B.C. Business recently named Alistair Vigier among the Top 30 under 30 entrepreneurs in the province. The 27-year-old recently returned from China, where he is exploring business opportunities for his company Hart Legal. Black Press File

B.C. Business recently named Alistair Vigier among the Top 30 under 30 entrepreneurs in the province. The 27-year-old recently returned from China, where he is exploring business opportunities for his company Hart Legal. Black Press File

Saanich entrepreneur sees opportunity in China

Saanich-born entrepreneur Alistair Vigier – recently named by B.C. Business as one of the Top 30 under 30 Entrepreneurs in 2017 – is glad to be back home after spending five weeks in China on behalf of Hart Legal. The Victoria-based legal firm specializing in family law is currently exploring business opportunities in the emerging global power, and as the company’s vice-president of business development, Vigier has been at the forefront leading those efforts, along with locals.

Vigier’s interest in China has professional and personal roots.

“Half of the investors in Hart Legal are Chinese,” he said. “I have been trying to learn Chinese as well. So I kind of got tired of just speaking about it, and I wanted to actually go over and see what the place was like. Everything is different on the ground than what you hear about it and read about it in the news.”

What Vigier discovered was in many ways a place of extremes. Some of the Chinese locations were still developing. Others like Bejing and Shanghai were as advanced as they come, and China’s growing, prosperous middle class of some 130 million offers unprecedented business opportunities.

Vigier admitted to some apprehensions when it came to visiting a state that controlled – or least tries to control – every aspect of life. One concerned access to the Internet and its major sites, like Google, Facebook and Youtube.

“I wasn’t even sure if my email was going to work,” he said. For the record, the Chinese government blocks access to the Saanich News. “You guys are blocked, but B.C. Business isn’t. Somewhere [along the way], you said something that got you blocked.”

Vigier was also nervous about running afoul of the Chinese state. “You hear a lot about of executions, and throwing away people into jail forever for essentially not doing anything,” he said.

In the end, Vigier adapted by using Chinese equivalents. But he also witnessed several authoritarian aspects. “Every time you get on the subway they check your bags, they check your water, they actually have scanners for your water,” he said. “Your ID is checked everywhere. But they were actually more concerned about Chinese [residents] than foreigners.”

All residents carry ID cards, which they need to scan if they want to access facilities of cultural significance like Tiananmen Square. “For me, they barely looked at my passport, they really didn’t care. Their main concern is over a revolution. They have such tight control. They are horrified of it.”

Vigier said he expected to encounter people complaining about censorship, while expressing the desire to live like western citizens. But that did not necessarily happen. “They want clean air,” he said. “They speak exclusively about that, but they don’t have the same experiences that we have. They are not used to Facebook, they are not used to Google. They don’t care about these things, because they don’t have exposure to them. They are very used to living in a controlled environment. They don’t think twice about it.”

Vigier also encountered a very different business culture. He expected to talk about business, but was told not to do so. Initial meetings instead served the purpose of getting to know potential business partners. Business meetings also often involve large quantities of alcohol.

“Once you start drinking they expect you to drink at the same pace as they do,” he said. “This may involve consuming six to eight drinks…possibly over lunch.”

Part of this personalized business culture reflects the nature of the Chinese legal system. “Their justice system is not as evolved as ours, it is still developing,” he said. “So it is a very unpredictable legal system, and essentially Chinese people put their faith in the reputation of people, instead of the legal system. So it is more important that someone has ins with you, because they know that you won’t screw them over.”

Personal gifts also play an important part in fostering relations, a tradition that has encouraged corruption. “There is a lot of corruption there, which the government acknowledges,” said Vigier.

Unpredictability and corruption are nothing short of poisonous for any business, but especially for a business that offers legal services. “We are not going to bet the farm on it [China], that’s for sure,” he said. As a still developing country, China bears high risks, but also offers high rewards. “We have to understand that we could lose everything,” he said.

It is a matter of weighing pros and cons, and Hart Legal has been speaking with local regulatory lawyers. “We are told that if we stay on the right side of the government that we should be fine. We have some really good connections there already. That is how we are minimizing risk. If we just went over there, without any Chinese partners, we would just get massacred.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jerry Dyck plans to purchase a new RV to drive across Canada in, once it’s safe to travel again. (Courtesy BCLC)
Victoria man plans post-pandemic cross-Canada RV trip after $2M lottery win

Retired electrician bought the winning ticket in Duncan

Learning tools from the Garth Homer Society’s LifeStreams program have gone online. (Facebook/Garth Homer Society)
Online platform launched for Greater Victoria adults with developmental disabilities

Platform includes programs, events, activities and COVID-19 resources

Coroner Andy Watson confirmed the death of a man in Chemainus Monday night.
Coroners service looks into death at Victoria encampment for poeple who are homeless

BC Coroners Service confirms death occurred at Royal Athletic Park Jan. 23

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane gets towed from Chilliwack to Greater Victoria

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is urging visitors to stay on designated trails after a hiker became injured in an unsanctioned area last week. (Westerly file photo)
Injured hiker rescued in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

“Safety is everyone’s responsibility.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. Two more cases of the COVID-19 strain first identified in South Africa have been diagnosed in British Columbia, bringing the total to three as of Jan. 16.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. now has three cases of South African COVID-19 variant, six of U.K. strain

Both variants are thought to spread faster than earlier strains

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Great Canadian Gaming CEO resigns after being accused of sneaking into Yukon for vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Police discovered a makeshift nightclub in a Vancouver apartment on Jan. 23, 2021, and say it wasn’t the first time this month officers have been called to the unit over social gathering concerns. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Doorman of makeshift ‘booze-can’ in Vancouver apartment fined; police look to court order

This marks the fourth complaint about social gatherings inside the apartment in January

Local musician and artist Daisy Melville created a watercolour portrait of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders from the recent American inauguration, and with help from her mom, is now selling t-shirts and more with funds going to the Comox Valley Food Bank. Image submitted
Island artist turns Sanders inauguration meme into art for good

All proceeds from the sale of shirts, sweaters and more will go to the Comox Valley Food Bank

A Kelowna couple welcomed their Nooner baby in December. (Flytographer)
Kelowna couple welcomes baby girl from Hotel Zed Nooner campaign

Nicole and Alex will now have 18 years of free stays at the hotel

Kyrell Sopotyk was drafted by the Kamloops Blazers in 2016 and played two seasons with the Western Hockey League club. (Photograph By ALLEN DOUGLAS/KTW)
Kamloops Blazer paralyzed in snowboarding accident sparks fundraiser for family

As of Jan. 24, more than $68,000 had been raised to help Kamloops Blazers’ forward Kyrell Sopotyk

(Pixhere photo)
B.C. dentists argue for COVID-19 vaccine priority after ‘disappointing’ exclusion from plan

Vaccines are essential for dentists as patients cannot wear masks during treatment, argues BCDA

Most Read