We are here today with Shaolin Li, Chairman of the Houston Chapter of the China General Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Li and the Chamber have been active in Houston since 2005 assisting the businessmen of Houston to establish business relationships with China. Under Mr. Li’s leadership this organization has doubled in size and influence both here and abroad. Their services to Houston, the Chinese Community and businessmen in China have become invaluable in improving mutual understanding and building relationships.
Q: Please tell us how the Chamber has evolved since 2005 and some of your stories about your work here.
A: I had already been working in the U.S. for 13 years. In 2005, I joined the funding in New York for this Chamber. I was here on Day 1. Since I was already working in the U.S., I was involved with the funding.
Q: In what field were you working?
A: I was assigned to work here as President of PetroChina International America, Inc. The company is involved with trading oil and gas, crude oil, refined products and more. Some people got together and decided that we should start our business in Jersey City, New Jersey. That was the first place.
Q: That was a good place to start.
A: We had just started to trade. The company was registered, and the boss came into my office. He said that we had received a new call about a new place, Houston. He asked why don’t we place you there?
Q: What was the purpose in the minds of the people who funded the Chamber?
A: Economy. Trading. As different countries were growing, and trade was growing, many businesses were sourcing trading, marketing, manufacturing, investing, covering all fields of business. I thought what was needed was a team to assist in communication, a kind of chamber. We were struggling with the name of the organization. We did funding, but there was a little debate on this. We had to get American business and China talking.
In New York, we decided now that we are doing business in the U.S., and we have a new location, we must be able to teach the policies, regulations, ways of doing business, and the differences in American and Chinese customs and culture. There was a lot to learn and do to bring Chinese business and American together.
Q: For businessmen in China to be able to work with businessmen here.
A: And vice versa.
Q: That is what your Chamber does for people? I am curious, since you worked in New Jersey, you may clarify something. Some people here think that Jersey has all the same assets we have, and maybe more.
A: Actually here, there are more, a lot more. Houston is called the Petroleum Capital. Houston has the oil, the refineries, the port, and more. Houston is the best location. Houston is growing. So, I decided to send one person at first, an American. I said, “Why don’t you go to Houston?” He relocated himself and started to work.
Q: You started with one person?
A: One guy in 2004 to 2008. Now we have 90 employees.
Q: Ninety employees working here.
A: After this interview, I will show you a lot.
Q: That will be wonderful. I will have a lot more interesting photo. We are curious. Do you ever work with the Chinese Consulate in any capacity?
A: Not really. We feel that the Chamber of Commerce is an independent entity, a non-profit organization. We provide a service to the members; i.e. market analysis, marketing, opportunities for investment, promotion of their products, and more. The services are for the companies here who want to work in China, and for the Chinese companies who want to work here.
Q: That is what a lot of people don’t get. They think all the business goes out. But every business generates more business.
A: That is a trend. As time goes on, more and more Chinese are interested in coming here either for expansion or as an investment. That will help the local community. They create employment opportunities and growth opportunities, and they pay taxes.
Q: So, the Consul gets involved with political affairs, and the Chamber helps the businessman.
A: Yes, we help members do business here and in China. And we help Chinese businesses get established here and promote themselves.
Q: Right. Learning the new rules and regulations and getting acquainted with each other.
A: We have 4 local chapters here. We concentrate on business relationships and resolving any problems our members may have.
Q: Are there any events that are coming up that you would like to mention?
A: Just a week ago, we got our 1st big event, HSE. We focus on Health, Safety, and Environment. There will be seminars on differences in doing business here and in China, ways of doing business, traditions, hiring practices, management, sales techniques, and more. I will give you an example.
Q: Right. Give me one example.
A: In China, we can say, we have a position open. He must be male only, not older than 35, and should have some post-graduate credits. In the U.S., this employer is potentially in trouble. But that is the way we always have done things in China, and we are doing that now. There are truths to be learned and errors to be avoided. This is very important; especially for management.
Q: Yes, the owner or manager of a business must be very careful, and it is still easy to make a mistake.
A: That is why the seminars and the Chamber are so important. There are classes on environment, packaging, office manners, customs, procedures of doing business, and more.
Q: When is this event?
A: In April. One of our members, the East West Bank, will speak about the differences between American and Chinese business.
Q: That is a point I wanted to make. You do not have to be Chinese to be a member.
A: Surely not! We open the doors, and we invite anyone to join.
Q: American businesses who may want to export to China?
A: And for businesses that may want to invest in China, to trade, or to manufacture. We welcome all, and we will help with any problems that may come up. An example is a company that opened in Corpus Christi, PPCO. We went with all our members to spend a day there. We were pleased to find 7 people working there some of whom were family. Three were American and four were Chinese. This is what I like to see, American and Chinese together. We do market analysis, promotion, financial analysis, whatever they need. We like to do on site analysis.
I am in the first year of the second term as Chairman. We had 32 members. Now we have more than doubled that. By the end of this year, I plan to triple that.
For more information on how to be a part of the growing business with China and to participate in events, contact Shaolin Li at 832-325-7818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interview by: Heidi Powell-Prera