The story appears on

Page C3

December 2, 2009

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » People

Mr networking whiz once a shy and awkward guy

ONE of the lures of living abroad is the chance to shed old identities and discover new talents. Alex Griffiths, a formerly shy kid from rural England, has blossomed in Shanghai into a social expert, even earning the nickname "the networking guy."

Growing up in Shropshire, Griffiths remembers he used to be so afraid of visiting strangers that he would escape through the window to avoid talking to them.

Now he runs a blog and consulting business about how to clink glasses and make small talk at cocktail parties, meeting strangers and turning them into friends or business partners.

"We are all networking all the time, and it can bring you everything from business, to friends, to love," he says.

He says it is a skill particularly relevant to Shanghai - attested to by the plethora of networking events every night. Shanghai is where businesses and entrepreneurs congregate, and where people come and go - "Shanghai is one big departure lounge."

The best way to find opportunities of all kinds is through meeting many different people. This is especially the case in the bigger Chinese context where guanxi is important.


"Back home people have networks already, it's not as important. Here foreigners especially have no support system and need to integrate and feel at home. Also support networks can evaporate at any time, so you need to keep doing networking."

But meeting a roomful of strangers is daunting for most people. Despite intentions and efforts, not many do it well.

By studying the art of networking, Griffiths has "scratched an itch people didn't know they had."

Griffiths' transformation started when he took a sales job on arriving in Shanghai four years ago. It required him to meet lots of new people and go to lots of events.

After two years he started a blog collating all the events that night, which also inspired him to do some research into the issue. Soon word of the blog spread and now 6,000 people subscribe to his newsletter every week.

Griffiths began to be known as the networking guy - one night at an event half the people in the room already knew him though he did not know them at all.

Soft spoken and gentle, Griffiths is far from the brash, slick smooth talkers some people associate with dedicated networkers. Early shyness plagued him until the end of high school, when he decided he couldn't continue this way. He started breaking out, engaging and approaching new people.

"I had an epiphany," he says.

He also reached out to different cultures. While he was growing up in England there was only a "mono-culture," he says, and the young Griffiths made friends with the only non-white person in his high school - a Chinese girl. From then he became interested in Chinese culture, and new and different cultures in general.

When he moved to New Zealand with his family he was exposed to more different cultures and more Chinese friends. "We just clicked," he says of himself and China. He studied Mandarin Chinese and literature at university and first came to China after graduation in 2001.

Uprooting and moving to a new country of course came with social challenges. He compares coming to China to the first day of school, in terms of meeting new people, and adapting to a new situation.

His first experiences in China were adventurous. Though he signed up for teaching English on the outskirts of Beijing, he was relocated to Gansu Province in the west by his education company.

Still eager for adventure, he wanted another teaching stint in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, but failed. He settled on Taiwan for a year starting in 2002 and went through the SARS outbreak.

Back in New Zealand he was bored by a regular job in corporate training and decided to move to Shanghai long-term in 2005.

Griffiths advises newcomers to try to stand out in some way, and be "exotic wherever you go." With dual nationality in the UK and New Zealand, Griffiths follows his own advice - choosing to be a foreigner wherever he is. It makes an emotional connection and talking point.

"When you let your guard down, so will others," he says.

The stereotypical image of networking as people in suits handing out cards is wrong, says Griffiths.

"It's not about loud suits and a hard-sell manner. It's about being yourself and being a bit edgy, talking about stuff outside of business. In terms of business cards, a mistake is the Pokemon mentality - got to catch them all. You should treat people as people first, and not as a means to an end. It's ironic that when you do that they are more likely to help you."

In China he says foreigners have exoticism to their advantage when networking with Chinese. Though everyone knows guanxi is important, Chinese networks don't work in the same way as the easy connections established between foreigners.

"Chinese networking can be a lot of work, it's harder to get into but the pay off is greater. I find that in China if a friend built up over a long time asks for a favor, people pull out the stops to help, but if it's a relative stranger they skirt around the issue. With foreigners you may help people you just met. The networks are big but weak." Alex Griffiths

Nationality: UK/New Zealand

Age: 28

Profession: Trainer and coach


Description of self (three words):

Charming, funny, helpful.

Favorite place:

The Stormy Cafe - they have a pet dog and a giant rabbit, and games to play.

Perfect weekend:

Spending the day at Stormy Cafe with my wife and some friends.

Worst experience:

When I first got here I followed one of the girls on Nanjing Road to a dingy coffee shop. After 15 minutes of meaningless small talk she had to go, and I ended up with a bill of 1,000 yuan for two cups of coffee. They had tough-looking bouncers guarding the doors.

Strangest sight:

People bathing on the streets.

Motto for life:

It's not what you know, it's who you know. You can always find someone who knows more about something than you - so you should create a group of trusted advisors.

How to improve Shanghai:Move the electricity cables underground and plant more trees. I'm sure neither is that difficult to do - Shanghai seems to be able to do everything else.

Advice to newcomers:

Go out there and network - don't put it off. If you just come and hang out with coworkers, soon you'll find they need to leave the city, and then you'll be stuck.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend