UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Joy Huang bridges the culture divide for U.S. and Chinese executives


Joy Huang
When American executives need help preparing for negotiations in a Beijing boardroom or Chinese managers are seek advice on how to best introduce products to the U.S. market, they turn to international management consultant Joy Huang (MBA ’99).

Since founding Connect East in 2008, Huang has bridged the cultural divide between China and the U.S. one executive at a time. Through hands-on intercultural training and personalized coaching, she gives the leaders of Global 2000 companies the skills they need to navigate the profitable but complicated world of U.S.-China business relations.

Huang’s clients on both sides of the Pacific have used this improved cultural competency to boost the performance of their global operations in supplier relations, product development, negotiations, talent management and cross-cultural teams.

“When I started this business I was motivated by my personal experience of coming here as a foreign student and starting work as a foreign professional. There were a lot of unknowns and mistakes I made that I wish someone had warned me about,” said Huang, who moved from China to the United States to pursue her MBA at UNC Kenan-Flagler. “I wanted to do something to help others be more successful.”

Initially Huang focused on targeting Chinese companies, which she saw were in dire need of help understanding the United States as a country, a culture and a way of doing business during their recent rapid growth. But Connect East ran into its own cultural obstacles as consulting and executive coaching were relatively new concepts in China and managers remained skeptical about their benefits.

As a result, Huang adjusted her business model and reached out to the Western contacts she had developed during her time in the corporate world, where she spent more than a decade in the telecom and technology industries managing global partner relations, product marketing and strategic planning.

As her portfolio grew, so did Chinese companies’ appreciation for her services. Connect East’s current client list is now evenly split between East and West and includes a wide variety of organizations, ranging from government agencies to biotech companies.

“I’ve learned that as an entrepreneur you really have to feel out your way as you go. You’ll never have all the answers,” said Huang. “If I had waited until I did, I would never have started anything. It takes courage and guts, but you’ll learn to adapt along the way.”

Huang credits UNC Kenan-Flagler’s well-rounded curriculum, which combines core business skills with personalized concentrations, with her ready-for-anything approach to entrepreneurship.

“From marketing to finance, I got to know a little bit of everything about business at Kenan-Flagler, and that’s necessary when you own your own company,” she said. “I left with the foundational knowledge I needed to get almost anything done.”

For today’s MBA students, Huang believes that foundational knowledge also includes a basic understanding of the world beyond the U.S. borders.

Through the Global Business Center and the MBA Program, she readies the UNC Kenan-Flagler community – as well as working professionals and educators –to engage with one of the leading players in the global market. From teaching in the new Business Communication Across Cultures certificate program to webinars on how to work effectively with China to briefing students before they head out on study trips, Huang gives the UNC Kenan-Flagler community access to the same cultural training that is driving success for her Global 2000 clients.

“Business today is global. No matter what industry they work in, everyone will need to have some understanding of the world in order to be successful,” said Huang. “It’s imperative that students to learn to understand other cultures, as well as their own.”

Whether she’s training a MBA student or an executive, Huang strives to offer practical solutions that address specific business challenges, while creating a broader cultural framework for future professional and personal use.

“A foreigner will probably never know everything about the Chinese culture or behave exactly like a Chinese person, but that’s not the point. The most important thing is to learn to respect and collaborate with people who think and work differently.”