Photo Caption: My relationship with Zhong evolved into a friendship. This photo shows her with my kids (Diego and Pilar) in their younger days during a day trip to San Francisco.
I had the good fortune of calling The Hoffman Agency my employer for more than 16 years, beginning my journey back in 1992. Having joined when the Agency had just a handful of employees, being on board through those early years to experience the U.S. growth, and later international expansion, proved to be an exciting ride.
Recruitment was one of my priorities at a time when we were in hot pursuit of candidates with international PR experience, particularly in Asia. One day I received an application letter from Zhong Li, a young Chinese woman who was just finishing up a graduate program at a small university in Maine. Although Zhong’s background didn’t include tech PR, her China roots and solid PR experience working for a food packaging company (Tetra Pak) in China caught my attention as a potential job candidate.
At first glance, Lou didn’t see Zhong’s potential. Undeterred, I made the case to Lou that he had absolutely nothing to lose in at least having a conversation with Zhong. Although she didn’t have the tech PR experience we normally looked for, she did have some good practical PR experience in other industries. Plus, the fact that she was born, raised and worked in China before earning a master’s degree in communications from a U.S. university gave her a unique foundation for bridging East with West.
Lou eventually agreed.
A few phone interviews and glowing reference calls later, Zhong was on a flight to San Jose, unaware of the official and “unofficial” adventure that awaited her.
I will always remember making Zhong’s travel arrangements to move out to San Jose. She asked me to reserve her a rental car at the airport. Seemed reasonable, and I did so not asking about her driving experience. While standing in line to get the car, I asked her, “How long have you been driving?” She replied, “10 hours.” Only 10 hours? I couldn’t believe that she could measure her driving experience in hours. Somehow she followed me out of the airport parking lot and back to the office in downtown San Jose. Later that day, I needed to take Zhong to her hotel in Los Gatos, and she wanted to drive. I hopped into the passenger seat, buckled up, and set off on one of the most harrowing car rides of my life. I clearly wasn’t thinking when I decided to take her on the freeway during evening rush hour. At one point, I actually thought to myself, “Who is going to take care of my kids when I die in this car today.”
I did survive and so did Zhong. After several months of absorbing our culture and supporting U.S. technology accounts, Zhong relocated to Beijing to open the Agency’s first office in China.
While I never traveled to Asia, it’s fun knowing I had a small part in the Agency’s expansion into China.