By Assunta Ng
The Greater Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce recently hosted a business panel discussion, “Seattle meets China,” at the Sun Ya restaurant in November.
With its explosive growth in economy, the Chinese market is pervasive not only in Seattle, but all over the world.
There were more Chinese tourists in Seattle than tourists from any other countries, including Japan, according to the City of Seattle.
Panelists gave their perspectives, from marketing to strategies positioning their companies to fight for a piece of the “golden goose.”
Highlights from the conversation:
Michael Christ, SECO Development President, is building Southport Hotel, a 350-room hotel and conference center in Renton with the goal of attracting Chinese investors through the EB5 program. He started with development 25 years ago when he was single, and then fell in love with his wife, originally from China, which has now connected him to the country.
Twenty years ago, MulvannyG2 Architecture President Ming Zhang said he originally had to convince management that the “next big thing” would be China. He eventually took his supervisor to China. He agreed. The rest is history.
MG2 has completed 30 projects in China and there is an upcoming project in Wuhan.
Vice President Mike Medeiros of Delta Airlines said the airline has started four non-stop flights to S. Korea, Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, the last two being the airline’s exclusive. Medeiros said the market is limitless and Delta has been researching more destinations in Asia. He credited Delta’s success to hiring Chinese nationals running its China office, hiring Seattle staff with Asian languages proficiency, developing relationships with travel agencies, and redesigning its planes to have a spacious business class.
Corruption vs. relationship
Van Vong, an attendee, asked if the concept of “It’s who you know…” is essential in dealing with business in China, and how does one balance relationship and corruption?
Christ said that’s why his company is aiming at “transparency.” As a developer, he could manage the construction of his hotel, but he chose not to. Instead he hired MG2 to be the project’s architect, Sellen Construction as the contractor, and a separate accounting firm to deal with the books. He said there are many fraud cases in the EB5 program, in which Chinese investors invest in real estate, but don’t realize that they didn’t really purchase the land. The land for his hotel is all paid for, he said
Chinese President Xi Jingping has been cracking down on corruption, said Zhang. So business is slowing down in China. Zhang said this will affect China in the short-term, but it will be good for the country long-term. “Eighty percent of Chinese officials are good, only 20 percent are corrupt,” said Zhang.
Medeiros said “Be true to your values.” If you bribe the first time, there will be no end to this.
No knocking on doors
Eating and drinking are a big part of the business culture in China. Food helps to close deals. If you don’t drink, you should bring along friends who can drink along with the Chinese dignitaries.
Unlike what might be customary in America, Zhang said you should not knock on doors when dealing with Chinese business and government leaders. You find their friends’ friends to provide the introduction to open doors.
Christ credited his Chinese wife to break barriers in China. Zhang joked that finding a Chinese husband also works.
Christ said going to dinner with Chinese officials might be normal in China. However, under the strict U.S. law, even a cup of coffee could be perceived as bribery, he said. It is frustrating because he couldn’t show appreciation for the help he got from U.S. officials with his projects.
If he makes money, Christ likes to see other people get benefits too.
Advice for the Chinese market
“Be an expert, not a generalist,” said Zhang. “That’s why we don’t do hospitals or libraries.” MG2 designs many mixed-used development and high-rise buildings.
The Port of Seattle’s commitment to build a bigger facility for international arrival is crucial, said Medeiros. “It shouldn’t be at taxpayers’ expense,” he said, the gates’ users should pay for it, meaning Delta and other air carriers.
Transparency, transparency, transparency, was Christ’s emphasis.
Those were all good points, but the truth of the matter is, many Chinese send their money to California and Canada, according to Mark Wen, president of the Washington China Chamber of Commerce. What should we do?
It’s about time we should have another romance movie like “Finding Mr. Right,” said Zhang. “Finding Mr. Right,” a popular Chinese movie, modeling the theme, “Sleepless in Seattle,” drew over 5 million viewers in China. It is also the reason why many Chinese visitors come to Seattle.
Medeiros surprised 60+ guests by donating two Delta tickets for domestic flights for a raffle along with umbrellas and other goodies. (end)