From backpacking across China to president of the Shanghai chapter of the Mexican Chamber of Commerce in China, Yonanetl Zavala, 43, tracked an unusual route to success. And it all started by creating a publication in Spanish geared to fellow expats living in China, Hola China. With previous degrees in business and hospitality, Zavala’s magazine project also had an arm organizing events to bring together Latin American entrepreneurs living or looking to operate in the country. It was the seed to her next venture: helping foreign businesses enter the Chinese market.
Bimbo, the world’s largest bakery, which made its entrance into China in 2006, became a sponsor of an Hola China event and later, a client of Zavala’s consulting business. “I traveled Shanghai from end to end, going to neighborhood stores, organizing tastings and events, doing public relations with supermarkets,” Zavala told AQ. “It became a very interesting challenge that also allowed me to understand better Chinese culture and its complexity.”
Born in Cuernavaca, Mexico, Zavala traveled to China in 2008 after being furloughed by the airline where she was a flight attendant. When they called her to return to work a year later, she had already decided to stay in Shanghai. “I fell in love with China because of its safety. Being a woman, to be able to move around and be recognized for my work was very exciting. I felt useful and important.”
Zavala joined the Mexican Chamber of Commerce as president of the Shanghai chapter in 2017. For her latest project she is partnering with a Chinese company, Juerui Industry, to develop a permanent showroom for Latin American products within Greenland’s G Hub, a mall directed to exporters and importers. She has already invested in the first pavilion for Mexico and the plan is to occupy a whole floor of the expo center. “China is all about business. They don’t intend to conquer us or change our way of being,” Zavala said. “It is also true they are tough to negotiate with, but if you know how to communicate you can be successful.”
Uriegas is an editorial intern atAQ