Business wisdom always reminds us that it’s not about what we know, but who we know. The power of building social connections and relationships is undeniable. It leads to deals, partnerships, career opportunities, or at the very least, a good lighthearted chat with someone new. Darlene Chiu Bryant tells us more about this on the show. She talks about the joys and challenges of expat life and shares how her knack for connecting people has helped her throughout her business career. If you want to learn how to level up your networking game without putting yourself in too much pressure, this podcast episode is a great place to learn those baby steps. Tune in for more!
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Essential Business Skill: Learn The Value Of Social Connections With Darlene Chiu Bryant
This is the show where we talk about international trade, communication, and how you show up as a valuable member of your community with presentation skills and speaking skills. I have something of an unusual guest for us in this episode. Before I go to the interview, let me invite you to see where your presentation skills are strong by taking our free four-minute assessment at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where your presentation skills are doing well and where perhaps a little bit of support could get you the results you need and the recognition that you deserve.
My guest is Darlene Chiu Bryant. We had an interesting conversation about international life or expat life and how you could make people feel good. We talked about food a lot. That was fun. Part of her official bio is, Darlene Chiu Bryant is the Founder and Executive Director of Global: So Future. It is a global nonprofit platform committed to bringing together key stakeholders in the public and private sectors to create sustainable economic growth for San Francisco and the whole state of California.
Darlene has had a very diverse career in both the public and private sectors. She has experience in the global supply and value chain from working overseas in German, Japanese, and Chinese national firms as well as in her native San Francisco. She brought her global experience to communications and public affairs roles, winning several political campaigns. She went on to serve then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is the Governor of California. She was the Chief Deputy Communications Director for the City of San Francisco. She’s also been the Corporate Communications Manager for Pacific Gas and Electric and the Vice President of United Commercial Bank and East West Bank.
During her time working at city hall and PG&E, she had a weekly TV program that provided information in Cantonese and Mandarin on city events, programs, and activities that could benefit the Chinese community. She told me that people come up to her on the street all the time and say, “I know you. You’re the TV lady.” She had a huge viewership.
Prior to founding GlobalSF, Darlene was appointed by the late San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee to head up ChinaSF, where she oversaw efforts that brought in more than $5.1 billion in foreign direct investment in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2019, she was nominated as one of the most influential women in Bay Area Business by the San Francisco Business Times.
She was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States with her parents as a baby. She grew up in San Francisco with two younger brothers and learned how to read and write Chinese and Spanish in school as well as Mandarin, working in her parents’ retail stores. Meanwhile, let’s go on to the interview, where we talked about protocol, foreign affairs, and food. Here comes Darlene Chiu Bryant.
Darlene Chiu Bryant, I’m so happy to have you on the show. Welcome.
Thank you for having me on the program.
I am excited because you’ve had such an interesting career. There are so many interesting things that we can talk about, especially in terms of international trade and connecting people, all of which are subjects that I love. Before I get started on the holistic questions, if you could have a dream interview with someone who’s no longer with us, who would it be? What would you ask them? Who should be listening?
With someone who is no longer with us, my dream interview would be with Charlotte Shultz.
Explain to our international audience who that is.
Charlotte Shultz is an amazing woman. She is the late wife of our late Secretary of State, George Shultz, for the United States. I met her working for Gavin Newsom when he was Mayor of San Francisco many years ago. Charlotte was the Chief Protocol Officer for the city and county of San Francisco and, later on, also became the Protocol Officer for the whole state of California. She did serve in that capacity until she passed away in 2021. I miss her dearly. She was a woman who knew everyone and was kind to everyone.
It didn’t matter whether or not you had a title. She was very kind to you. She recognized talent and the value of people. She was that type of a person. Talking about getting things done, she threw the best parties in San Francisco. She knew how to connect with people. I learned a lot from her because I’ve known her. If I were to have a dream interview, it would be with Charlotte Schultz. I miss her dearly.
What would you ask her?
To start, “Why did you go out with George Shultz? You were already a person that everyone knew in San Francisco.” I would then ask about her romance with him. Most importantly, her job and the roles that she has had. Did she ever have to rely on George? According to George, she never had to rely on him at all. Everything she did was because of her connections and network and not because of George, which is interesting.
For our international audience, tell us what a protocol officer does. It sounds like you’re Miss Manners. You’re the etiquette person. It’s one of those positions that are much more important than you think it looks like.
