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GE: Partnering up with China is better than being left out

Oct 04, 2011

FORTUNE – If you can’t beat them, join them. That's how General Electric Senior Vice President Charlene Begley Tuesday summed up the U.S. multinational conglomerate’s motto when it comes to tapping into overseas markets.

GE does most of its business abroad -- nearly 60% of the company’s revenue comes from outside the U.S. And while GE is often associated with the good old days of U.S. manufacturing, more than half of its of employees today are abroad.

But GE’s vast international presence hasn’t come easy -- especially in China. Speaking at a panel discussion at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women’s Summit in Laguna Niguel, Begley said doing business in the world’s second-largest economy has often been a slow and complex process dealing with everything from local government regulations.

“We are still incredibly frustrated,” Begley said.

Her remarks echo those of GE CEO Jeff Immelt, who last year mentioned during a private dinner with fellow businessmen that China was being hostile to multinational companies: “I really worry about China. In the end I am not sure they want any of us to win, or to be successful,” he said, according to the Financial Times.

However complicated the relationship, Begley says GE (ge) sees partnering with local companies, particularly in China, as one way to reach global opportunities. Earlier this year, it announced an avionics joint venture with China. The deal received plenty of banter from critics, who say it could force GE to share technology and trade secrets that might eventually position Chinese companies to outperform their U.S. partners.

The critics could be right, but it seems as though the benefits may outweight the costs. As Begley says, partnering up is better than being left out.

Check out our additional coverage from Fortune's Most Powerful Women summit.

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