HUANG Hongzi - Portrait of a Cultural Mediator

Ms HUANG at an alumni meeting
Ms HUANG at an alumni meeting © HUANG

President of the Deutscher Medien Verlag for the China region, and of the and diribo platforms

HUANG Hongzi is president of the Deutscher Medien Verlag for the China region, which operates and diribo, two globally active B2B platforms specifically for industrial companies and their service providers. Ms HUANG’s responsibilities include promoting trade and technology cooperation between Chinese and European sensor companies. HUANG Hongzi also sees herself as a cultural ambassador, and has made it her objective to promote cultural exchange between Germany and China. This involves her regularly sharing information about projects in Germany via her Chinese TikTok and WeChat social media channels – and she has a major reach! Her channels ‘A Zi in Germany’ and ‘Sister Bobei’currently have over 200,000 followers.

Ms HUANG, you attended the Chinese-German University of Applied Sciences (CDHAW) at Tongji University, and acquired a German-Chinese joint honours degree. As a graduate of the ‘best practice model’ of German-Chinese education, can you please share your experience?

This programme has given me so much that I probably won't even manage to remember it all. I’d like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for the implementation of this wonderful programme. I really appreciate the stimulation I received from many well-known lecturers; my particular thanks go to the dean, Professor FENG Xiao, who always stood by me with advice and support even after my graduation. I'm also indebted to my fellow students for their help and positive influence, as well as the strong network that keeps us connected despite living all over the world. I always feel that this gives me the strength to pursue my work, and to constantly continue on my path.

My study experience in Germany was extremely valuable for me, and it has strongly influenced the course of my life. I got to know many industrial companies when I came to Germany after graduating. I gained my first insight into global B2B industry platforms at that time, and that sparked my interest. In the end, so much so that when the sensor platform diribo was acquired by the Deutscher Medien Verlag, I even invested and became a shareholder in diribo GmbH.

The German language skills I learned during my studies, the specialist knowledge, and the German way of thinking still benefit me today. Using a variety of communication tools, a solid professional foundation, the habit of prioritising, and the ability to learn quickly are the cornerstones of my approach that I learned there. The sensor industry is new territory for me. But I was confident that I could quickly familiarise myself with this new industry thanks to the skills I’ve just mentioned. Every time life presents me with challenges, I think back to my student days, and recalling them gives me confidence.

What was your most interesting experience in Germany?

As an amateur badminton player, I achieved first place in the south-west Germany women's singles competition, and I won it against a national player. This news was even published in the newspaper. What a highlight!

When you now think back to your time abroad, are there any situations that particularly shaped you?

I remember two things. Firstly, always create a plan. As an intern, I was assigned by colleagues to ‘make a plan for plans’. I was initially quite surprised that you need to write a plan for further plans. Both in an internship and in professional life, you always first have to set an objective, then divide it into further sub-objectives and smaller tasks, plan these well in turn, and thereby create a working basis. After initial difficulties, however, this has now become my habit. Even though something unexpected can often happen that leads to a change of plan, good plans make working more efficient and relaxed.

Secondly, details, details, details. (She laughs). The font size for the same level of a PowerPoint presentation should always be uniform. The position of the headings should be aligned, and so on.

Each company has its own standard specifications for keywords. The first time I had to produce a PowerPoint presentation, I didn't pay too much attention to the position of the headings, for example. My supervisor then gave me a short introduction. At the time I was surprised that my boss took this so seriously. But I later realised that this attention to detail helped us win the respect of customers. Clients told us that they had chosen to work with us because of our professionalism and this level of care. This taught me that diligence in the implementation of projects reduces the error rate, and is the key to success.

What was it like for you as a woman to study in a male-dominated subject? What is your recipe for success?

I wasn’t aware during my studies that this was a male-dominated subject, in principle I had other concerns.

I don’t have any precise definition of success, I can only tell you what helped me personally: I always try to keep physically and mentally active. I spend more than five hours playing sports every week! Even on business trips I ensure that I play badminton, or go to a fitness studio, no matter how full my diary might be. Especially when I'm on a business trip, I feel like I'm working around the clock: I write reports at night, and have to attend one meeting after another during the day, which can be very exhausting. But my physical and mental strength helps me a lot with successfully surviving such stressful phases. People who try to do too many things at once also become exhausted more quickly. But if you focus on just one task, then you’re not only more efficient – your work is of a higher quality.

How did your career develop after your scholarship? Did your stay in Germany inspire you?

Collaborating with Chinese and German companies is an important part of my work. The work processes can become complex, especially in industrial projects. There are also major differences in mindset, business habits, and behavioural patterns. This means that I have to resolve any (cultural) misunderstandings that have arisen, find the common interests on both sides, and thus move the project forward.

Having studied and worked in Germany, I experienced lots of things that were previously unknown to me in China. Now I have an idea of how Germans actually think.

They like to determine their working hours in advance, and only change them under special circumstances. German employees don’t want to be disturbed on holiday. You have to wait until they return from holiday if there are any issues or problems.

I can appropriately understand both sides when supervising a project, and can therefore help everyone better understand the other side. I frequently anticipate emerging difficulties, and can suggest solutions.

What advice would you give to aspiring women?

Aspiring women don’t need any advice from me. (She laughs warmly). I can only say that looking back I am grateful for three things.

Firstly, try out new things and working methods, and develop a love for challenges.

Industrystock and diribo are two platforms that I set up as managing director to operate in China. My team and I conducted some market analysis, and then decided to develop a different advertising and business model for China than for other countries. A new model involves certain risks, and we repeatedly had to discard certain approaches. We were fortunately able to solve the worst problems so that both platforms are now growing steadily, and even exceeding our head office’s expectations.

The same applies to my social media channels. As I tracked the rapid development of TikTok in China in 2020, I really wanted to jump on the bandwagon. My German colleagues weren’t very optimistic that TikTok could be conducive to business development. This app was only seen as an entertainment platform in Germany at that time. I was able to persuade them, despite their concerns: you just have to take the first courageous step, and keep learning along the way. We have in the meantime met many knowledgeable people via TikTok, including many entrepreneurs, and we’ve implemented some interesting projects.

I also have to thank my boss, who gave me a lot of freedom. One of his sayings still impresses me: ‘We don’t know the Chinese market. Just go for it. Daring to undertake something new can't be seen as failure, since there is nothing for comparison.’

Secondly, I insist on keeping a diary and writing articles. I write down everything that happens to me, and often reflect where I could have been better. This output is also my most important input. Writing is therefore a process of re-evaluation and reflection for me.

Thirdly, find something that you love and commit yourself to it. If you focus on one thing and seriously strive for it, inspiration will come naturally – and the right partners.

‘If you can dream – and not make dreams your master; if you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance running, yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.’ Paraphrased from Rudyard Kipling’s poem If–

Thank you so much for your candour, and I wish you continued success and stamina!

The series of portraits of leading women in the Chinese-German alumni network and in the DAAD was originally published on the DAAD China website.

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