For all intents and purposes, not knowing what a protocol officer did, you would think that she is only in charge of parties at City Hall when the protocol officer is in charge of the relationships, at the time, between the city and county of San Francisco and all the consulates in the city. She is also in charge of receiving and arranging for meetings with heads of state, ambassadors, and the leadership of the city and county of San Francisco. She’s the ambassador for the city.
Anyone from a foreign country, they would have to interact with her first. It’s a position of power. It is also a position where you’re not just receiving delegations or people, but you also have to understand how to communicate with all these offices, representatives, and heads of state when they come to our city, or we’re preparing for delegation submissions to go to their city or countries.
This is a very interesting point. The protocol officer is often a woman in high society, which means that it’s a job that is not taken seriously by the business world. The ambassador is there to negotiate treaties and so forth. The ambassador’s wife is there to throw parties. The value of the connections you make outside the meeting rooms is why I asked you to be here. You know everybody. People don’t take that seriously.
You’re my first guest in years who has been in politics and recognizes the value of the connections that are outside the official “business things.” We’re talking about being a master connector. Going back to Charlotte Shultz who, in some ways, was an ambassador’s wife for the city of San Francisco and the state of California, after all, it is the sixth largest economy in the world.
It is the fourth-largest economy in the world.
I might have old information. With the functional equivalent of being the host ambassador, social connections don’t seem valuable enough. How can you describe to somebody who doesn’t get how important this is?
I would liken it to being the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Anyone from any country would understand the Minister for Foreign Affairs is a very important position. They’re the gatekeepers for the city or the country that they represent. They set the tone for any meeting they walk into with the foreign delegation, diplomat, or what have you.
It’s a very important position. Being the gatekeeper and knowing the gatekeeper is always important. It doesn’t matter what industry you are from or in. Sometimes, it makes or breaks a deal, an event, or a visit. For a simple visit, for example, if you don’t know who the gatekeeper is, you’re not going to get anything done.It doesn't matter what industry you are from or in, being the gatekeeper and knowing the gatekeeper is important. It makes or breaks a deal. Click To Tweet
It makes me think about many cultures around the world where connections are how you get things done. Sometimes, people look down on it. In some Western countries, it’s a very straightforward business, like, “What can we do for you?” There are many countries in the world where who you know is how you get something done.
It happens, for example, in many of the Asian cultures. China, naming one, is probably the first country where they appreciate guanxi. Guanxi is a relationship. Whom do you know that can help you gain access to a meeting with X, Y, and Z? It doesn’t matter who. Whether it be the CEO of a company, the chairman of a company, a party leader, a secretary, or whoever, it depends on whom you know.
Even in Japan, you cannot walk in the door of a corporation and say, “I want to have a meeting with so and so,” if you don’t know the protocols of the corporation. If you don’t know who the gatekeeper or the doorkeeper is, you can’t walk through the door. You won’t even be able to knock on the door, for that matter, if you don’t know the proper protocols and the people that you should be talking to.
Something very interesting is in Western culture, a secretary has no function other than being the assistant. In Asia, particularly in China, a party secretary is a very important person because a party secretary is a representative. Between a secretary and an EA, for example, or Executive Assistant, you have to know the difference. Every single culture uses different terms for different positions. Understanding protocols is very important.
As a master connector, you’ve been doing this. I read your bio earlier. Talking about all the things you’ve done internationally, mostly bringing trade to San Francisco and the state of California, how did you learn to make connections like that and think like a connector?
Primarily, I focused on foreign direct investment. It’s a lot more difficult than trade. Foreign direct investment means bringing the dollars to invest in our infrastructure, real estate, and all the different investment funds that we have for technology, for example. I learned at a very early age by watching my dad. My father passed away many years ago. I learned from watching him interact with people and knowing who to ask questions when he didn’t know something.
He had an open account with a restaurant so that whenever he had a delegation that happened to arrive in San Francisco, he could go to this restaurant and host a dinner. The chef would be able to put together this amazing, fabulous dinner whenever he called, knowing that he would be hosting these important people coming from out of town. I learned that my father did not trust anyone, but somehow, he trusted me because I was his daughter. He would take me to these meetings to be his interpreter or translator or to be there for him. He always brought me along, so I learned a lot watching and listening to those conversations.
We are in a very international business world. I’m going to ask you from two points of view. Let’s say you’ve got people from other countries on your team or as your new manager, for instance. What advice do you have for connecting outside the basic business relationship?
For my staff, it’s if they’re here and they’re meeting expats or what we would call expats.
