Take a good look at the CVs of some of the top global business leaders these days and it’s possible that you’ll see Chinese work experience listed.
Bob McDonald, CEO of Proctor & Gamble, was previously president of North East Asia at his company before being promoted to the global role. Troy Alstead, the CFO and CAO for Starbucks, also boasts prior mainland familiarity, having been the COO for Greater China at one stage.
Extensive mainland knowledge can even translate into prominent international gigs outside your industry. For instance, Wei Christianson, the MD and CEO of Morgan Stanley China, is on the board of directors of global beauty giant Estée Lauder. Similarly, Jing Ulrich, MD and chairman of global markets for J.P. Morgan in China, was recently appointed as a non-executive director for pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline.
Louisa Wong, executive chairman, Bó Lè Associates, says more senior financial executives are reaping the rewards of Chinese experience by moving into bigger roles after working there. “We are increasingly seeing more senior foreign bankers who are now based in China. That larger presence is due to a number of factors; the market is growing and given that there’s not much happening elsewhere, these firms are getting their best return by being here in Asia.”
Longevity is key
That said, don’t assume you’ll rise up the career ladder just because you’ve worked in Shanghai for 12 months. Wong says: “China is a large and complex market. I don’t think much can be achieved in one year. Those who have been promoted into a global role would have typically worked for the same firm for about five to 10 years. Besides, you can’t build relationships in just a year or two; the bare minimum I would say is five years in order to be visible and recognisable.”
The reality, however, is that most bankers find it tough sticking to one firm in China, that’s in part due to an incentive system which rewards bankers who focus on short term results. This in turn makes it difficult to produce good business leaders, adds Wong.
And so is patience
Given the highly-regulated environment in China, expats need to be patient in their dealings with the government, their business partners and rich clients. Mandarin is also “almost essential” to having a successful banking career on the mainland, says Wong. And if senior candidates are new to China, they should also ensure that they have a team with local relationships which can be tapped on.
If you are a mid-level overseas banker, Wong advises trying to find a job with a Chinese bank or securities house. “They definitely have the appetite to hire, and foreigners can try to work in Hong Kong first for these Chinese organisations, before moving to the mainland. Just because it’s a local firm, doesn’t mean it won’t pay well. Candidates need to be open and learn how to be successful. For instance, the KPIs may be different from those of a foreign bank.”