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10 Best Amazing Women Leaders to Watch 2022

‘We want to bridge the culture and enable the artists’: Evita Zhang, CEO of Armstrong Music and Arts Asia/EMD of Poly Armstrong International Arts Communication Ltd.

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“There’s an unwritten rule in our company, once start a case, we cannot drop it in the middle, and have to close it successfully.”

Poly Armstrong is a joint venture, established by Armstrong Music and Arts and Poly Theatre management company in 2019. Armstrong Music and Arts is an internationally renowned classical music and arts agency with a roster of celebrated artists and artistic groups including Joshua Bell, Misha Maisky, Hélène Grimaud, Zubin Mehta and Israel Philharmonic, Mikhail Pletnev and Russian National Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic, San Francisco Opera, Beijing Modern Dance Company, and more. Poly theatre management company manages 75 theatres in China with about 10,000 performances per year. The JV company not only provides booking and touring services like what the traditional Western agencies offer, but also brings in government relationship/culture diplomacy, media exposure/marketing, and commercial crossover opportunities.

Poly Armstrong is headquartered in Beijing, China.

The Silicon Review reaches out to Evita Zhang, the COO of Armstrong Music and Arts/CEO of Asia, Executive Managing Director of Poly Armstrong International Arts Communication Ltd., here’s what she had to say.

Interview Highlights

Q. Tell us about your professional journey throughout the years. What marked the beginning of your success, and what do you regard as your greatest achievements throughout your journey?

I started my career in a world-leading insurance IT solution company, eBaotech, as a business analyst, where the founders of Musical.ly (now Tiktok) Louise Yang, Alex Zhu, and its angel investor Andy Wang were all my colleagues at that time. This job set a very high standard to start my career with regard to compressive resistance, self-discipline, fast learning, interpersonal skills, etc. I still remember I never went back home before 10 pm for four months for a Brazil Project.

My second job was started by a coincidence with Wray Armstrong, the founder of Armstrong Music, who took me to attend the BBC Prom’s closing gala concert, and Maestro Jiri Belohlavek with Berlin Phil. After which, I completely changed my career direction to the performing arts industry, starting from a PA, then company manager, all the way to touring director, COO Global/CEO Asia, and shareholder. I have served the company for 12 years ever since.

I would name the 2015 Zubin Mehta and Israel Philharmonic Orchestra China tour as the beginning of my success, which was my second year only to be involved in the booking job when I didn’t have so many connections and resources like today, but only determination. Until two weeks before the tour, I got the last contract signed, and lobbied for about two million USD to cover the total expenses. This tour opened the new Changsha concert hall, enabled IPO’s first visit to Wuhan, and got Gil Shaham’s first cooperation with IPO/Mo Mehta in Xi’an, and IPO/Mo Mehta’s second visit to Beijing National Center after 2014, and made me some lifetime friends.

Speaking of greatest achievements, people might say we co-produced San Francisco Opera’s Dream of Red Chamber China touring version and brought it back home, and became one of the most influential and largest scale imported opera tours in China, and some other nation-to-nation level MOUs or projects. But I would say I found a very good business partner and boss Wray Armstrong, who fully trusts and supports me. Our Asia’s turnover and profit was increasing by over 20% every year before Covid-19, sometimes even doubling. We formed an unbeatable partnership, no matter the circumstances. We never forget our initial heart, keep the standard, use our true love to help our artists, bridge the culture, and lead the team to have conquered so many challenges.

Q. Because of Covid-19, Columbia Artist went bankrupt, Opus 3 was sold to San Francisco Conservatory, Intermusica shut down their China office, and some Chinese companies that used to be very active in international culture exchange are almost doing nothing. But your company started a new media business, developed its own productions and got massive bookings, signed more Chinese artists. Tell us what inspires you and your employees to innovate. And what strategies do you implement to ensure smooth business operations?

I would define our success in one word: entrepreneurship. Moreover, it’s all about exuberant ambition, a strong sense of mission, and a spirit of invincibility. When sensing one door might be closing, you have to produce your own light to open another window.

To answer the second part of the question, I would say the following three strategies shaped our path to success, especially during the pandemic.