Expats are expatriates are people who are living and working outside their home country.
For example, if they’re expats here, I would say, “Get to know them. Be their friend. Find out what they like doing. What are some of the hobbies and some of the activities that they would enjoy? Help them feel comfortable by not just engaging but by introducing them to friends who have similar or the same hobbies and interests so that they can expand their network.” It’s always helpful if you, as a connector, become their Google. I’ve been called a human Google because I can answer questions. I don’t know if I like that comparison but if I can always be a source of reference for them, that’s always nice that they feel comfortable enough also to always come to me for information.
When I was working at the San Francisco Opera and I was a lowly assistant, we always had singers from out of town. If you’re in any opera or a symphony, you’re not exciting if you’re local so the stars are always from out of town. Once I started traveling in the opera, I never worked at home because you weren’t exciting.
Food was always a great connector. I remember I wasn’t making very much money as the fourth assistant from the left backstage, so I lived in a very cheap apartment in the Outer Mission district of San Francisco. There was a little Chinese restaurant that had taken over a pizza parlor. An Italian pizza place had gone out of business. The Chinese restaurant moved in and said, “We’ve got a pizza oven. Let’s serve pizza.” They created a Chinese pizza. This was before Wolfgang Puck was doing his designer pizzas.
It was a basic pizza with dough and tomato sauce and then Chinese spring onions, Chinese mushrooms, pressed duck, barbecued pork, and so forth. The walls were lined with signed photos of celebrities. That was one of the places where we would take the out-of-towners as the hole-in-the-wall restaurant with no atmosphere that only the locals know.
I don’t even know about that restaurant. Is this still in operation?
It has long since been out of business, but it was at Mission and 30th. It’s a different part of town from where you lived. It was delicious. Being in a city or a country you don’t know, you’re always going to ask about an interesting restaurant. This is a more extensive version of that kind of connection. We were talking about this. I never thought, “This is something people do all the time.” Maybe you do it a little bit more intentionally if you want to be a valuable connector.
The work that I do is all about connecting and being a resource. Even starting with your point about food, I had taken some friends to meet with a delegation from Mexico at the Mexican consulate. The new deputy consulate said to me, “I’m new in town. Where should I go to eat? What are your favorite restaurants?” I started rattling them off and said, “Why don’t I send you a list?” He goes, “Please do.”
Another director of a trade office had met with me at a restaurant. We started talking about, “What are some other restaurants you want to go to? Let’s make a date and maybe invite some other people to join us at the other restaurant.” 1) It was a way to try new restaurants because everybody loves food, to your point. Food is very much an international language. We love to eat. 2) Expand the network that way so you can meet more people. You can achieve two goals at the same time.
The conversations you have over food or over lunch or dinner are not the conversations you have in the meeting room. That’s what creates the connections and makes the connection stronger. That’s when someone decides whether they like you or not, for instance.
It’s a more relaxed environment, so your guests or new friend feels more comfortable asking questions.
Out of curiosity, this was not on my planned list, but I’m thinking about restaurants and the thousands of places in most of my working life I’ve been traveling. Can that also be an opportunity if you are not someone in power to be closer to the centers of power by sitting near the VIPs?
Is it in terms of hosting an event or organizing an event?
No. I’m thinking about a restaurant where the social barriers are a little more relaxed. I thought of that. Indeed, that’s one of the ways that you can get to know the people you would not normally be introduced to.
This is one thing I do, and I started this a couple of years ago. China Live is one of the new hip Chinese restaurants in San Francisco. It’s a concept that is similar to that of Eataly. I don’t know if you know what the Eataly food concept is but Eataly was started by a very famous Italian chef, Batali. It started in New York. It was this food emporium that included counters and cafes with different Italian food concepts. There would be a pizzeria, a cheese counter, a fine dining area, and a candy shop, but it was all focused on Italian food.
China Live is very similar in that way. They have a fine dining restaurant called Eight Tables. They have a food hall where you walk in, and it’s like a food court, but it’s not a food court because you are served food. You have a server come to your table. They have an area where you can buy ingredients, condiments, and even toys for kids. You can buy a panda bear for your niece or nephew. They have different items that you would need for a Chinese kitchen.
They also have two separate bars. They have one pool bar on the second floor, which they call the Cold Drinks Bar. That’s named after a bar in China, in Shanghai. Downstairs, they have a regular bar where people hang out at. You can order wine from California out of barrels. It’s cool. I used to host there. I don’t know why I stopped. The pandemic made a huge difference. After they opened, I started hosting every single month a repack club.
What’s a repack club?
A repack club is for anybody who has ever been an expatriate in their life and has lived overseas. They come back to San Francisco in the Bay Area and are leaving home again. They’re coming back to the United States or have moved to the United States. We would invite them and say, “Please join the repack club.” We have over 100 people on our little list in our social media chat group. I would invite them. Every single month, I would see different groups of people who were able to make it and join us for two hours.
Those are people who had enjoyed living overseas and appreciated the opportunity to talk about it when maybe their next-door neighbor had never left or gone farther than 30 miles or something.
Most importantly, expats appreciate the camaraderie that you have being expatriates overseas. I’m sure you know that. It’s a different type of relationship. When you come back home, you bring it back. You’re as welcoming, open, and willing to spend time with a friend.
What’s your advice for somebody who gets transferred to another country? Maybe you’ve met people over Zoom, but you don’t know the ins and outs of the culture. You might think you’ve seen pictures of Japan, but then you go to Tokyo, and it’s different than the pictures.
The most important thing is to be curious. Ask questions. Do not pretend like you know anything and everything. The one thing is if you’re a foreigner in a new country, you are embraced when you don’t know anything, you’re asking questions, or you’re curious. As a host in a host country, the host is welcoming. They’re willing to share. They’ll invite you to things and teach you things. It’s important.Be curious. Ask questions. Click To Tweet
Especially when we’re talking about relationships, guanxi, and working in a foreign country, the more people you know, the easier it will be to get your job done. What better way to learn about a country than to ask questions? Be curious. You’ll find that you’ll be more welcomed than any other person you know on your team because you are curious and willing to learn and accept new experiences.
How does this affect politics when you’re in the political sphere? You did years in politics helping people think about that. Is it different from business? Is it the same? What are the differences? What are the similarities?
It is very similar in that you have to be sure you’re asking the right questions. You have to be careful who you bring to the table. For example, if you have a dinner party, you have to make sure you’re not inviting competing interests to the table.
That’s a competitor, someone who’s also running for the same office, for example.
You would not invite them if you’re putting together a dinner party at home, for example, or going to a new restaurant that you want to try in a new country. Even in business, you don’t want to invite 2 people from 2 companies that are going after the same target market or they’re 2 startups in the same space.
You don’t want to do that unless they have both said to you, “I want to meet someone from the other company.” That’s when you say, “I can set that up. Let’s get together for a drink or a meal.” You bring those two together. In this case, you have the relationships, so you scored because you were able to bring those two people together. Knowing the goal of whatever event you are setting up or attending and making sure you have the right people in that room or at the right table, it is very similar that way. You don’t want to upset anyone at the end of the day.
You mentioned a story about a gentleman who had lived in Hong Kong who liked the water and who learned how to be a surfer. Tell that story. That’s a great story of how you connect people.
I had a friend who moved from London. That’s his home base. He had somehow learned how to surf when he was living in Hong Kong. I said, “You learned how to surf?”
In Hong Kong, they have surfing?
I know there’s a lot of windsurfing, for sure. I believe windsurfing was a thing. At the end of the day, surfing also became a thing in Hong Kong.
It’s an island.
Macau Island, for sure. Coming to San Francisco, we have a lot of places to surf, but it is bloody cold. Also, you can’t go surfing unless you have a car. Unlike in Hong Kong, you can take a taxi cab everywhere. Over here, it does not make sense. When I heard that he wanted to go surfing but was being challenged, I thought, “I have a friend I can in introduce you to. A very good friend of mine, you can call him an expat, is Swiss. He had lived in China and Hong Kong before. He’s also a brand new surfer.” At this point, he has already been surfing for years, so not so new anymore, but he’s a surfer.
I said, “Why don’t I connect the two of you and see if you can figure out where you can surf together or what kind of tips you can learn from him to be a surfer and, more importantly, make a new friend?” I connected the two of them. They’re talking to each other. He’s learned some tips on how he can go surfing next, where he should be going surfing, and what he can do. I was able to make a new connection or connected people.
I’ve seen you work a room where somebody says, “I’m trying to put this deal together.” You go, “I know exactly who you need to talk to who can make this deal happen.” The one thing I want to finish with is there are people who say, “I hate networking.” Yet, the kind of connecting that you do, fundamentally, it’s networking. How can you reframe the horrible image of networking for people who hate networking events? How can you reframe that so that we can see that it’s a positive thing?
