Last week I was invited to attend one of Winston Wenyan Ma’s “China Dinners.” I’ve known Winston for several years, having first met him when we had mutual business at the large, white shoe law firm where he practiced. We stayed in touch when Winston left the firm to pursue an MBA at the University of Michigan, then got reacquainted when he returned to New York as an investment banker with a particular expertise in derivatives. In his spare time, Winston has written the best-selling business book, Investing In China: New Opportunities In A Transforming Stock Market (London Books, 2006) and he is planning a new book that addresses China and its global market impact from the opposite P.O.V.
I’ve always appreciated Winston’s tremendous energy and passion for networking and communication. Early on in our relationship, we had great, long conversations about the importance of building relationships and effective self-marketing and I loved being filled in on cultural differences between the U.S. and China. He now tells me that he thinks about these things constantly, believing they are the best methods of bringing people of disparate backgrounds, areas of expertise and points of view together. He’s right about that and it’s music to my ears.
Winston’s dinners are fashioned on the salons of the early 20th and 19th centuries. Salons originated as a periodic gathering of people of particular social and intellectual distinction. They’ve always been around, of course. At this dinner, there was a wide range of expertise. In addition to Winston, there were two journalists, an owner of an import/export company, an analyst from a major investment bank and a representative from a federal regulatory agency. Still another member of the group was a partner at a big consulting firm. And me. The nationalities were representative of Asia, the U.S. and a mix of both. 5 of the 8 were fluent in Mandarin in addition to English. Age ranged from 20s to 50s.
The discussion topics were equally extensive as well as provocative. We covered everything from the future of China (democracy maybe?) to the latest business news from that part of the world and how the globalization of trade affects everything. I led a discussion on the vital importance of good communication as a precursor to and indicator of success, especially at the senior executive level and absolutely critical in high-stakes situations. I also got to brag about my involvement in the new Ang Lee film, Lust, Caution, a Chinese language espionage thriller (with English subtitles) that takes place in China during WW II. (BTW, run, do not walk to the nearest theatre to catch it when it opens in your area – ignore the NYT review and focus instead on the one in the LA Times; this is a GREAT film.) As a result, I learned that there were other great Asian films I should see. Needless to say, the conversation was dynamic and fascinating. I was sorry when we had to go home.
What was particularly interesting was the way Winston set it up. I received the invitation about a week in advance with the list of guests who had confirmed thus far. About 2 days before, Winston confirmed the dinner with an updated guest list and included links to several news articles concerning China and business. He also mentioned some of the guests’ area of expertise, including mine, so we could all do a little research beforehand. This truly greased the wheels.
This is a terrific social/business model for anyone who wants to build new business relationships or cement old ones. What a great way to meet new and interesting people whom you would not ordinarily meet and whom you can add to your network. Someone just needs to take the lead. Why not you?
Ruth Sherman • Ruth Sherman Associates, LLC • Greenwich, CT • www.ruthsherman.com