Chinese-American Networks

In connection with research for our new book, The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online (www.TheVirtualHandshake.com), I have worked with a number of partners to research different special-interest communities and how they build relationships with one another. The article below is the first in a series of pieces around this theme.

Building Business Relationships in the Chinese Diaspora

By Zhiyi Yu and David Teten

A few weeks ago, we spoke with a friend, who recently got a marketing director job in Shanghai. When asked how he got the job, he laughed and said that he did it without having an interview. Even though he is well qualified for the position, it is still unusual to get a job without any interview. He explained that the opportunity arose out of his mother’s high school reunion, where an old classmate of hers happened to be a hiring manager for this position.

While still in disbelief, we know that our friend is not the only lucky one out there. Such stories happen often in China, where the power of business networking or “guanxi” is prevalent. Even more so than in most other cultures, to get anything done, what matters most is whom you know and what relationships you have in place. As Dr. Hong Chen, Founder and CEO of The HINA Group, puts it: “many business deals are done in informal social/business meetings in China.”

As the former founder and CEO of the publicly traded company GRIC, Mr. Chen has an extensive network of contacts and is a frequent business traveler to China. Every time before he arrives in his destination, his friends will have already arranged meetings for him with other business professionals. They will go out for informal parties or drinks where they chat for business and other non-business issues. Often in such discussions, deals are sealed with a handshake.

However, such prevalence of off-line business networking rarely exists for first generation Chinese living abroad. When they leave China to go to a foreign country, they begin with a new life and have to build everything from scratch. This also means that they need to build a new social and professional network from the ground up. At one point of their lives, they struggle to find their identities and often have a difficult time assimilating into the mainstream society. Language barriers and cultural differences are the most difficult to overcome. As a result, in contrast to the informal social/business networking in China, organized meetings and conferences count as the most popular networking venues for overseas Chinese professionals. And increasingly with the proliferation of Internet usage, many Chinese organizations have established web presence and are leveraging the Internet as a medium for professional networking.

In fact, overseas Chinese are among the most avid users of the Internet. According to a survey conducted by Sina (www.sina.com), one of the largest Chinese Internet portals, Chinese Americans are the “most wired” consumers in the U.S. The online penetration rate of Chinese Americans is 59% versus 43% for Caucasian Americans. And the median income of Chinese American Internet user is $69,000, about 50% higher than the $40,000 median income level of Caucasian American Internet users. Of all the Chinese-American Internet users, 97 percent own a home computer, and 65 percent are online every day.

The high Internet penetration rate within the Chinese American population is a reflection of the above average economic and educational achievements of Chinese in the U.S. According to statistics released by the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission (OCAC) in 2000, there were approximately 2 million Chinese residing in the U.S., with large Chinese concentrations in major metropolitan cities such as New York and San Francisco. Because of the large proportion who hails from professional families, Chinese Americans enjoy the third highest educational levels, just behind Koreans and Japanese. In sheer numbers they produce the most affluent people, accounting for 55% of Asian Americans earning over $100,000 a year.

Whether you are a Chinese professional looking to build your network, or a non-Chinese professional looking to learn more about business opportunities in China and in the Chinese diaspora, the Internet would be a good place to start your search for networking opportunities. The following is a summary of the types of organizations you should be looking for:

  • School clubs and associations — in almost every school with Chinese students, you can find a Chinese students’ club. Among the most active school associations include Harvard University Chinese Student Association (http://hcs.harvard.edu/~hrcsa/), Columbia University Chinese Students and Scholars Association (http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cucssa/), Association of Chinese Students and Scholars at Yale, (http://www.yale.edu/acssy/home.html), and so on. Most school associations work with both undergraduate and graduate level Chinese students, and some are also open to Chinese alumni.
  • Alumni associations of Chinese universities — although most Chinese come to the U.S. to pursue masters and higher level education, many remain tightly connected to the Chinese educational institutions where they attended undergraduate or graduate studies in China. Through the overseas alumni associations, they establish contacts with other alums and keep in touch with classmates who still live and work in China. Alumni of these overseas associations typically develop strong bonds within the organization as they maintain loyal and emotionally attachments to their homeland institutions. One example of this type of association is the Jiaotong University Alumni Association ( http://www.jtu.org/jtu/alumni/index.html ). Jiaotong University is a top school in China, equivalent to MIT in the U.S. The school has a very extensive global alumni network, with both domestic and international chapters in U.S., Canada, Japan, Europe and other regions of the world. Within the U.S., the alumni association is further broken down to separate regional chapters that cover different parts of the country. An extensive list of the overseas alumni associations of almost all the major Chinese universities can be found on http://www.us369.com/LIUXUEalumni1.HTM .
  • Professional organizations — the most popular networks among Chinese professionals are the professional organizations. Hundreds of Chinese professional organizations exist in the U.S. Alex Chan, President of the Chinese Software Professionals Association (CSPA, www.cspa.com), one of the largest Silicon Valley based technology professional organizations, points out that such fragmentation occurs because most organizations are organized by some type of specific criteria, for example, by the region from whence the members come or by profession. Sometimes, divisions are made based on the Chinese dialect. Finding a national or unified Chinese organization is difficult as a result.

Most of the Chinese organizations are formed to serve two main purposes: as a platform for Chinese professionals to meet one other, and for Chinese professionals to mingle with “mainstream” society. No stranger to professional networking himself, Dr. Chen started the Chinese Professionals Association, one of the earliest of its kind in the U.S., in 1991. In the last few years, he also served as a President of the Asian American MultiTechnology Association (AAMA www.aamasv.com), a pan-Asian business professionals organization, and founded and chaired Hua Yuan (www.huayuan.org), a Silicon Valley organization that attracts a large group of professionals from mainland China. When asked about what he saw as the biggest challenge for professional networking, Dr. Chen observed that mingling with the broader non-Chinese population has been an uphill battle.

While language and cultural differences pose significant barriers for Chinese professionals to mingle with the mainstream, Dr. Chen noted gradual changes in the past decade. In the earlier years, most Chinese pursued the mainstream aggressively. For example, a quick review of the calendar for the first years of the organizations above show that most of the invited speakers were non-Asians. Things are changing, however, as China’s economy grows stronger. Dr. Chen notes that more and more non-Chinese professionals are approaching the Chinese organizations asking to speak, as opposed to the reverse. An increasing percentage of the speakers are themselves of Asian background. More broadly, there has been a significant increase in interest in doing business with China in the last couple of years.

Regardless of the type of organization, you can expect some commonalities among them:

  • Professional conduit — you can expect many organizations to serve as a professional conduit between their members and professional opportunities by providing free services such as job postings to its members. Many professional organizations also offer speaker events around specific topics.
  • Social events –most associations organize some kinds of regular social events for its members. These events include cultural and recreational activities, such as an annual Spring Festival celebration, ballroom dancing, or a tennis tournament. Through these events, members can get to know each other and develop personal friendships. Often, single members find their significant others through such events.
  • Community board — it is common for organizations to have a community board where their members can exchange information on many things ranging from opinions on a political issue to apartment rentals. It is a way for the members to be connected to the rest of the community.

If you are new to professional networking, the best place to start is through professional organizations or school alumni associations. We have included a list of the most active organizations at the end of this chapter. In addition, you may also try your luck in recreational activities such as sports or chorus groups. Ching Ching Chorus (www.chingching.org) in Silicon Valley, for example, attracts many professionals from different age groups, backgrounds and industries.

Dr. Chen mentions church groups and Chinese schools as additional channels for networking. In Chinese schools, for example, the parents often socialize and get to know each other very well through their children. Of course, one of the best ways to network is always through informal gatherings and parties put together by your friends.

We have listed below some of the most prominent and active Chinese professional organizations below. This list is by no means an exhaustive list of all Chinese professional organizations in the U.S.

1) U.S. China Exchange Association

Website: www.usachina.org

Description: U.S. China Exchange Association is an official multi-national non-profit organization that promotes exchanges between the US and China in business, education, culture, and other areas through conferences, seminars, market research, training, business trips, trade shows, and other international exchange activities. Headquartered in New Jersey, with offices in Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Hangzhou and other locations in the US and China.

Membership: Over 2,000 business members from a variety of industries including pharmaceutical, telecommunications, chemical, machinery, electronic appliance, instruments, apparels/textile, computer, media, publication, advertising, education, finance, insurance, healthcare, travel, agriculture, construction material, and other industries in U.S. and China.

Contact: Scroll down the page, and you will find the contact information of local offices on http://www.usachina.org.