I look at it this way. For every single introvert out there, networking is a chore. You walk into a room and freeze. I learned from one politician. I said, “How do you do that?” If you want to do something better, you want to learn from the best. He said to me, “When I walk into a room, I set myself with a goal to get to know three people. As I get to know three people, I know their names and what they do. I walk away knowing these three people, and I’ve done my job for the day.” Take baby steps. You don’t have to walk into a room and work the room like it’s nobody’s business and walk out with 200 carts. If you walk into a room, whether it be by yourself or through introductions from friends you already know there, if you get to know three new people, you’ve already reached a goal.If you walk into a room and get to know three new people, you've already reached a goal. Click To Tweet
I’m fundamentally an introvert. I recharge by turning off all my devices and curling up with a book. I can be a situational extrovert because I love to connect. At a networking event also, notice the people who aren’t being talked to. I remember once, many years ago, I was on the board of a women’s business group, so we had monthly meetings. We had a speaker who was in from out of town. I was there. Everybody was talking, catching up with each other, and hearing the news. There was a woman over there who looked pretty familiar, standing all by herself. I looked at the brochure and said, “This is our guest speaker.”
I went over and introduced myself. I said, “Who would it be useful for you to know? If you’re only going to meet a couple of people, who would be useful?” I brought her over and introduced her to people who could be direct and useful connections. She’s been a friend of mine ever since. She has also gone on to do business with 2 of the 3 people that I introduced her to that day because I saw her standing in the corner looking a little lost.
I’ve been the guest speaker that nobody talks to, which doesn’t make you do a good presentation. I’ve been the person that everybody ignored. It’s not much fun. The other thing about networking is don’t think about how you are going to benefit but think about how you can serve others by connecting them to somebody.
That’s always a good deed. It is a good goal. You walk away feeling much better.
It takes away the pressure of thinking, “I have to get something done here.” If it’s not about you, it’s about them.
If you make it about them, it’ll be helping you later on down the road.
Don’t forget to ask. Hopefully, I’m going to say, “Whom do you need to meet?” You then already know who you want to meet. This is how I taught myself to love networking, not like somebody who was often hiding in the corner when I didn’t know anybody.
I do that too, believe it or not.
Darlene, I am so happy that you could join me. This was a very different interview but a useful one. I’m delighted that you came on to the show. Thank you. I’ll have you back.
Thank you so much for having me, Elizabeth. I was delighted to get the call, have the opportunity to share, and talk about networking, guanxi, and relationships.
If you had a good time, please tell your friends. Subscribe to us on YouTube, share the information on LinkedIn, and most importantly, do us a favor by giving us a good review and a subscription to Apple Podcasts. That’s the one that people pay attention to, so that’s the one that matters. I’ll see you on the next one.
- Global: So Future
- YouTube – Elizabeth Bachman, Strategic Speaking for Results
- Apple Podcasts – Speakers Who Get Results
About Darlene Chiu Bryant
Darlene Chiu Bryant is founder and executive director of GlobalSF, a global not for profit platform committed to bringing together key stakeholders in the public and private sectors to create sustainable economic growth for San Francisco and the Bay Area. Prior to founding GlobalSF, Darlene was appointed by the late San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee to head up ChinaSF, a public private partnership of the City of San Francisco; She oversaw efforts that brought in more than $5.1 billion in Foreign Direct Investment to San Francisco Bay Area.
Darlene has had a diverse career in both the public and private sectors. She has experience in the global supply and value chain working overseas in German, Japanese and Chinese multinational firms and in her native San Francisco where she brought her global experience to communications and public affairs roles for then Mayor Gavin Newsom, East West Bank, United Commercial Bank and Pacific Gas & Electric Company.
Darlene currently serves as board chair of the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation, president and founding boardmember of the Asian Pacific American Leadership Foundation and CALNET, founding advisory boardmember to the University of San Francisco Center for Business Studies and Innovation for the Asia Pacific, and boardmember of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. Her past community work has included serving as San Francisco Small Business Commissioner, serving on the boards of Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, Pacific Asian American Women Bay Area Coalition (PAAWBAC), and advisor to Community Youth Center in San Francisco.
Nominated one of the most influential women in Bay Area Business by the San Francisco Business Times in 2019, in 2015 Darlene was named the “Fixer” for Chinese Companies wanting to make hay in San Francisco in the San Francisco Magazine.
Follow Darlene’s So Future podcast at www.globalsf.biz