By Stacey Federoff Tribune-Review, Greensburg, Pa.
Colorful desserts impressed a number of Chinese female business owners when Valley Dairy President Melissa Blystone featured them in a presentation about the company.
"They're not a big dessert country, so they were really fascinated by how pretty we make our desserts and the extent we go (to make) them," said Blystone, president of the Latrobe-based company that owns 11 restaurant locations, including one in the city where the banana split was invented in 1904.
Blystone was a part of a group that traveled to the University of Nanjing last month with the Greensburg chapter of the Women Presidents' Organization based at Seton Hill University. "I just thought that was a huge honor to go do that," she said.
Seven people traveled on a 14-hour flight from Pittsburgh to Shanghai, then took a four-hour bus trip to Nanjing.
Each of the members of the Greensburg group, including Blystone, made a presentation in a special session of the Eighth International Symposium on Multinational Business Management, co-sponsored by a number of universities, including Seton Hill.
Jayne Huston, director of the Greensburg university's e-Magnify women business center, said Seton Hill first established a relationship with the Chinese business program through JoAnne Boyle, Seton Hill's past president.
About 150 to 200 people, including international participants, took part in the conference.
Four Chinese female business owners also took part with the local presenters, with each giving an overview of their company.
Lee Ann Munger, director of e-Magnify's PowerLink program, said women from both countries struggle with the balance between work and family life as they advance in every field.
With flexibility, determination and passion, some are inspired to start their own businesses so they can raise a family and advance in their industry, Munger said.
"Those motivations seem to be similar between the United States and Chinese business owners," she said.
Barbara VanKirk, president of IQ Inc., a software development consulting company based in Murrysville, said that's why she started her business 20 years ago.
The Chinese women were very welcoming, she said, and both groups worked through a language barrier, which was eased by an interpreter.
"It really makes you stop and think about your presentation," she said, adding it was gratifying to see "those light-bulb moments" when ideas would translate well.
VanKirk brought ornaments depicting Pittsburgh's inclines from August Wendell Forge to share as tokens from Pittsburgh, and Blystone shared banana split pins from Valley Dairy.
Jan Lehigh, president of Alpine Packaging in North Versailles, passed out scratch-and-sniff labels and enjoyed watching the enthusiasm with which her audience scratched other items made by the company, like polyethylene bags, without a scent.
The group from the Women Presidents' Organization also went sightseeing in Beijing and Shanghai, including a trip to the Great Wall of China.
The "once-in-a-lifetime" trip was highlighted by the warm atmosphere fostered at the conference, she said.
"They were so friendly, so accommodating," Lehigh said, adding that university students would even offer to carry heavy bags as the visitors crossed campus.
All of the local women reflected on how it seemed that for the Chinese business owners, their husbands still "held the purse strings," as VanKirk said.
Overall, however, Munger said that despite the thousands of miles between Chinese and local female business owners, the group learned that they were not so different.
"When you bring it down to a personal level, we have more in common -- by far -- than the differences that separate us," she said.