Kraft forms companies to attract Chinese investment to Milwaukee

    From his new 3,000-square-foot office on the fifth floor of 731 N. Jackson St. in downtown Milwaukee, Robert Kraft is a long way from China. But the two new businesses he recently opened in that office, PSA North America LLC and RWK Ventures Inc., are aimed squarely at Chinese business interests.

    PSA North America was formed to assist Milwaukee-area businesses with cultural issues, key contacts and due diligence with Chinese companies, while RWK Ventures will focus on real estate development and business consulting. RWK plans to use Chinese investment dollars to fund its real estate projects, Kraft said.

    Kraft is the former owner of Milwaukee-based Openfirst LLC, a direct mail communications provider that was sold to Sussex-based Quad/Graphics Inc. in 2006. Kraft continued working at Openfirst until about one month ago.

    PSA North America is affiliated with Pacific Strategies & Assessments, a firm founded by Scott Harrison, a family friend of Kraft’s and former CIA station chief in Beijing. Harrison’s partner in PSA is Zhihai Zhai, former U.S. expert for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, who effectively worked as Harrison’s counterpart while he was in the CIA.

    PSA’s business model is built around its managers’ contacts with Asian governments and their knowledge of Asian cultures, Kraft said.

    “We can do background checks on companies in China, due diligence, contract structuring or if you’re having trouble with the Chinese government, we have the contacts to help you work through the system,” he said.

    Kraft began moving the two companies into the downtown office in mid-September. To date, he and Susa Si, PSA North America’s managing director, are the company’s only employees. Before joining Kraft at PSA North America, Si worked as the marketing director at OpenFirst. She is a native of China who has been working and living in Milwaukee for about 20 years, Kraft said.

    PSA North America may add an analyst and another employee by the end of the year, Kraft said.

    Because PSA North America is so new, it has only worked with one client so far – the Milwaukee Bucks. The firm held an informational meeting for Bucks managers and coaches several weeks ago to help them understand the challenges that Yi Jianlian, a power forward from China whom the Bucks drafted earlier this year, will face as he moves to Milwaukee.

    “We had an overview for the management and coaching staff on what it will be like for Yi to relocate to North America, find his way in the NBA, and a little on his background,” Kraft said. “Susa ran it.”

    Coaches and managers were also told about differences in how the Chinese play basketball compared with the American professional game. There is virtually no trash-talking in Chinese basketball, Kraft said, and players appear far less emotionally involved.

    “He (Yi) will appear very focused and disciplined,” he said. “He won’t be vocal.”

    Susa and Kraft also worked with the Bucks last weekend when the team held a welcoming ceremony and dinner for Yi. PSA North America was requested to assist with cultural issues, language and the menu for the event, Kraft said.

    Kraft believes Yi’s presence in Milwaukee will create more opportunities for his fledgling company.

    “There will be three (Chinese) reporters that will be here with him year-round,” Kraft said. “The reception will be broadcast in China. This is a massive opportunity – people have no clue what will hit us. There is so much work for anyone in this community that has an interest in China. They’re already (Wisconsin’s) third-largest business partner. I don’t know what path it will take, but it will be big.”

    Kraft has hired four employees to work at RWK Ventures, all whom worked with him at OpenFirst. They are: Dick Zagorski, Steve Kinear and Chuck Olszewski, who will serve as principals and senior vice presidents; and Patrick Smith, who will serve as principal and vice president. Kraft also hired Elaine Wagner, his former assistant at OpenFirst, who will serve as business manager for PSA North America and RWK Ventures.

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