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Business diversity: In addition to artist management and touring, we have started our new media business, for which we established distribution/promotion channels when Covid was coming, and that’s why we helped with the promotion of Napa Valley festival’s online festival and the premier of Gorden Getty’s first opera film ‘Goodbye, Mr. Chips’ in China. We had about 200 signed foreign performances that were canceled in 2020, so we signed more Chinese artists and turned to self-production immediately. Our dance production Tan Yuanyuan and her friends — Magical Night at the Art Museum was ranked #2 in the number of performances and box office of Dance in 2021 China’s performing Arts Industry Report. And we got more than 20 performances for our pianist An Tianxu and guitarist Sumeng each, while got Outhere Alpha released An’s first recital album globally, which got a high review from Gramophone.

Executive ability: There’s an unwritten rule in our company, once start a case, we cannot drop it in the middle, and have to close it successfully.

Honest to your business and business partners: We always think what our partners think, and do more than a normal agent or producer does for our partners, no matter the promotion or sponsor approach.

Q. Who is your role model and how has the individual inspired you to culminate into the inspiring leader you are today?

My grandma is my role model. She’s elegant and brave and faces challenges head-on. What I have learned from her is to conquer self-difficulty from the weakest point and never give up until it’s done.

Q. Why was Poly Armstrong (Beijing) born? What are the market pain points founders wanted to address through the inception of the company?

Poly Armstrong was born out of a joint venture (JV) between Armstrong Music and Arts and Poly Theatre management company. This JV is resolving three gaps, 1) the gap in the professionalism request between the West and China, especially on the production side, 2) the gap between the communication/working “language” because of the different cultures of China and the West. E.g. There were quite some lawsuits happening because of Covid-19 for foreign projects, but we encountered none, 3) the gap between the content provider and the market. In addition to this, the JV has four main tasks: provide suitable content to the Poly chain, take the best of China abroad, lead the international cooperation on Poly’s behalf, and carry the culture investment.

Tell us, what’s next for your company.

When we think about our next step, we always review our last step and ask ourselves where our initial heart is. We want to bridge the culture and enable the artists. Besides artist management, touring, and performing production, we will focus more on young artists. We have a very strong top artists’ roster, theatre connections, government relationships, and TV/media/commercial relationships. We want to use our resources to provide a better platform to young artists, from artistic, fashion/cross-over, and international three parts and will start a NEXT WAVE program. In addition, we will add more business modes into China’s theatres -- family-oriented exhibitions. We are working with Poly theatres/ticketing, Street Voice, Jinjing Culture, Starpark, Fengyan Fujian and other partners to create an immersive exhibition about the elements from five books by Jimmy Liao who has written and illustrated over 60 books now available in over 20 languages. We are working with an amazing creative team for this, including Taiwan Golden Melody Awards composer, Chen Jian Qi; the scene designer from ‘Life of Pi’, Chenhui, and more. So far we have got 23 months of bookings.

Evita Zhang | CEO

Evita Zhang serves as the COO of Global/CEO of Asia, Armstrong Music and Arts Asia, and Executive Managing Director of Poly Armstrong (Beijing) International Arts Communication Ltd. Czech Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic & Zubin Mehta, Russian National & Mikhail Pletnev, Joshua Bell, Helene Grimaud, Ann-Sophie Mutter/Maestro Krzysztof Penderecki/Sinfonia Varsovia and Ann-Sophie’s special projects, San Francisco Opera etc.She is the woman behind the scene, who leads the team to make all tours happen in Asia and greatly contributes to the company’s revenue generation. Since she was appointed as the CEO, the company witnessed over 20% revenue growth year-on-year.

The founder and the global CEO of the company said during a recent interview: “One key reason for our success was having a fearless COO. So many things could have gone wrong, but Evita didn’t let that happen.”

Now Armstrong Music and Arts & Poly Armstrong International might be the best first company to talk with, if any of the foreign artists/artistic groups want to come/work with China.

“Armstrong Music and Arts & Poly Armstrong International might be the best first company to talk with, if any of the foreign artists/artistic groups want to come/work with China”

“We want to use our resources to provide a better platform to young artists, from artistic, fashion/cross-over, and international three parts and will start a next wave program.”

“We are working with Poly theatres/ticketing, Street Voice, Jinjing Culture, Starpark, Fengyan Fujian and other partners to create an immersive exhibition about the elements from five books by Jimmy Liao who has written and illustrated over 60 books now available in over 20 languages.”