Wanted: Manager, Chinese-Speaking Only

HONG KONG (Reuters) – American-born Thomas Kwan’s career has taken off since he moved to China to work as the country manager for a U.S. health products company.


“If I’d stayed in the U.S. I wouldn’t have had the same opportunity for advancement,” said trilingual Kwan, 46, who was brought up in a Cantonese-speaking household in Virginia and also speaks fluent Mandarin and of course English.


“The U.S. is still a Caucasian-dominated society,” added Kwan, who now lives in Shanghai.


China’s rapidly expanding economy has created a seemingly insatiable appetite for Chinese-speaking managers.


Yet even though 3 million university graduates enter China’s workforce every year, multinational companies are finding it hard to find local talent to meet that demand.


Companies that are successful in luring top notch recruits are at an automatic advantage in the race for a piece of China’s $1.3 trillion consumer market.


But competition for good quality hires, especially experienced managers, is fierce.


Companies in China will need 70,000 middle and senior managers over the next five years, according to executive search firm MRI Group, but they are unlikely to find them.


“We’ll be lucky if we can identify 50 percent of that number,” said Erica Briody, director of MRI China. 


Since last year, PricewaterhouseCoopers has posted Chinese recruiters in the United States, Britain and Australia to scout for graduates at university campuses as they seek to keep pace with business growth in China by recruiting 3,000 people a year.


They are targeting Chinese students studying abroad as well as experienced foreign professionals with a Chinese heritage such as Kwan.


“The economic boom in China means the talent needs are demanding. We are building a talent pipeline for the future,” said Angela Jiang, a PricewaterhouseCoopers recruitment manager based in New York and responsible for finding U.S.-based talent for the firm’s China operations.


Recruiting qualified Chinese-speaking managers is crucial for firms, especially multinationals, as they seek to capitalize on business opportunities in the world’s fastest growing major economy.


“Multinational companies are looking to China to grow their organizations,” said Briody. “If they can’t get the talent their expansion plans will be limited. Ultimately they can’t be competitive.”


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