PetroChina exec shares wisdom
Li Shaolin, president of PetroChina International (America), Inc, accepts a token of appreciation from Austin Zhao (right), chairman of the Asian Chamber of Commerce. MAY ZHOU / CHINA DAILY
Li Shaolin, president of PetroChina International (America) Inc, shared with the members of Asian Chamber of Commerce the story of his company's journey from a three-person office to a large trading company employing more than 160 employees in both North and South America.
"When we first started in New Jersey in November 2003 with three people, we only had a ping-pong table as our office desk. For the first three years, we only managed to ship one cargo a year and suffered losses. Today, on any given day, there are at least 50 ships in the ocean carrying our goods," said Li at a business luncheon hosted by the Asian Chamber of Commerce.
Today, the company, headquartered in Houston, has branch offices in Canada, Brazil and Venezuela.
Starting as a nobody and refused a letter of credit by banks, PetroChina overcame obstacles and grew. Li recounted how he tackled both external and internal business challenges to make the company prosper.
"We started networking to show people that we are serious. Business is about people you know and connections. We went to events and conferences to let people know us," Li said.
Taking one small step at a time, practicing good corporate citizenship, and attracting and retaining talent with competitive salaries as well as constructing a harmonious work environment helped the company flourish, Li said.
About 85 percent of PetroChina's employees are locally hired, and the communication between the Chinese staff and local employees is vital to creating a pleasant and productive work environment.
Through leadership workshops, cultural sensitivity training and social events within the company, Li said the company has created an environment where people enjoy being.
Li also offered some advice on how to do business with Chinese companies. "When US business people went to Shanghai to meet with potential business partners, first time they met, they ate and drank; second time they met, they ate and drank; the third time they met, they ate, drank and started to discuss business. For many Americans, this seems inefficient," Li said,
But that's the Chinese culture —people like to get to know you personally before they are willing to do business with you. They might ask if you are married, how old your kids are and how much you make a month — they just want to get to know you, Li said.
Flexibility about cultural differences as well as business goals is important to forge a successful business relationship with a Chinese company, Li said.
Also at the event, Austin Zhao, chairman of the chamber, expressed appreciation to Linda Toyota, who is leaving the post as president of the chamber to take a position as associate vice-chancellor of communications at Houston Community College.
Toyota encouraged chamber members to continue to be engaged in civic events and politics. A third-generation Japanese American, Toyota said that her parents were held in a detention camp during World War II simply because of their ethnic background.
"We need to be aware of what's happening around us and be politically active to not let such a thing happen again," said Toyota.