advisory firm control risks navigates complex chinese market amid partner exodus 2544


Advisory Firm Control Risks Navigates Complex Chinese Market Amid Partner Exodus


Lauren Miller

March 15, 2024 - 07:41 am


Control Risks Grapples with Partner Departures Amid Challenging Chinese Business Climate

In a development signaling challenging times for advisory firms in China, Control Risks, a UK-based international consultancy firm, has witnessed the departure of its three key partners in mainland China within the past year. This spate of exits has cast a shadow on the firm's operations in the world's second-largest economy, where a complex business environment seems to be contributing to a reshuffle in the advisory sector.

Key Executives Depart from Control Risks

At the helm of these departures was Chris Torrens, the partner responsible for Greater China and North Asia. He departed at the beginning of the year, a move confirmed by two individuals privy to company matters. Torrens has since transitioned to a managing director role at APCO Worldwide LLC, where he continues to concentrate on Chinese affairs.

Kent Kedl, another influential figure as the head of the Greater China and North Asia practice based in Shanghai, has announced his forthcoming retirement, albeit framed as part of a long-envisioned plan, and discussed over some time with the company.

Additionally, Rosie Hawes, who contributed her expertise as a Control Risks partner and also participated actively in the British Chamber in Shanghai, took her leave in March of the previous year. This was confirmed by an anonymous source and supported by activity visible on her LinkedIn profile.

The Company’s Strategy and Silence on Replacement Plans

Upon discussions with six former and current employees of Control Risks, who opted for anonymity due to the delicate nature of the topic, it emerged that the company has not yet taken steps to fill these vacancies with new partners inside mainland China. Nonetheless, the firm does boast a presence of four partner-level officials positioned in Hong Kong, as can be seen on their official website.

Despite these departures accounting for only a fraction of the company’s workforce, which numbers around 90 individuals in mainland China, they signify substantial collective expertise navigating the complex Chinese business landscape. It's evident that the company is adjusting its strategy in China, promoting local leadership and redirecting focus towards other Asian markets for future expansion, according to one of the sources.

Control Risks' Commitment to Chinese Operations

Rachael Milford, the Singapore-based communications director for Control Risks, opted to withhold comments regarding individual staffing matters or its client base. Furthermore, Milford did not directly address queries about future plans for adding partners in mainland China. She did, however, reiterate the company's dedication to its Chinese business and its ongoing support for clients operating within the country, signaling a clear intent to maintain its market presence.

Financial Setbacks Amid Changing Market Dynamics

The significance of the Chinese market to Control Risks became even clearer with revelations of the firm losing 40% of its China-based revenue in recent years. This decline coincided with the disruptive impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and an escalating property crisis. One source highlighted that the revenue from China had previously constituted half of the firm's total Asia-Pacific business, underscoring the current financial challenges.

Broader Industry Impacts and Geopolitical Tensions

Like many of its peers, Control Risks has been affected by the widespread retreat of multinational corporations from the Chinese market. A record low in net new direct investments from foreign businesses was reported last year, exacerbated by bleak economic growth forecasts and rising geopolitical frictions between China and Western nations.

The firm, known for its confidentiality about its clientele, has, in the past, served high-profile international companies such as Tencent Holdings Ltd.'s Riot Games Inc. and Meta Platforms Inc.'s Facebook. These partnerships are a testament to Control Risks' global reach and expertise.

The Banking and Legal Sector's Response to Economic Slowdown

Global banks, including powerhouses like UBS Group AG and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., have had to scale back their workforce in Asia due to the economic deceleration connected to China. This trend mirrors actions within the legal fraternity, exemplified by Linklaters LLP's staff reductions and Dentons' strategic withdrawal from the Chinese legal market.

Constraints Against Due Diligence and Rising Scrutiny

With national security topping the agenda of Chinese leader Xi Jinping's administration, foreign entities are experiencing heightened challenges in executing due diligence. Increased governmental oversight has led to office raids and, in some cases, detention of staff members on the mainland.

In this environment of heightened caution, firms such as Control Risks have found themselves compelled to decline certain projects to maintain compliance and avoid appearing confrontational towards Chinese officials.

Cases of Foreign Firms Facing Penalties and Inspections

Beijing levied a substantial fine of about $1.5 million against the US-based Mintz Group for what was described as unlawful data accumulation. This occurred after a raid at the firm's Beijing office and the detention of five Chinese employees. So far, Mintz Group has not issued a statement on this matter.

Additionally, in a separate episode, staff members at Bain & Co.'s Shanghai office were questioned by Chinese authorities, which underscores the increasing governmental scrutiny of foreign consultancy agencies in the country.

Moreover, public disclosure was made of an incursion into Capvision, a consultancy with roots in both New York and Shanghai, under allegations of assisting in espionage. Following improvements to its compliance processes under Chinese authority directives, Capvision announced that it had satisfactorily cleared the official inspection.


While these episodes paint a tumultuous backdrop for consultancy and advisory firms like Control Risks in China, the firm's commitment to its Chinese operations remains steadfast. As multinational organizations grapple with unpredictable market conditions, firms within this sector are adapting, showcasing resilience and an understanding of the nuanced regulatory landscape prevalent in present-day China.


This news article includes supportive insights from Sarah Zheng, which have been integral to providing a comprehensive view of the ongoing situation. The information presented in this piece has been originally reported by Bloomberg and stands as a testament to the meticulous reportage and analysis that characterizes their commitment to delivering insightful business news.

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