COVID-19 have affected them in the short- and mid-term, the optimism of the findings from this survey has reinforced the impression that many Chinese Australian entrepreneurs have a unique set of characteristics and qualities that sets them apart from other organisations and business models. They are highly educated, many are run by young entrepreneurs who have experienced significant economic growth in China, and have learnt to seek business opportunities overseas.
These businesses have been predominantly funded by the owner and operate in the services sector. They have a long-term commitment and investment in the business from a financial perspective, and to their role in the Australian community and economy.
This new generation of Chinese Australian entrepreneurs is a valuable part of our local business fabric and contributes significant economic and social benefits to Australia
About our report
Research findings and case studies form the basis of this report. The quotations highlighted represent statements by participants. The report is structured under five key discussion areas:
1. Typical demographic profile of Chinese Australian entrepreneurs.
2. Business operations in Australia.
3. What makes Australia businesses founded by Chinese migrants different?
4. Current challenges and concerns.
5. Further plans.
KPMG and University of Sydney Business School would not suggest this report to be a comprehensive overview of Chinese Australian entrepreneurs and their businesses in Australia, but a collection of useful insights and lessons from the integration of this group of ethnic entrepreneurs in Australia's small and medium enterprise (SME) sector.
There has been a surge in Chinese migrants to Australia since the late 1990s. Many of them initially arrived in Australia as students, skilled migrants or high-net-worth investors who then established local businesses. Most of them grew up in China during China’s economic opening and reform which started in 1978. Their business outlook and behaviours differ from previous generations of Chinese migrants. Members of this generation have started and built successful businesses which have created local Australian job opportunities and have played an active role as intermediaries in Australia's business relationship with China.
To date, documentation of the economic contribution of this generation of Chinese Australian entrepreneurs is largely limited to anecdotal evidence and individual case studies. Key questions remained unanswered, such as their demographic profile, size and sophistication of their businesses, continued business connections to China and neighbouring countries, specific challenges and concerns, as well as their general outlook. Our report addresses these issues.
Chinese Australian entrepreneurs in this report refer to people who were born in China and migrated to Australia since the beginning of China's economic reform period which started in 1978.
The businesses we studied were founded by Chinese Australian entrepreneurs and are Australian business entities registered with Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) and the Australian Tax Office (ATO). These businesses were founded in Australia, and the majority of their daily operations are conducted in Australia.
To build a deep and nuanced understanding of the key success factors of Chinese Australian entrepreneurs, we undertook a qualitative study of their personal journeys and their businesses operations. From November 2019 through to January 2020, we conducted in-depth face-to-face interviews and telephone interviews with one hundred Chinese Australian entrepreneurs using a standard questionnaire which included an open-ended question segment. This report is based on the information from these interviews. Between conducting these interviews and launching this report, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic broke out. To capture some of the initial impacts it has had on these businesses, we conducted follow-up interviews in April with 56 of the 100 business executives.
The participating entrepreneurs were identified through consultation with local Chinese Chambers of Commerce and leaders of local Chinese business and industry associations, who routinely engage with these migrant entrepreneurs. Our process of participant recruitment complied with The University of Sydney human research ethics guidelines. We owe our thanks to the local Chinese Chambers of Commerce and business and industry associations in Australia for their support.
Our aim was to interview a sample across a range of sectors and geographical locations to reflect the variety of these businesses. The largest group of founders interviewed had their business registered in New South Wales (42 percent) and Victoria (32 percent) with percentages of less than ten from Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia and a much smaller number of entrepreneurs from Tasmania and Northern Territory (Figure 1).
The data collected reflects the diversity of Chinese Australian entrepreneurs in terms of industries, know-how and how embedded they are in Australian, Chinese and other markets. Our results are skewed towards more established and successful Chinese Australian entrepreneurs. We believe this is the first report of its kind in Australia to present a snapshot of the new generation of Chinese Australian entrepreneurs and their businesses and offer lessons for the integration of migrant entrepreneurs in Australia.
Figure 1. Where in Australia their businesses are registered, N=100
Helen Zhi Dent (支巧玲)
Partner, China Business Practice
NSW Chairman | Head of Asia & International Markets
Partner in Charge, Family Business & Private Clients, Enterprise