By Hou Wenwen ( Chinese); Translation/ adaptation by Blair Zhou & Lilian Shen
Photo curtesy: Dr Jeannie Yi & Lu Shijie
What do Chengdu and NewYork have in common? What are the cultural similarities and differences between the two cities? Two Chengdu natives now living in New York-a senior president and a young talent on Wall Street-have their representative answers.
Dr. Jeannie Yi Founder & Chairman of CG Group
In 1985, Dr Yi was awarded a 5-year university scholarship from Washington University in St Louis, Beijing University’s sister university in America and Dr Yi was then one of the youngest faculty members teaching English at Beijing University, Dr Yi left China for America. T. S. Elliot, the most influential poet in 20th Century was a great inspiration to Yi, and to be able to study for her PhD in American Literature from the same school where T.S. Elliot studied and graduated was a dream come true! However, after obtaining her PhD, Dr Yi changed her career path to work for a financial executive search firm-Sullivan. She decided to apply her writing and rhetorical skills in “Star making” , ie, recruiting super talents for Wall Street firms in their initiative in building up Star teams for the newly booming Asian markets. In 1995, after three years of outstanding performance and having signed up 7 large contracts with 7 top Wall Street investment banks, Dr Yi was promoted to be the company’s first foreign and female vice president. On Sept 11, 2001, Dr Yi lost her office in World Trade Center Attack. In Feb 2002, after three best sellers on life on Wall Street and with the support of Citi Bank and Goldman Sachs’ 4-million dollar recruiting/management consulting budget, Dr Yi set up CGGroup to provide international recruitment and solutions services to Chinese and US global firms. In 2015, Dr Yi added media and PR services to CGGroup platform.
New York’s today is Chengdu’s tomorrow
When we contacted Dr. Jeannie Yi in New York and told her that we would launch a tale of two cities of Chengdu and New York during the opening of New York -Chengdu direct flight, she said it is a coincidence that her next book happens to be on the similar topic: A Tale of Two Cities: New York and Chengdu and the Ocean in Between. Most of her life was spent in the two cities. For her, “Chengdu is the birthplace, and New York is a place for her to be reborn.” She told the reporter, “Chengdu is at its best in economic development, and it is sometimes hard for Chengdu folks to see how fast the city is growing. Why? Chengdu people are so used to live leisurely on the land of abundance and leisure. Each time I flew back to Chengdu, I saw from the air how big the city has grown, it’s like a bird turning into a giant eagle. “ Dr Yi stressed that Chengdu people must look at the similarities of the two cities, ie, the immigration history and the innovative genes shared by New York and Chengdu in the past 350 years. Three hundred fifty years ago, New York was newly discovered and the immigrants from England and European countries swarmed into the city for a new life; three hundred and fifty years ago, Chengdu was wiped out in a war and the city was prowled by tigers and wolves until population from Hunan and Guangzhou were relocated to the city or 湖广填四川。That is one of the keys to success: diversity. New York’s today is Chengdu’s tomorrow. ”
The image of Leonardo DiCaprio in the” Wolf of Wall Street ” is in line with the public image of the Wall Street elite. To succeed in the world financial center, a world of white men in suits and ties, seems hard to imagine for an Asian woman, a Doctor in Literature, with no financial background. It was simply unimaginable. Dr Yi made it happen.
Jeannie Yi, her Chinese name -Jinsheng Yi- tells the origin of her birthplace: Jin stands for Jin River, which is the mother river of Chengdu. She was born and raised on the river bank of Jinjiang where poets and silk-making thrived for centuries.
The day after she arrived at Washington University, she took the school’s special orientsal program of traveling around America for 7days by Greyhound for 19 dollars and visited New York and Disney. Yi immediately fell in love at the first sight with both Disney and New York. To her, New York is reality, Disney is fairy tale. Both are important. “Looking at Wall Street – the heartbeat of New York’s most dynamic and impactful money land, I told myself that this is the place I will work and go to Disney for vacation.”
After she graduated from Washington University, Dr Yi started looking for jobs on Wall Street. It was not easy. One day when she was leafing through The New York Times, a job advertised by Sullivan Consulting Group, one of the top HR firms in the United States, next to Russel Reynolds and Conferry., attracted her. The company was looking for a candidate with a degree from a business school; a minimum of three years of financial or banking experience; and could open the financial market of Hong Kong and Asia.
Her resume did not meet the requirements of the job specification, Jeannie still sent her resume over to the company. She called the company so many times that once the company’s receptionists heard her voice, they came up with a variety of reasons to decline an answer or a meeting.
Finally, Yi worked up her courage asking to speak directly to Mr Don Valely, President of Sullivan. On the phone, in one breath she said the following: “ I know I don’t have a business degree, nor any experience in the financial industry, but I have a Ph.D. in literature, that means I can learn, and the ability to learn is very important. I also believe that literature holds many keys to many human problems. Where there is a problem, there is a solution. Moreover, I am a woman and a minority in this country, and I have come across many difficulties. None of the difficulties stopped me and made me give up my dream. They only made me stronger. With the diverse cultures and background I bring along, I believe I could be an asset to your firm, only if you could give me a chance. If you are worried about the cost, don’t pay me. Pay me until I prove myself. ” Moved by her words, Don asked Yi for an interview.
After seven interviews, Yi stood out from hundreds of applicants and was hired.
It is almost an mission impossible for an Asian woman with a PhD degree in Literature to enter Wall Street. Jeannie Yi made it possible. In under three years, she became the first foreign female vice president in the company and her salary was high six figures. 2/3 of Wall Street talents were on her database.
On September 11, 2001, Dr Yi witnessed her office in World Trade Center fell in the smoke, and 11 colleagues who worked day in day out with Dr Yi went down with the tower. “Seemingly sturdy construction could be gone in a minute, I asked myself: what really matters? Maybe, recording history is equally important as making it. “ She resigned and started writing. In the following one and half years Yi wrote three books introducing Wall Street concepts to China that was opening up. The three books are – “Wall Street Challenge” , “Case Study of Wall Street Office Politics ” and “Walk into Wall Street: Financial English “. At meantime, she had two columns simultaneously and respectively on China Daily and China Press – From Schools to Jobs and From Rags to Riches. In addition, Yi co-authored an English book”The Haire Way” – the first such book about a Chinese business corporation and the making of a global leader. Haire is China’s refrigerator giant and remains to be number one brand of China. The book soon was recommended by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to American CEOs going to China to do business. The book was selected by Harvard Business School as China’s first case study, and the book rights were sold in three days to Korea, Japan and Germany. Jack Welch of GE recommended the book to Wall Street Journal; Forbes and New York Times also had favourite reviews. For the following 12 years, The Haier Way was sold extremely well on Amazon.com and was highly respected by world business leaders and entrepreneurs till today.
Dr Yi was invited by People’s Daily to address the relationship between super talents and super power
In the spring of 2002, with the support of Citibank and Goldman Sachs, Dr Yi established CG Group to recruit, train and recommend super talents who could open market where there is none to multinational banks and corporations in the wave of globalisation. At the same, she was enrolled in a training program- OPM at Harvard Business School for “re-charge”. The training focused on brand building and networking.
Building a financial bridge between Chengdu and New York
For thirty-two years living abroad, there were two cities that have always resided in Dr. Yi’s heart: New York and Chengdu, although her business took her to Hong Hong, Singapore, Japan, Dubai, Australia, Canada and many cities of China. In 2004, she was hired as one of the first six super talent introduction consultants of Sichuan Province, a province with 100 million plus population, and to today she has been in the position for 13 years. For years, Yi never missed any session of Western China International Expo, the second largest trade fair in China next to Guangzhou Trade Expo; and over the years she had brought more than 100 American companies’ representatives to Sichuan, and had introduced to Sichuan and Chengdu a total investment of more than 10 billion yuan. For all of this, in 2011, Dr Yi was elected by popular votes of Chengdu to be Chengdu’s “pride and joy” 你是我的骄傲, sharing the stage with Sichuan tycoons.
Dr Yi -the first on the right sharing the stage with Liu Yonghao, Liu Hanyuan, Cao Shiru, Wang Huiyao
Dr Yi with Jack Welsh and his wife Suzan in Chengdu Airport, 2014
Dr Yi as interpreter for Jack Welch for his address to 1000 Sichuan CEOs
Dr Yi with Mayor Bloomberg of New York and Mayor Ge Honglin of Chengdu in 2004
As the vice president of the Chengdu Overseas Friendship Association, Dr Yi cannot count how many Chengdu folks she had received from Chengdu when they visited New York. In her cell phone, there are more than 10 Chengdu promotional videos and city promotion PowerPoints. In New York’s political and business gatherings, she would often take out the Chengdu promotional films to play and recommend the city to her American friends, who called her “ambassador of Chengdu doing good will hunting anywhere any time.”
In May 2016, Chengdu’s first Global Innovation and Entrepreneur Summit Conference was to be held. Before the conference, Dr. Yi carefully reviewed the achievements of Chengdu’s innovation and entrepreneurship in recent years and produced with her team a Chengdu brochure from an American angel. After several rounds of lobby, she finally brought Danny Kadishson, director of New York Economic Development Department of New York Mayor’s office to the conference. She accompanied Danny throughout the conference and improved Dan’s assessment of Chengdu’s overall competitive edge. After Danny’s trip in Chengdu, two things immediately followed and sped up: Chengdu and New York’s direct flight route, and a Chengdu High Tech enterprise was selected by New York’s 1 billion technology incubation fund.
Without Dr Yi’s relentless efforts, Danny Kadishson would not have visited Chengdu. If Danny Kadishson hadn’t come to Chengdu to attend the mayors’ conference and assessed Chengdu’s IT and innovative spirit and strong infrastructure, there would not have had the direct flight so soon between Chengdu and New York! Without direct flight, any in-depth talks on bilateral tourism and sister city program as well as dual market penetration, would be difficult.
Dr. Jeannie Yi with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney participated in the appreciation dinner of Chengdu-New York direct flight route opening ceremony.
Dr. Jeannie Yi with Rebecca Fannin, a senior reporter of Forbes, took part in and reported New York-Chengdu first flight celebration dinner by HNA
Afterward, Yi promoted a possible collaborative fund project of Black Rock, the world’s largest Asset Management Company of 5 trillion and Chengdu Xingcheng investment group, Chengdu’s investment arm, in the collaborative construction of the largest Chengdu city project- Chengdu Center. Following it, Yi assisted Xingcheng Group to engage in a potential investment project in Cuba’s tourism industry.
“It’s been a busy year, 2017,” said Dr Yi, “and rewarding.”
To end the year, in the month of December Dr Yi hosted 4 Food PR events in New York City on behalf of Chengdu Tourism to celebrate the direct flight. On Dec 5, a Chengdu Tourism-New York experience center opened inside a well known Chengdu restaurant called New Legend in Soho to showcase Chengdu food. UNASCO has named Chengdu the city of gastronomy 联合国命名的美食之都. It is Chengdu’s hope that the experience center will provide New Yorkers the first hand taste of Chengdu and fall in love with the city afterward. “It can be predicted that the Chengdu-New York direct route is bound to be a route on the tongues,” said Dr Yi. The center will hold various exhibitions all year long. “If Silicon Valley is regarded the world’s IT innovative center, New York is absolutely market innovative center- any product could be sold in New York, include Chengdu hot peppers.”
the opening of Chengdu Tourism-New York Experience Center
As a daughter of Chengdu, and also a senior business executive, who has worked for nearly 25 years for Wall Street and US global companies, Dr.Yi has never stopped making efforts to build a financial bridge between Chengdu and New York.
“When I retire, my daughter will continue the good work. And they must learn how to tell our story. This is the Chinese spirit- passing on the torch. “
Q= Chengu Culture A= Dr. Jeannie Yi
Q： In your opinion, what are the similarities between Chengdu and New York?
A： The biggest advantage of Chengdu is its open mindedness , people from all over the world can find a space to live a life and work in peace in Chengdu. This is the same as New York, known as the “Big Apple”. The two cities are capitals of vitality full of immigrants, and that is the biggest similarity between the two. Anyone can make a living in the two cities that are totally open to the different cultures and thrive on diversity.
Q：What do you think of the similarities and differences between the two cities in temperament and style?
A : There are unique stories in every street and every alley of the two cities, unique to the city , yet all the stories have one thing in common: humanity. In the financial sector, New York is the world capital; but Chengdu invented the world’s oldest banknotes– Paper-money(交子).