2) Asian American MultiTechnology Association (AAMA)

Website: www.aamasv.com

Description: AAMA is Silicon Valley’s leading MultiTechnology business network promoting the success of the Asia America region’s technology enterprises. Through its diverse programs ranging from monthly Speakers Series to the Asia-Silicon Valley Technology Investment Conference, AAMA provides a forum in which members can network, exchange ideas and share resources to promote and build one another’s companies and careers, ultimately benefiting the larger Pacific Rim technological community.

Membership: Over 1,100 members from about 800 companies. The members, both Asian Americans and non-Asian Americans, are key players in the Internet, wireless, telecommunications, computers, semiconductor, software, hardware, electronics and bio-tech industries. AAMA is also supported by a strong network of service industries—venture capital, law, finance, banking, marketing and public relations, technical and business consulting. Memberships separated into individual membership ($100 annually) and corporate membership (ranges from $1,000 to $10,000 annually).

Contact: http://www.aamasv.com/aboutaama/aboutaama_contactus.asp

3) Hua Yuan Science and Technology Association

Website: www.huayuan.org

Description: Huayuan is a professional organization that promotes the technological, professional and scientific development of the Chinese business community. Headquartered in Silicon Valley, Hua Yuan has launched a chapter in Beijing.

Membership: Over 700 members, mostly Chinese engineers and entrepreneurs. Majority of the members are from mainland China.

Contact: http://www.huayuan.org/directors.php#bm

4) Sino-American Pharmaceuticals Professionals Association (SAPA)

Website: http://www.sapaweb.org/index.html

Description: Founded in 1993, the Sino-American Pharmaceutical Professionals Association (SAPA) grew rapidly and has become one of the most active and well-recognized Chinese-heritage enduring professional organizations in the United States. Pharmaceutical science and technology professionals’ organization

Membership: Over 1,200 members in pharmaceutical sciences, the biomedical and biotechnological community, the health professions, and the interest of the public health in more than 35 states in the US and in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.

Contact: page under construction.

5) The Chinese Finance Association (TCFA)

Website: http://www.aimhi.com/VC/tcfa/index.html

Description: TCFA is a non-profit organization aimed at facilitating the exchange of ideas, knowledge and information on education, research and practice in finance and related areas between the U.S. and China. TCFA will organize and sponsor a broad range of activities including original research projects, training programs, translations, publications, and international conferences. Regular member activities will be comprised of annual meetings, regular seminars & symposia, and field studies.

Membership: Open to students, scholars and professionals of Finance, Accounting, and other Economic and Management Sciences.

Contact: justinjiangzhm[@]yahoo.com or chinesefinance[@]yahoo.com

6) Chinese American Semiconductor Professional Association (CASPA)

Website: www.caspa.org

Description: Founded in 1991, CASPA is the Largest Chinese American semiconductor professional organization outside of China and Taiwan. Headquartered in Silicon Valley, CASPA has 6 regional chapters in Austin, Shanghai, Taiwan, the Pearl River Delta region in China, Oregon, and Arizona.

Membership: Over 3,000 individual members and 60 corporate members. Individual membership costs $20 annually, or $100 life time membership. Corporate sponsor package ranges from $500 to $4,000 annually.

Contact: http://www.caspa.com/index.phtml?section=contact

7) Chinese Professional and Entrepreneur Association (CPAEA)

Website http://www.cpaea.org/

Description: CPAEA is a professional association provides its members with services, events, and social activities such as holiday parties, seminars on education, investment, insurance, new tax laws, real estate, consultation sessions on job search skills, United States civil laws, and family issues. These activities aim to help Chinese professionals and entrepreneurs to gain more knowledge and information about their economic and social environment.

Membership: Over 500 members.

Contact: Professor Zhiqiang Gao, President, z.gao@csuohio.edu

8) International Chinese Transportation Professionals Association (ICTPA)

Website: http://www.ictpaweb.org/index.html

Description: Founded in 1988, ICTPA promotes the professional development of fellow Chinese who have an interest in transportation-related work in North America. The organization has four chapters based in Washington, DC, Northern California, Southern California and Northeastern United States.

Membership: Number of members unknown.

Contact: You can scroll down the page http://www.ictpaweb.org to sign up for free email updates on activities or get information on membership.

9) Hong Kong Association of Northern California (HKANC)

Website: www.hkanc.com

Description: Founded in 1984 to provide a focal point for Northern California-based individuals and corporations interested in business and trade with Hong Kong. The HKANC was the first Hong Kong Association in North America. Today, there are similar organizations in Atlanta, Boston, Hawaii, Los Angeles, New York, and Texas, as well as in Calgary, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg.

Membership: HKANC has over 60 corporate members. Individual membership: $50 annually. Corporate membership: $1,000 annually.

Contact: http://www.hkanc.com/contact.html

10) iNetwork128

Website: http://www.inetwork128.org/

Description: i128 is a pan-New England entrepreneur network representing small- and medium-sized business (SME) owners and executives. Its mission is to provide our entrepreneurs and others a fast, practical and economical channel into China.

Membership: over 1,000 small- and medium-sized business owners and executives.

Contact: Shawn He, Founder and President, info@iNetwork128.org

11) North America Overseas Chinese Transportation Association (NACOTA)

Website: http://www.nacota.org/

Description: Established in 1996, NACOTA is a non-profit professional organization with its members who work or study in the transportation or related fields in North America and who are interested in the transportation development in China. The main objectives of NACOTA include: Promote transportation development in China by providing technologies and expertise through its members; Strengthen the links between transportation professionals and students in North America and their counterparts in China; Promote networking among Chinese overseas transportation professionals and students; and disseminate information on transportation developments and major events in China to NACOTA members and partners in North America.

Membership: 500+

12) New England Chinese Information and Network Association (NECINA)

Website: www.necina.org

Description: founded in 1996, NECINA has grown to be one of the major hi-tech professional organizations in the New England area. NECINA reaches thousands of members covering diverse industries such as software, telecommunications, networking, bioinformatics, venture capital, finance and law.

Membership: over 1,000

13) Monte Jade

Website: www.montejade.org

Description: Founded in 1989 in Silicon Valley, Monte Jade has since established 15 chapters around the world including domestic U.S. chapters in New York, Chicago, Washington DC, New England, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Philadelphia. Monte Jade is primarily comprised of Chinese American professionals with experience in investment, management and technology.

Membership: 20,000 under Global Monte Jade including total membership and corporate employees.

14) Northwest Chinese H-Tech Professionals Association (NWCHP)

Website: http://www.nwchp.org/

Description: NWCHP is a Washington State-based professional organization representing and serving Chinese professionals in the hi-tech, legal, financial and consulting service industries in the US Pacific northwest (Greater Seattle) region.

Membership: 5,000+

In addition to the above organizations, a good list of professional organizations for Asian Americans can be found on http://www.careercompany.com/links-asian.html.

Co-Authors

Zhiyi Yu is Managing Director of Global China Operations at OpenBC (www.openbc.com), an online global networking platform for business professionals around the world to find, connect and establish new business relationships and contacts. Previously Zhiyi advised U.S. and European venture capital firms and technology companies on investment and operational strategies. Prior to becoming a consultant, Zhiyi was an Investment Director with ITX, a $1.5 billion venture fund backed by Olympus Corporation, one of the world’s largest consumer electronics and healthcare products companies. Prior to ITX, Zhiyi held senior management positions in business development, product management and marketing for two start-up technology companies that were acquired by InfoSpace and Symbol Technologies. Earlier in her career, Zhiyi worked at Goldman Sachs and APAX Partners, where she evaluated and executed a number of corporate finance and private equity deals in China. Zhiyi is a native of Shanghai China and holds a B.A. with Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University and an M.B.A. from Stanford Graduate School of Business. She can be contacted at z(@)openbc.com.

David Teten recently released his first book, The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online (www.TheVirtualHandshake.com), published by the American Management Association, and co-written with Scott Allen. The Virtual Handshake is the first book that explains how to find your next client, your next job, or your next business partner online. The Virtual Handshake walks you through how to take full advantage of blogs, virtual communities, social network sites, and other “social software”. David is CEO of Nitron Advisors, LLC (www.NitronAdvisors.com), which provides institutional investors with direct access to frontline industry experts, and Chairman of Teten Recruiting (www.Tetenco.com), an executive recruiting firm. He was formerly CEO of an investment bank specializing in internet domain names. He is a frequent keynote speaker to finance and technology industry conferences and at such universities as Wharton, Columbia Business School, Yale, and Princeton. David formerly worked for Bear Stearns’ technology/defense investment banking team, and was a strategy consultant with Mars & Co. He holds a Harvard MBA and a Yale BA.