REALTORS® can make business contacts, develop friendships and learn about international business cultures by participating in a work exchange program like the one Caton Commercial Real Estate of Naperville participated in this summer.

Caton Commercial representatives opened themselves to those opportunities when they participated in the Shanghai Management Fellowship Program offered through WorldChicago. As a result, they hosted a Shanghai, China construction company manager from May 20 through July 12.

“I really liked my experience at Caton Commercial,” said Zhang Liankai, also known by the American name of “Kingston.” “It was hard-won and a very memorable experience. Not only did I learn something very useful, but I formed a lasting friendship. Through Caton Commercial, I developed a deeper appreciation of American local conditions and customs, and I was able to share stories about China’s culture and customs, too.”

Caton Commercial CEO Bill Caton said, “Kingston‘s job exchange was an educational process in the cultural and business world of China. This experience has awakened my curiosity and my desire to explore China to learn more about its people and for future business opportunities. Having a friend in China has moved this country to the top of my future travel list.”

No stranger to international business, Caton Commercial has sent representatives to the annual MIPIM conference in Cannes, France on multiple occasions. MIPIM attracts more than 26,000 people, including top decision-makers on development projects ranging from apartment buildings to portions of cities. Caton representatives helped market the state of Illinois and the REALTOR® brand to potential international clients.

“While we pride ourselves in having a global focus at Caton, the exchange program provided us with an even broader world view and a window into our guest’s culture and society,” said Caton Chief Operating Officer Amy Hall, who worked extensively with Kingston. “In addition to business best practices, we learned about things such as the Chinese emphasis on the importance of family and how he and his family spend their leisure time.”

Learning from each other

Kingston’s company, the Shanghai Infrastructure Construction and Development Co., Ltd., (STEC) focuses on large infrastructure construction projects – building tunnels, railroads, highways and bridges – as well as urban development. Both STEC and Caton aimed to learn each other’s best practices and how to facilitate business in each other’s countries.

Kingston attended meetings with Hall and learned how she worked in different situations, whether they shadowed brokers or analyzed project budgets. In the process of recapping the conversations Kingston had with Caton representatives through email messages, Hall learned how difficult it is to translate some of the English language. Kingston was exposed to several different networking opportunities and cultural outings as well. “It was important that he experienced not only American business life, but how we build relationships and how we enjoy our free time,” she said.

Although many companies in China are state-owned, real estate brokers in Shanghai don’t have to be licensed as they are in the United States, she said, and most real estate companies there have employer-employee relationships rather than using independent contractors. In recent years, government oversight of the real estate industry has been enhanced, and there has been more attention to professional standards for those in the industry.

When it comes to rental properties in Shanghai, says Hall, services offered to tenants, such as childcare, senior care and banking are highly valued in addition to location.

Sharing personal stories helps

Kingston and Hall bonded over their mutual interest in food. He ate many meals with Hall and her colleagues, whether at the Caton offices in Naperville or Chicago or somewhere in between. “We both enjoy foods from other cultures,” says Hall. “He says he has a world stomach.”

Kingston enjoys gardening and grows indoor plants in the condominium that he shares with his wife and teenage daughter. One of the first cultural outings that Kingston and three other Shanghai work exchange participants attended with Hall was to the Morton Arboretum.

In addition to supporting their daughter’s interest in music, Kingston and his wife emphasize the importance of her education. They want her to attend a university either in China or abroad.

In general, Hall says she learned that in many Chinese families, both parents work in order to provide educational opportunities for their children. Sports and extracurricular activities take a backseat to school endeavors and are not as prominent in the lives of children in China as in the United States.

Although differences in culture, customs and personalities can form obstacles between Americans and Chinese, he said, professional service and mutual trust can bridge some of those gaps. The more Americans get to know the Chinese people and their customs, the more they will be impressed with their warmth and friendliness.

“Kingston was incredibly open and willing to share about how business is conducted in China,” Hall said. “Even though he sometimes experienced a language barrier, he actively sought out solutions. He was very curious. If he didn’t understand something, he asked a lot of questions.

“This experience just reinforced my belief that we, regardless of heritage or origin, are more similar than we are different,” Hall said. “The experience definitely put Shanghai on my bucket list.”