Jim Hill came to Taiwan from the United States in 2003 with a job for a Taiwanese relocation company, Crown Van Lines. After a short time there, he progressed to managing the Taipei office of Hong Kong-based Santa Fe Relocation, moving foreign businesspeople in and out of Taiwan, finding accommodation, schools, services and all the other things requirements for a smooth transition.
After 10 years at Sante Fe, he decided it was time to branch out on his own and set up employee-owned company, People First Relocation. Having taken this step, he is well established in Taiwan and knows all the practicalities of setting up and running a business, as well as living in one of the most vibrant, business-friendly yet socially harmonious countries in the world.
What were the initial challenges working in Taiwan?
Language and communication style.
How long did it take to get up to speed?
After six months started to get a little easier.
Were you well supported by your company and, where needed, by local authorities?
My first employer, Crown Van Lines gave little support. They were a Taiwanese family business and had no training on international relations. Santa Fe gave little support either, but I was more experienced then and able to adapt quicker. They also paid me a lot more to just get on with it.
How did you feel when you started?
At Crown I was very confused, nobody guided me on what to do. In the first few months they gave me a desk and computer. Nothing else. At Santa Fe it took a few years before I felt really comfortable.
Were you confident that Taiwan would work out for you?
Initially, no. I started to look for other jobs. As time went on at Crown I became better at what I did, which made it easier when working with colleagues.
What were the networking opportunities like?
At Crown very few, also I did not have a good understanding of how to approach networking in Taiwan. At Santa Fe I started to understand the power of engaging in the chambers of commerce and other expat organisations.
Was the international business community supportive?
It was ambivalent initially. As they got to know me better relationships were forged, a lot of referral business, people I would go to for advice.
How did you generate business?
As I was not a strong networker at that time, I focused on one-on-one relationships. Most business came from word of mouth from previous customers.
How was the initial experience of fitting into local culture?
There were lots of frustrations, mostly with the language as it hindered of a lot of what you were trying to do.
Was it easy to find social networks both within the business community and wider ex-pat circles? Not at that stage in my career.
Is Taipei a good place to hang out?
I think younger people may be disappointed by the nightlife but there are many other activities to take in.
And what about opportunities beyond the capital city?
Work-wise, there are not so many but as far as recreation is concerned there many things to see and do.
How challenging was setting up a company as a foreigner?
It was very easy as I already had my APRC (Alien Permanent Resident Certificate) I did not require the company to support my residence visa. There was no minimum amount of money required. Taiwan is getting well known as a start-hub in Asia.
What skills and experience did you bring from your prior work experience in Taiwan, in terms of setting up a business?
I guess you could say I knew a lot of the shortcuts. For example, how to find a good CPA (Certified Public Accountant) to get the business license. I also knew which accounts to focus on and where to spend my small marketing budget.
Are there any special considerations regarding ownership of businesses or foreigners setting up businesses?
You need to consult with a CPA to figure out what business entity is best for you. For example, limited liability, representative office, etc. All have pros and cons. Once they know your business model they can recommend one for you.
Did this influence the ownership structure of People First?
Yes, also as services is our whole business we want to get/retain the best people. Therefore, we’ve structured it as an employee owned company.
Is it easy to get good, educated, skilled staff?
Yes, Taiwan has arguably some of the best workforce on the planet.
What is your experience of working alongside Taiwanese people, as well as doing business with them?
It’s a true pleasure working alongside my Taiwanese colleagues. Cohesiveness is important in Chinese culture and we work collectively very well. As a customer there can be challenges because they value things differently from our western customers. I lean on our Taiwanese staff for their advice on selling to local customers.
How was regulation and taxation?
Taxation is fairly straightforward, I do recommend getting a CPA for end of year filing.
Was government an enabler?
If you asked me five years ago I’d probably say no, but we have seen a change. You can now see the government being very supportive of foreign companies setting up business in Taiwan.
How do you see the future for People First?
Our business model is very conducive to north Asia. We may grow a little more in Taiwan but look at expanding in other cities in the region.
You’ve been in Taiwan for 15 years. Is there anything that would drag you away?
Summer heat here can be difficult. As I get older, I may want to find a cooler place for these months.
How do you feel about Taiwan?
Mostly good, Taiwan has made great strides in improving quality of life since I have been here. The economy is doing well too, it’s a good time to be in Taiwan!
Highs and lows?
Highs – growing the business, morning bike rides on the river, weekend hikes in the mountains.
Lows – stifling summer heat, overcrowding, dangerous driving conditions.