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"Sierra Asia delivers. For us in China, they brought access, built bridges, developed commanding positions and accelerated accomplishment in China... and we have been working successfully in China for over a decade.""
Patrick Jenevein
Tang Energy Group

"Lee guided us through the ins and outs of the Chinese business and entertainment world, allowing us to avoid many of the common mistakes newcomers to China make."
Robert Nederlander
Jr. President
Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment

"I am particularly impressed with Paula's ability to connect with senior Chinese clients. Her proven track record in adapting and excelling in new business environments and her abilities to understand, appreciate and leverage unique cultural intricacies and nuances will be of particular value to her clients."
Charles Li
JP Morgan, China

"Lee Sands was essential to our efforts to establish the first sanctioned Cooperative Joint Venture in the highly sensitive youth culture oriented music business in China. The depth of his cultural awareness, linguistic skills and familiarity with Chinese Government personnel and process were the practical key to our success in our market entry strategy."
John Dolan
Former Senior Vice President of Business Development
Sony Music

Lee's "tenacity and street smarts win raves from U.S. business."
Business Week

Lee was commended for "developing a negotiating strategy for persuading China to drop a range of restrictions on foreign companies, and to phase out protection for state-run industries."
The New York Times

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With Karaoke, A Deal in China For a Song

The Wall Street Journal

Faux Pas
Emily Flitter June 6, 2008 12:17 p.m.

In East Asia, karaoke nights are common–and help seal business deals. But, they can be daunting for the uninitiated.

The first deal Paula Beroza ever struck in China was sealed after she sang "Red River Valley" at a luncheon. Her solo followed one by the chairman of the Chinese company she'd wooed.

"I sang an American song that I knew they knew and he sang a Chinese song," she said. With karaoke performances under their belts, their bond was solid.

Karaoke plays an important in the interactions necessary to solidify good business relationships in China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. It helps relax business contacts and bridge language barriers. It is so beloved by people in East Asian countries that Ms. Beroza, who runs an investment banking and consulting firm with offices throughout China, has noticed karaoke machines in the executive dining areas of some Chinese companies.

But most of the revelry does not occur during business hours. A night out at a karaoke club is a common chaser to the hallmark business banquet companies in China are fond of hosting. Eating, drinking and singing together helps build trust in a society in which written contracts mean less and personal interactions are far more important.

Cathal Conaty at a business dinner in China. Mr. Conaty says karaoke is often a regular part of entertaining clients in China.

"When we do business in New York, we arrange a meeting, we speak to each other, we say our terms and conditions, we shake a hand and we sign our deal," said Cathal Conaty, who runs a company that sources manufacturing for American and Irish companies in China. "[But in China,] you don't just sit down and say 'I'm looking for this product at this price.' The manufacturer wants to get to know a person and get to know what you're like. One way to do it is when you go to a bar and you have drinks and you sing."

Chi Chen, an engineer who splits his time between China and the U.S., says karaoke plays a big part in entertaining clients. "If I'm meeting a customer, dinner is almost guaranteed, and entertainment afterward is almost guaranteed as well," he explained.

"It's not how we do it over here's kind of a funny thing," Ms. Beroza added. Karaoke in East Asia is serious, and its practitioners are far more earnest in their art than a group of giggling Americans belting out "Sloop John B" might seem.

For the unseasoned American doing business in East Asia, there is occasionally a darker and somewhat confusing side to a night of karaoke. First-time travelers could be in for a shock when they find themselves in a private room in a karaoke club -- common in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan and mainland China -- being asked to choose from a lineup of young women brought in to serve them. A visitor's first thought might be that the women are sex workers. They are young, often dressed in revealing clothes and ready to finger-feed customers fruit or whatever else they may be eating. In some low-end clubs, the women may indeed be sex workers, but foreign business travelers are unlikely to be taken to these places. At most places business guests end up, the women are simply club hostesses whose presence conveys luxury.

"There's a whole class of women who are just hostesses," explained Ted Fishman, a former commodities trader whose book, China, Inc. offers tips on doing business in the country.

"The hostessing is a very traditional way of dealing with being kind to guests," said Tracey Wilen-Daugenti, a director at Cisco Systems who often advises women on how to do business abroad. "Many of these establishments have hostess women and I have gone to dinner and had my own hostess woman and been very embarrassed, but [my hosts] actually thought they were being kind."

The most important thing to remember is that the evening's focus is on karaoke above all else.

Still, the experience can be shocking. Nancy Fox, while serving as the vice president of merchandising for the American division of a Japanese apparel company, found herself inside a karaoke club with female hostesses during a visit to Thailand with her Japanese colleagues. The rest of her team was made up entirely of men, and they appeared to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, but to her, the place looked like a den of vice.

Paula Beroza, whose firm, Sierra Asia, has office throughout China. After singing karaoke during business meetings in China, Ms. Beroza began taking classical singing lessons in San Francisco.

"They gave me a woman, a young woman to keep me company," she said, "while they were being entertained by the other Thai women."

"I was furious," she said. "I asked them to leave."

Even if the hostesses in a karaoke club are not prostitutes, the experience may be too much for some first-timers to handle. Despite the importance of karaoke in Chinese and other East Asian cultures, bowing out gracefully from a night at a club will do no harm to any business relationship. Women may find it especially appropriate to leave, or they may not be invited at all.

"The businesswomen's side is we find that doing the dinner can suffice," she said. Most women say leaving early doesn't hurt their business dealings. Going out afterwards and doing excessive drinking isn't considered very feminine." She added that it felt easier to duck out of a late-night trip to a karaoke bar as a woman.

"I traveled with a guy who was a Mormon and happily married with a lot of kids and didn't drink," she recalled. His hosts wanted to stay out late with him. But he and his other team members found excuses to slip away.

There are plenty of acceptable excuses. "Do not be negative in excusing yourself," Mr. Fishman advised. "Just say 'I'm tired, I'm jet lagged.' Mentioning a family waiting back home for a phone call also works.

But karaoke remains important, and experienced travelers to East Asia add that it never hurts to relax and try to belt out a tune or two. Karaoke can actually be comforting. "You're in China and everything's so different," Mr. Conaty mused. "All of the sudden your favorite Brian Adams song comes on and you feel like you're home again."

Write to Emily Flitter at


In the age of globalization, understanding of local custom is invaluable for business executives representing their companies around the world. Faux Pas, written by Emily Flitter, looks at how to avoid the false steps.