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Building a Bridge to China: Guanxi

The America China Society of Indiana, established by Albert Chen (middle) of Carmel’s Telamon Inc., is a nonprofit that advocates cooperation between Indiana and Chinese companies. Pictured here are the ACSI board members (left to right) Denesa Woods, Carmen Hendrixson, Jenny Massey, Albert Chen, John Skelton, and Windi Hornsby.

Albert Chen is no stranger to building concrete Guanxi (Gwan-chee) in business and in life, and he believes education is the mortar that bonds relationships. Thus, he established the America China Society of Indiana, an organization created as a foundation to foster networking, cooperation, and trust between Indiana and Chinese businesses.

An important idea in Chinese culture, Guanxi is based on trust and is similar to doing business on a handshake in Western terms. Chen would like to take that handshake a bit further by teaching Asians and Americans about each other, their diverse cultures and how to work together to build trust, share knowledge and create opportunities on U.S. soil and abroad.

“My vision is to bring more Chinese companies to Indiana, promote economic development and help companies understand how to do business with the Chinese,” said Albert Chen, founder of ACSI and owner of Telamon Inc., a nearly $500 million Carmel-based telecommunications provider with more than 500 employees at 9 locations.

ACSI is an independent, not-for-profit organization that acts as an advocate and catalyst, promoting cooperation between Chinese and Indiana companies for business, trade and investment opportunities. The society was founded in 2010 and launched in January 2011 by Chen and a group of individuals committed to strengthening Asian/American ties.

“ACSI is the primary source of connectivity between Indiana and China for conducting effective business relationships,” said Jenny Massey, Vice President of ACSI and director of operations at Bingham Economic. “Economic development is the basis of job creation, which benefits the community.”

Albert Chen Family Mid 1980's (left to right) Stephanie Chen Fuhrmann, Albert Chen, Margaret Chen, and Stanley Chen.

As a young man, Chen, a native of Taiwan, arrived on the west coast armed with a degree in tax finance. Speaking little English, he enrolled in Portland State College and earned a master’s degree in mathematical statistics. After graduation, he went to work with GTE, eventually transferring to Indiana as a manager of the Midwest region. In 1984, during corporate downsizing, Chen was asked to layoff 200 employees.

“I did not feel comfortable firing those people,” recalled Chen. “After I let them go, I resigned.” No job, no plan and no direction, he knew he had to support his wife and two young children. Thus, his entrepreneurial fire sparked as he turned his knowledge of telephones gained through his previous employer into a thriving business based on the concept of harmony.

While American companies follow legal guidelines when engaging in business, harmony, trust, reciprocity, face, time, hierarchy, and long-term orientation have been identified as key Chinese cultural values. Chen hopes to encourage goodwill and assist companies in growing their businesses. “The Chinese still shake hands and make promises,” said Chen. “But in today’s society, companies need well-developed contracts so they don’t forget promises.”

“Developing Guanxi is probably the most important step in Chinese business and needs to be properly cultivated,” said Denesa Woods, who is responsible for ACSI’s business development.

Chen with Andy Ording, former President of ZIPP Speed Weaponry, spoke at a recent ACSI meeting about the cultural challenges and opportunities of working with Chinese companies.

The society invites guest speakers to share their experiences in the Chinese marketplace. Andy Ording, former President of ZIPP Speed Weaponry, manufacturers of elite bicycle wheels, and current CEO at Business Builder, Inc., explained the cultural challenges of working with Chinese business owners and the opportunities for success at a November meeting.

“In Asia, a tremendous amount of respect is given and expected,” said Ording. “When doing business with the Chinese do the right thing, make promises you will keep, understand the culture and the market, and be realistic.”

Chen is realistic about his vision for ACSI. Filled with ideas, always searching for ways to fill a gap with a solution, Chen started the Asian American Alliance in 1999. He and other community leaders saw a need to mobilize the growing Asian community, inspiring them to contribute their time, treasure, and talents to improving their communities.

“As a way to educate the younger generation, I worked with others to form a group that would teach them to give back to their communities,” said Chen.

Chen provided funding for the Asian Learning Center of Indiana. Its mission is to educate, connect and engage Hoosiers about the history, cultures, and emerging business opportunities of Asia through public, private, community and business partnership in Indiana.

“Since becoming an American citizen I feel I need to contribute to this country,” said Chen. “Some Chinese do not want to stay in the U.S. and become citizens. But those who do stay should have a basic loyalty and give back.”

That’s a philosophy Chen and his wife, Margaret, have instilled in their two adult children, Stephanie and Stanley, both of whom work at Telamon and are active in the community. And it’s a principle inherent in the ACSI as the organization strives to encourage positive business relationships with member services focused on business and economic development.

“Our goal is to attract 100 members the first year,” said Woods. “And have a total of 200 to 300 total members.”

According to Chen, who is supporting ACSI by providing office space and staff, the organization should be self-sufficient in two or three years. He is convinced strong Guanxi and effective business development will encourage Chinese investment in Indiana as well as promote small businesses to export to China.

“Indiana and the Midwest is a key center,” said Chen who hopes to bring Chinese investment to the state that spans from South Bend to Evansville.

As for Telemon, future building blocks include a ventures into health care and energy industries as he researches ways to fill needs in those areas. “If I have a customer who has a headache,” said Chen. “I’ll find a solution for him.” And ACSI is the solution to preventing headaches in American and Chinese business collaboration.

For more information or to join the America China Society of Indiana: Contact Denesa Woods (317) 818-6603 or (317) 997-8137, denesa.woods@ChinaIndiana.org or visit the website at www.ChinaIndiana.org.

2012 America China society of indiana Programs

  • Feb 24 – China Strategy/Six Business Principles
  • March/April – Indiana Delegation travels to China
  • Jun 1 – Ignorance, Experience & Success in Business
  • Aug 24 – The Art of War: Insights into Business
  • Oct 19 – Giving, Saving,and Showing “Face” in Business

About Stephanie Carlson Curtis

Stephanie Carlson Curtis is a writer, photographer, triathlete and mom to four kids. A journalist for 25 years, her work has been featured on CNN, WTOC-TV and in multiple magazines, websites and blogs.

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