March 18, 2008

Woo Conference Sees Opportunities and Challenges in Rise of Chinese Economy

Strong demand for western entertainment cited

By Roey Gilberg

As China's relevance on the international stage continues to grow, many around the world are taking notice.  On Friday, February 29th UCLA Anderson turned its own focus squarely to the burgeoning superpower as well, as it played host to the 2nd annual Wilbur K. Woo Greater China Business Conference.

Endowed by Mr. Woo, Vice Chairman Emeritus of Cathay Bank and Cathay Bancorp, Inc., this year's conference was titled, "Engine for Growth: The China/California Connection."  The event explored the various opportunities Greater China's economic emergence presents to California's businesses, entrepreneurs and industries in general.

The day kicked off with Anderson's own Dean Judy D. Olian, as she offered welcoming remarks and introduced the keynote speaker, Clarence Kwan.  Kwan, National Managing Partner for the Chinese Services Group of Deloitte & Touche LLP, presented a plethora of facts and figures demonstrating various aspects of business in China, recommending that in order to fulfill any sort of long term vision, "you have to have a good fact-based analysis."  Referring to China as a global "game-changer," he said that he was imparting the data so that everyone could draw conclusions as to how they themselves can become game-changers, "In the shadow of this huge giant, China."

He closed his remarks by offering several "rules" for doing business in China, mixing salient advice with light-hearted humor.  He recommended that those in particular who are bilingual should, "learn when to be Chinese, and when to be American ... if you just act like you're Chinese, they're going to eat you up." 

With Kwan's words in mind, the conference dispersed into two concurrent panel discussions -- one focused on the topic of investment in China, and the other concerning the future of Chinese mass entertainment and how Hollywood fits in.

The latter panel was moderated by Lora Chen, vice president of business development for the environmentally-oriented media organization Common Ground.  Julia Jenks, senior director of global strategy for the Motion Picture Association of America touched on one of the running themes of the entire conference when she said that the Chinese entertainment market is "equal parts massive potential, equal parts challenges."

Among the challenges discussed were digital piracy, censorship, and non-competitive practices by the Chinese government.  Perhaps the most significant such policy the government has imposed is a per year quota of twenty American films to be played in Chinese movie theaters.  As Stanley Rosen, director of the East Asian Studies Center at the University of Southern California put it, "It's not a true market in the sense that the market is being administered by bureaucrats."

However, "the demand for the entertainment is definitely there," said Carol Choi, vice president/general manager of Greater China for Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment.  Victor Gao, chief of staff for Yahoo's Media Division, suggested that the internet, as an outlet for original content distribution, is the future.  "The internet has instant reach, and it's a massive reach," he said.

Panelists also discussed the various difficulties of getting Chinese content to resonate in America.  Teddy Zee, president and co-founder of the production company Ironpond, suggested that the West is so used to martial arts films that it is not receptive to Chinese films "unless there's a kick and a chop."  Rosen sardonically added, "For an American audience, see a movie with subtitles is like doing homework."

After lunch the conference gathered for a CEO exchange featuring Iris Lin, founder and CEO of Trinity International Industries LLC, Inc. and Charles Woo, co-founder and CEO of Megatoys, Inc., and moderated by "Felix" Zhongxun Guo, a morning show host on KAZN AM 1300 Chinese Radio.  With Guo's congenial attitude and humorous interjections contributing to a more personal setting, Lin and Woo chatted about a wide range of topics, from the development of their own businesses, to the current presidential campaign, to how they give back to their communities.

The conference then broke into the final two discussion panels -- one on real estate in China, and one on how young professionals can go about embarking on China-related careers.  During the latter, moderated by Associate Press investigative reporter Justin Pritchard, the audience was treated to a wealth of advice as to how to take advantage of the Chinese economic boom. 

Adam Schorr, a partner with Margolis & Tisman LLP, reminded everyone to be conscious of the cultural differences one might experience in China.  He illustrated with an anecdote of going to see a Woody Allen film in a packed Chinese theater, and recalling how not one person laughed throughout the entire film. 

The most common theme touched upon was the importance of building relationships with people.  Robert Hills, Partner for Deloitte Consulting, emphasized that understanding the culture and becoming familiar with the language are important aspects of building such relationships.  Stacy Sun, partner with Global China Ventures, urged spectators to "stay current, and be eager to learn."

Perhaps Clifton Chang, Regional Manager-Asia Pacific for Johnston & Johnston, summed up the entire event when he said, "Right now, China is the Wild West." 

For one Friday afternoon, UCLA Anderson was the frontier.

Contact Information

Media Relations, (310) 206-7707, media.relations@anderson.ucla.edu

Media Relations