Asian Adventures: African-American Businesswomen Are Heading to China

November 28, 2012  |  

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When I first saw the remake of the Karate Kid with Jackie Chan, Jaden Smith, and Taraji P. Henson, I was surprised a bit at the plot. Henson, playing Smith’s mother, is an African-American executive whose new job takes her and her son from Detroit to Beijing, China. There is no denying it — China is a major business hub. I wondered, “Are there many black women working in China?” Yes, I later discovered.

Stephanie Hunt, president and founder of etiquette and protocol firm Swan Noir, recently returned from a stay in Shanghai. Hunt, who plans to move there in the fall of 2013, went to pave the way for her future move to the booming city. “I thought about the business aspect in 2011. There was so much buzz about China. I had been to Beijing, in 2007 for a 10-day tourist trip. It was then that I decided to… attempt to bring Swan Noir there and expand,” she explains. “I want to bring this training to Chinese who travel abroad and Americans and Europeans to China.”  Eventually, Hunt wants to expand to other Chinese cities, such as Beijing, Nanjing, and Guangzhou. What she discovered were nuances that will help her along the way to establishing a foothold in the Land of the Dragon.  

Business is Not Just Business: Understanding the Chinese Way

These days the Chinese are all about business. But there is an art to doing a deal in the country.  They like the personal touch.  “China is so complex, I did not want to use traditional American muscle and business tactics. I wanted to learn and experience China first,” Hunt tells us.  “The nuances and the details that it takes to interact and do business with the Chinese is enormous. There are superstitions, auspicious colors and numbers, protocol with rank and title, business card etiquette, and so on.” Sabrina Lamb agrees. Lamb is the CEO of the nonprofit World Of Money, a New York City-based nonprofit whose mission is to empower youth with a sound financial foundation. Lamb  is planning on bringing a delegation there in August 2013, touring Shanghai, Beijing and Xi-en, during which time she wants to forge business contacts for the nonprofit. She looks to make the visit an annual affair. “Learn cultural modes, such as, in general the Chinese are very shy. Americans tend to gaze in the eyes of others; while we may take their averted eyes as ignoring us or being rude, when in China the opposite is true. Often Chinese will smile once they know that you wish to connect with them,” says Lamb.

Patience Is a Virtue

The Chinese don´t make business decisions rashly. You have to prove yourself time and time again. “I was surprised to discover how much time it could take to actually reach a plateau,” observes Hunt. “I was networking with some Americans and Europeans that have lived in Shanghai for seven years, and nine years, respectively. They are still gaining trust with clients after years of pitching and proving themselves. The return on investment is worth it but it could take years.”

You must also be prepared to connect with potential clients personally. “You have to have patience and be prepared to be confused most of the time. Contracts are different, business is different, the thinking process is different, everything is different,” Hunt points out. “Relationship building is a must. If you are not good at networking and relationship building at home, you will have a really hard time in Asia. Meet people, and host people, drink, eat, karaoke, buffets, drink, talk, exchange ideas, more drinking, more karaoke, etc…”  

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