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2019 UNI Woman Business Owner of the Year: Li Zhao Mandelbaum


Li Zhao Mandelbaum’s work on behalf of Iowans goes well beyond clearing the way for trade between the United States and her native China, to the tune of 60 product lines.

For example, for seven years she has regularly traveled to Iowa City to help students in the University of Iowa’s Executive MBA program prepare for their trips to China. She has been involved in the city of Des Moines’ sister city relationship with Shijiazhuang. Her work as a volunteer diplomat also included serving as one of 26 executives to accompany President Donald Trump on a trade mission to China, and honoring Iowa’s Sister State relationship with Hebei at a dinner hosted by China’s first lady. 

The activities are an outlet for a personality that her friends and colleagues admire.

“Li’s warm personality and extraordinary entrepreneurial skills impressed me right from the beginning,” said Bonnie Campbell of LPCA Public Strategies. “Li simply exudes professionalism and competence. She has demonstrated a gift for leadership through her involvement in many community and civic activities.”

Stine Seed Co. exec Harry Stine worked with Mandelbaum to open markets in China and even sent his children to China with Mandelbaum so they could learn more about the culture. “Li Zhao is one of the most intelligent and hardworking individuals that I have met,” Stine wrote in a nomination letter. 

Grandview University President Kent Henning discovered Mandelbaum’s attention to detail when she joined the university’s board of trustees. “Li is someone who takes her commitment to the community personally,” Henning wrote. 

In her professional life, Mandelbaum has worked for firms in China, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and now the Des Moines area. She worked with Stine Seed Co. in Adel for a couple of years before forming China Iowa Group LLC of West Des Moines. She is president of the company, which represents companies in seed technology, farm equipment, dairy and wine. 

Mandelbaum is fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese and English. That comes in handy when she is working on behalf of the Greater Des Moines Sister Cities Commission, said Chairman Roger Nowadzky.

“She accomplishes her tasks with skill and grace and is at all times diplomatic, generous and welcoming,” Nowadzky wrote.

For Mandelbaum, it’s a day at the office, one that encompasses the globe.

Zhao Mandelbaum’s Areas of Influence

She functions as a cultural ambassador for China through her work on trade between  the U.S. and her home country.

She expands business by opening the Chinese market to U.S. products.

She promotes diversity and has been a leader in sister city relationships. 

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