Entrepreneurs make cross-cultural connections at EO Beijing

By Chen Yang, Global Times   EO members hold a forum in a boutique hotel in downtown Beijing. Photo courtesy of EO Beijing   With China’s fast economic growth and booming domestic market demand, an increasing number of foreign entrepreneurs have set up their own organizations in the country to build social networks with local entrepreneurs. One such group is the Entrepreneur’s Organization Beijing (EO Beijing). Jim James, a British director of Eastwest Public Relations, flew from Singapore to Beijing last week to attend the monthly EO Beijing forum held at a posh hotel in Beijing’s Sanlitun area. James co-founded the Beijing chapter of the international EO with Richard Robinson, an American entrepreneur, in 2007. "Unlike many networking organizations where people are trying to sell to each other, we don’t do business together. Instead we share experiences and learn from each other," James said. Building trust networks EO Beijing, with 21 foreign and Chinese members, runs a tight ship like its parent organization with its 7,500 members around the world. Members hold regular forums on the second Tuesday of every month from 3 pm to 6 pm. Outsiders are not allowed to attend forums, mobile phone use is forbidden during the meetings, anyone who is late pays a fine of 100 yuan ($15) for every 15 minutes of being tardy, and anyone who is absent twice from the forum without a valid excuse will have his or her membership voted on by other members. It is also very selective about its memberships. Applicants should be the founder or co-founder of their business, with annual business revenues toping $1 million, and they should be under 50 years old. Prospective members also have to submit application papers to th Global EO Membership Committee for approval, as well as a face-to-face interview. Membership is also costly. Besides paying $700 for an entry fee, members pay an annual fee of $1,400 to EO Global and an additional 4,000 yuan ($590) to the Beijing chapter. Membership is "interesting and kind of stressful," said Liu Jie, a new Chinese member of EO Beijing. She manages Profound Design, a Beijing-based import furniture company. "I struggled about joining it or not because I am afraid I can’t fulfill my commitment," she said. "But finally I made the decision to join because I’d like to share my experiences with others and get some impetus as well." Another local entrepreneur Fang Hao, director of Ethos Technology, said he felt "shocked" when he joined EO Beijing last year. "Building a trusted social network takes time, and that is why we hold monthly forums strictly and try to build a solid relationship with each other," said James. Sharing professional experiences Currently, EO Beijing has 21 members from different cultural and business backgrounds. "Our members are between 30-40 years old, with abundant experiences, and who still have passion for their businesses and can spare time to attend our forums," James said. "Many entrepreneurs fail to grow their business beyond $1 million, and EO is geared to help ambitious entrepreneurs expand their business size from size from $1 million to $5 million," he said. All the members are divided into three forum groups. "We want to ensure members in the same forum are focused on different business sectors, so they do not have commercial conflicts and can share their experiences more openly," James said. During the three-hour session, every member has five minutes to report their recent highs and lows in business and life. Two members next give presentations on certain topics ranging from hiring staff to educating children, and then other members discuss and share their experiences with the issues. It was Liu’s turn this month to make a 20-minute presentation on company restructuring. "I started my own business 12 years ago, and as my company has grown larger, I meet problems from staffing to performance management," she said. "So I talked about my experiences and difficulties, and other members also shared their experiences with me." "We don’t give suggestions and tell Liu what she should do, because we don’t know all the facts," said James. "But we share our experiences, and she may find something useful and absorb it in her way." Members’ topics are not limited to business. "We can talk about everything from business secrets to family affairs," Fang said. "Normally old members will talk about something intimate or personal during a forum, and this makes new members trust them and unload burdens. As time goes on, we talk deeper and deeper." Welcoming locals EO Beijing, though predominately comprised of foreigners, is recruiting more local Chinese members like Fang and Liu to share their experiences. James said the original vision for building the Beijing chapter was to create a gathering place for intelligent and ambitious entrepreneurs. "It is easier for me to get Westerners who can speak English and share similar culture together at the primary stage," he said. "To sustain the development of EO Beijing, we need more local members." British-born-Chinese Li Guodong, president of EO Beijing and co-founder of EQ English, said they plan to increase their membership to 40 this year, with 30 percent of them being local Chinese. "EO members in other chapters are mainly local entrepreneurs, and with more Chinese joining us, we can contribute more to our global organization," he said. James said local entrepreneurs’ participation helps foreigners understand the Chinese market better. "As a foreigner, there is a lot of information I don’t know and I can’t just call a friend (for help)," he said. "But I may reach out to a Chinese member for advice on making my products or services fit for Chinese users, pricing for the target market and dealing with human resources." "We welcome local entrepreneurs who have ambitions to expand their business overseas, then they can learn useful experiences from our foreign members," Li said. Fang said EO members help him a lot in dealing with foreigners. "My two business partners and many of our business customers are foreigners. Sharing experiences with other foreign members makes me deal with them more easily," he said. EO Beijing now has also opened a bilingual forum, including Liu, Fang, Li and three foreign members. "It is helpful to attract more local Chinese, because we are not native English speakers, and sometimes we can’t express our ideas clearly in English," Fang said.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *