East meets west: Attorney unites Chinese, U.S. businesses

prev
next

 By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

 

Trade and business between China and the U.S. is huge—as are the challenges of overcoming language and cultural differences. Evonne Xu, an attorney licensed in both China and the U.S., can successfully bridge that gap. 

“Growing up in China and speaking native Chinese while at the same time fully appreciating American business, I understand both cultures,” says Xu, a member of the Corporate Advisory Services Practice Group at Howard & Howard in Royal Oak. 

In one case Xu worked on, a U.S. client almost had its entire plant shut down in China because of a small neglect resulting from inefficient daily communication and unfamiliarity with Chinese law. In another case, a Chinese client would not move forward with American partners because he felt they still had not considered him a personal friend. 

“Those are the obstacles where I could be of value and help bridge the cultural gap,” Xu says. “I was able to help our American client more thoroughly understand the Chinese laws to eventually solve their problems and avoid the shutdown. I also helped our Chinese client understand the different business culture and develop the trust and faith needed to successfully move forward with his American partner.” 

According to Xu, most Chinese companies are not as litigation-orientated as their U.S. counterparts, and tend to work out problems in person in an effort to maintain the harmony in every relationship. This sometimes results in Chinese companies not realizing the importance of involving an attorney in the early stages of an international business transaction. 

Xu recalls a negotiation in which a U.S. client had three attorneys by their side while the Chinese side brought seven executives to the table but no attorney. 

“They assumed it was to be a friendly business discussion and that having an attorney would cause tension in the discussion and break the harmony—in reality, this could have negatively impacted the negotiation,” she says. 

While Chinese companies are used to doing business through personal relationships and building trust by way of numerous face-to-face meetings, American companies usually move directly to the point and tend to keep the relationships business-focused, Xu notes. 

“Chinese companies often do not understand the legal system here in the United States very well and it usually requires a lot of educational efforts to teach them how businesses and the law operate. From an American companies’ perspective, they tend to think Chinese companies do not know what they want and can be difficult to do business with,” she explains. “With more Chinese companies stepping into the global market and gaining a better understanding of the western approach, as well as the American companies growing appreciation of the Chinese business culture, I believe the gap and challenges will only narrow over time.”

As each other’s second largest trading partner, the U.S. and China relationship is indispensable and will only grow over time, she notes. And Michigan has been making significant efforts to make the business environment favorable and attractive to Chinese businesses. 

“I’m excited to be a part of it and hope to contribute more of my efforts to U.S.-China cross-border transactions,” she says. “The investment of Chinese companies into the United States is still relatively small but we will only see it grow over the next several decades. The Chinese market will continue to become more attractive to U.S. companies because of its reputation as the largest exporter and second largest importer of goods in the world.”

Xu, who concentrates her practice in the areas of automotive, manufacturing, technology and international law, also works with domestic and international general corporate issues and provides legal opinions for tax matters.

Tax is a familiar topic to her, as she grew up watching her parents work for China’s equivalent of the IRS, dealing with business people from the tax law enforcement side. 

“They pursued people who tried to evade or defraud their tax payments, but also spent a lot of time explaining the new regulations and incentives to business people to help them achieve their future goals,” she says. “China was in a rebuilding phase which created many legendary entrepreneurs. I was fascinated by how business people used all of these great new incentives along with their talents to grow their business empires from scratch.”

Interested in learning how the Chinese laws helped many people achieve their business goals, Xu read stories about the American Dream, wanting to learn how the United States defines its laws and creates these successes. Interested in pursuing a career with a global setting and opportunities to do business internationally, international law seemed an ideal niche. 

“I enjoy listening to people’s ideas, understanding their business and learning their strengths and weaknesses,” she says. “I enjoy helping our clients grow, watching out for them, and providing advice for their success.”

Licensed to practice in Michigan and New York as well as in the People’s Republic of China, in July Xu was named among100 early- to mid-career minority attorneys under 40 from the Midwest Region to the inaugural Hot List from Lawyers of Color (LOC).

It’s been a wonderful career journey for this high school science major who earned her LL.B. from Shanghai University School of Law in 2011 where she received the Outstanding Graduate Award; and her LL.M., cum laude, from Fordham University School of Law in 2012.

As a law student, she clerked in the People’s Court in Ningbo, China. 

“The experience exposed me to many things that I could never learn from a textbook, such as how judges usually form their opinions and the criminal procedures in practice,” she says. 

She worked as in-house counsel at Shanda, a major Internet company in Shanghai, whose owner at one time topped the list of China’s richest people. 

“He created a great working environment and corporate culture for his employees and was a great leader with a long-term vision,” Xu says.

There were a lot of copyright issues for Shanda’s Internet writers and game programmers that were all very new in China. 

“We fought hard to protect our writers and programmers and we achieved a lot of historical success,” Xu says. “Even though it seemed like a very small step in copyright protection history as a whole, being a part of it made me feel very proud and taught me to never stop fighting for justice on behalf of people.”

Xu grew up in the small town of Xiangshan in Ningbo City, Zhejiang Province, a four-hour drive from Shanghai and located on the east coast of China. 

“My hometown has beautiful beaches and mountains and it has the most delicious seafood in the world,” she says.

She says she is blessed to have a very loving and supportive family, and parents who always did their best to provide her with a great education. 

“They also taught me to be a good person with a great heart. They helped me understand that inner beauty is always the most important thing for a female and never let me feel inferior in a male-dominated society,” she says. “They are my moral standard and they are my best friends. I’m very proud to be their daughter.”

Xu currently makes her home in Troy, and in her leisure time is learning to golf, fish and ski.  With a strong passion for music and art—and experience playing keyboard in her school band in China—she enjoys orchestras, operas, concerts, and exhibitions.

Community involvement is very important to Xu.  A board member for the Detroit Chinese Engineers Association, she and her fellow board members have established a Student Council this year which aims to provide career support for youth. 

“I understand the hardship and struggle as an international student and I hope we can provide our young talents with the platform to succeed,” she says. “I’m also fascinated with the revitalization efforts in Detroit and I’m looking forward to getting more involved.”