Manners matter in China

Leesburg company specializes in environmental consulting

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce

Mark Cheplick, principal engineer for Waterborne Environmental Inc., never realized how crucial a dinner could be until his company began doing business in Nanjing, China. “The dinners and meals are as important as the actual business meetings,” he says, when it comes to fostering a productive relationship. 

“Meals are very formalized. When you walk into the room, you are placed in order of importance around the table.” And it’s not a place for a picky eater. Food can be out of the ordinary, notes Cheplick. “You have to be a pretty adventuresome eater.”

China is one of many countries that use Waterborne’s consulting services. The Leesburg-based firm does risk assessments to understand the potential movement of chemicals in the environment and provides services such as computer software development, field monitoring studies, simulation modeling and spatial data analysis.

Waterborne’s special expertise? Agriculture and pesticides. “We work mainly with agricultural chemical companies such as DuPont that need to perform scientific studies for pesticide registration and also want to promote good stewardship,” says company co-founder Marty Williams.

Williams and Patrick Holden co-founded the company in 1993. The two had worked together at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agen­­­­cy. The company’s Leesburg location was chosen partly for convenience. “It was halfway between our houses,” Williams says. “Also we were close to the EPA and to [Washington] Dulles International Airport.”

Another plus was the area’s work force. “There are a lot of highly educated, high-tech people in the Leesburg area,” Williams says.

The bulk of Waterborne’s work relates to food and fiber production. The company studies new products on the market as well as established products. “Chemicals will come up for new registration or reregistration,” Williams says. “They have to be reviewed over again. Pesticides are some of the most heavily regulated chemicals because of their nature and intended affect to harm target organisms.” Since 1993, Waterborne has grown from six to 55 employees. During the past five years, Williams said it has seen a 50 percent increase in total revenues.

Currently, international business represents less than 10 percent of Waterborne’s total revenue. “In other years it may have been up to 20 percent with big projects,” Williams says.

However, Waterborne continues to grow its international business and to expand geographically. One of the drivers for that growth is membership in the Virginia Economic Development Partnership’s VALET program and the company’s past association with Virginia’s Accessing International Markets (AIM) program. “Those have helped us increase our international exposure and sales,” Williams says.

Many of Waterborne’s large international clients have offices in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere in the world. “The work that we do could be coordinated through the U.S. office or an international office,” Williams says. “We have some people working on site at a couple of facilities.”
The company’s first international clients were based in Germany and the United Kingdom as Waterborne was instrumental in developing procedures and computer software for the European Union.

The company also works in Taiwan, Korea, Brazil, Columbia and Australia. In China, it provides educational and software development assistance to the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences (NIES), part of the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Waterborne began working with NIES in 2009, training Chinese scientists on U.S., Canadian and European regulations. Waterborne also helped develop the institute’s framework for pesticide risk assessment.

Cheplick finds the Chinese to be warm and friendly in business dealings. “It’s been a pleasure working with them,” he says. “They often like to set aside a social day. They like to show us around the country.”

Doing business in China, he adds, can be difficult unless you have someone who understands the culture and can translate during meetings. “We have a guy who travels with us … ,” he says. “He explains a lot of the customs.”

When it comes to cultural differences, Cheplick says the Chinese tend to be understanding of small slip ups. “They are forgiving of things we may not have done according to proper protocol,” he says. “One thing they don’t want to do, and you don’t want to do is, embarrass anybody. Saving face is part of their culture.”

Another tip: When traveling to China, it’s important to pay attention to holidays. When Williams and Cheplick visited Nanjing in January they found it difficult to arrange meetings because it was during the Chinese New Year. “That lasts three weeks, and many people travel during that time,” Williams says. 

The Economy in Nanjing
The capital of China’s Jiangsu province, Nanjing is home to a variety of industries including automotives, electronics, petrochemicals and iron and steel. The city also has several new business sectors such as ship manufacturing and aviation and environmental equipment. The area’s four major technology industrial zones are the Jiangning Economic & Technological Development Zone, Nanjing Chemical Industry Park, Nanjing High and New Technology Industrial Development Zone and the Nanjing Economic & Technological Development Zone. Large employers in the city include Yurun Group Co. Ltd., which specializes in food processing, logistics, department stores and other industries. The company has 100,000 employees and more than 200 subsidiaries in more than 30 provinces. Other employers are Nanjing Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., which employs 8,000 people; SUMEC Group Corp., known for shipbuilding and machinery and electric product manufacturing; and exporter/importer Jiangsu Overseas Group Corp., the largest importer in Jiangsu province, responsible for more than $11 billion of export and import business from 2001 to 2010.

Travel to Nanjing
Nanjing reflects its history through buildings and monuments from the Imperial and Republic of China periods. The city has several scenic areas such as Zhongshan Hill with more than 50 sightseeing spots that include the Xiaoling Tomb of the Ming Dynasty, the Nanjing Botanical Garden and the Lingu Temple. The city’s downtown area is home to the Presidential Palace as well as Chaotian Palace, an imperial palace in the Ming Dynasty now housing the Nanjing Municipal Museum. The popular Confucius Temple in the Qinhuai area is surrounded by shops and restaurants.

The Economy in Leesburg
Leesburg’s five largest business sectors are retail, public administration, health care, education and professional and technical services. The town recently opened The Mason Enterprise Center Leesburg/Loudoun County. Its new business incubator is home to a growing number of tech-oriented companies such as Solar4Leesburg, a new woman-owned business that provides solar energy solutions to businesses and homes. Leesburg’s largest employers are Loudoun Medical Group and Wegmans Food Markets Inc. Other large companies include Best Buy, Costco, research and development firm Rehau and spinal device company K2M, Inc.  Public employers include Loudoun County, Loudoun County Public Schools and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Travel to Leesburg
Leesburg’s quaint 12-block downtown area includes art galleries, boutiques and specialty businesses such as Mom’s Apple Pie Co. It serves up natural preservative-free pies mostly from its homegrown fruit. The Village at Leesburg features tree-lined boulevards in a mixed-use development with national retailers such as Wegmans Food Market shoulder-to-shoulder with local cafes and specialty shops. Shoppers also flock to the Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets. History is another focus with Ball’s Bluff National Cemetery, site of the Battle of Ball’s Bluff — the first Civil War battle in Loudoun County. There’s also Morven Park, the former home of Gov. Westmoreland Davis. The historic property includes three museums and the Morven Park Equestrian Center.


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