To my fellow Hult students, and anyone else in a business program who aspires to come to China:
It’s not easy here.
Bloomberg Businessweek’s article “Looking to Get Ahead? China Doesn’t Want You” summarizes just how difficult it can be for aspiring entrepreneurs and young professionals in China, from non-Chinese backgrounds. Between legal hurdles, linguistic challenges, the saturation of most Chinese markets, the slowing economy, and a general anti-foreign prejudice, China can be a hard place to “make it”, and many MBAs and MBA students who came here expecting to become investment bankers, expat managers, or run a start-up straight out of the gate are often disappointed.
In a recent interview (which will go on the site next week), Shanghai entrepreneur and marketing consultant Shaun Rein told me that “China is a good place to spend your mid-twenties, but by the time you’re around 30, you should probably be looking elsewhere.” Entrepreneurship here often barely (or doesn’t) pay the bills, and building up a professional career is blocked by a lack of willingness on the part of Chinese HR departments to even consider entry- and associate- level foreign talent.
Having come to China originally as an English teacher in my mid-twenties, and having transitioned away from teaching into publishing and media entrepreneurship, I have to say that my experience matches Shaun’s insight. English teaching was a comfortable dead-end; and media work, while it’s given me terrific experience, new skills, valuable life lessons and interesting experiences, hasn’t offered me a career path in which I can afford to raise a family in China at the standard of living that I’m used to. When my degree is finished next year, my wife and I, barring any unforeseen turn of events, are planning to move to the US.
So, does this mean that China career-boosters, like Hult professor and noted career consultant Peter Hill, are wrong? Not necessarily. For people with solid technical skills and extensive managerial experience looking for a place where they can potentially enter or accelerate their path to the executive suite, China can certainly be a great place. Nor does this necessarily mean being sent here as a full-package expat; Chinese and international companies are increasingly hiring senior people who can bridge the two cultures and bring their experience to the table.
If you’re currently an MBA student, this probably isn’t you- yet. Don’t despair, however; if you truly want to have a career in China, it’s still possible- but not right now. Use your time here to build your network, get to understand the business culture, and plan how you can use your China experience to sell yourself to a company in your own country. If you’re a truly dedicated sinophile, and carve out a strong niche for yourself, chances to come back will arise.
But it won’t be easy.