When: Tuesday, 14:40.
Where: International Entrepreneurship class, Yale SOM.
Scene: A tall man wearing tennis shoes and casual clothes nonchalantly enters the room.
“This my friend, Josh Perlman, and he will be our guest speaker today. He will be talking about his experience in China,” announced Professor Raymond Chang. If previous experience with invited speakers was anything to go off, I knew an interesting story was on the way.
Perlman started his presentation with a simple question: “How many of you have previously been to China?” To my surprise, half of the class raised their hand. With a smile on his face, Perlman continued, “In the next 20 years China is going to be the world’s number-one economy, so you might want to take a look at what’s going on over there.”
Twenty-five years ago, Perlman moved to the country, where he learned Chinese and started his first job in retail. His talent for networking and sales helped him acquire exclusive franchisor rights for renowned brands like Nautica and Jack Wolfskin, among others. Later, he merged with a more mature company where he became co-owner and managing director, and that company later went public on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
Impressed by his trajectory, I felt the urge to get to know more about him. After class, I extended my hand to signal a greeting and introduce myself. I told him that I, and other members of Yale SOM, were going to be in Shanghai soon for the Global Network Week at School of Management, Fudan University, and that I would like to arrange a meeting with him to learn more from his vast experience. Reluctant but curious, Perlman took a business card out of his backpack and handed it to me before leaving, accompanied by the words, “I’m interested. Send me an email so we can arrange the meeting.” (As Professor Zoë Chance suggests in her Mastering Influence and Persuasion course, just ask!)
Two weeks later I set foot in China. With the start of the Network Week we were very excited to discover what this one-week program had to offer and, of course, to attend the meeting with Mr. Perlman I was able to put together. The first few days flew by, and on Wednesday we were set to meet with Mr. Perlman at 7 p.m. As part of our GNW itinerary that day, we had a company visit at Infosys in the afternoon, two hours away from the city. Minutes before wrapping up, we realized that it was already 5 p.m. and there was no way we could get back to the hotel and then to the restaurant on time. We were simply not going to make it. My aspirations to meet Perlman in the city were quickly collapsing, along with the two weeks of effort to make this happen. Nate and David, both second-year MBA students who were attending the meeting with me, approached to discuss our critical situation. We gathered our delegation and designed a contingency plan. With no technological aids and facing a huge language barrier, we set off with only a paper map at our disposal.
I can only imagine what onlookers thought as they saw these crazy foreigners darting in and out of metro stations on the outskirts of Shanghai. Seconds felt like eons as we navigated the crowded Shanghai streets, but finally we got to our destination, a restaurant called 1221. I glanced at a nearby clock and smiled. It was only 6:25 p.m. Catching our breath, we took a seat in the restaurant.
Perlman entered the restaurant reminiscent of his entry at SOM. When he asked us to introduce ourselves, I realized how diverse a group I sat among. We all came from different industries and had spent time in a variety of countries. At that moment it finally sunk in: I was sitting in this great restaurant in the middle of Shanghai with eight of the most interesting people I had ever met, discussing Chinese macroeconomics from 150 years ago to today. Perlman’s stories seemed like they should be documented in a book. All of my peers were curious to know his secrets for success and hoped to extend the moment as long as he would allow. He summarized his success in three key factors:
- Find local partners who can be trusted.
- Master the language.
- Learn the culture as if it were your own.
As the dinner closed, we shook hands with Josh, and I knew from that moment that not only had we put ourselves into his radar, but we had also gained a new friend.
Networking had always been a tool, but now I know that a simple initiative can be transformed into a treasure. With this, I felt encouraged to take more hands-on initiative to develop relationships and pursue new projects with guests and members of the Yale community and other environments. You never know when a valuable opportunity is right around the corner.