Executives see China as place to boost career
(Dallas Morning News, The (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) DALLAS _ Bobby Carter shows all the symptoms of China fever.
Each week, he meets with a private tutor to learn Mandarin. On airplanes, he listens to language tapes. And in his spare time, he reads books about the Asian powerhouse and blogs written by expatriates living there.
China "is really intriguing to me. I want to experience it," said Carter, 44, UPS' international sales and marketing manager for the Southwest region.
Although he's traveled in the region for his job, now he wants to work full time in China, for at least a few years.
"Who would think in our lifetime we would have the opportunity to be pioneers in anything?" he said.
As China evolves into an increasingly important market for many U.S. companies, a growing number of Americans are eager to work there, despite potentially formidable obstacles of language and culture.
Interest in China extends beyond multinational corporations. Increasingly, managers at small- and mid-size businesses are volunteering for forays in China, seeking excitement, riches and a career boost.
"It's not a hardship," said Louisa Wong-Rousseau, managing director of China for Stanton Chase International, an executive search firm. "People see going to China as a career advancement."
Though many in China prefer to hire locals, a shortage of skilled executives means expatriates remain in demand, said Lisa Johnson, director of consulting services for Cendant Mobility, a large relocation company.
Many companies award assignments in China to their rising stars, she said. "It's where a lot of companies' future is."
According to a Cendant Mobility study conducted last year, people moving to China for business reasons are typically married men in their early 40s.
Shanghai, China's most cosmopolitan city, ranks as the top destination for expatriates. But a growing number of them are headed to less well-known places such as Chengdu, Dalian and Tianjin.
For example, Dallas attorney Ryan Greene recently accepted a job with EnterHealth China LLC, which manages two hospitals in the Chongqing area. The firm aims to become a leading provider of health care services in China.
Greene, 34, already has an apartment leased and furnished for him in Chongqing. Initially, he plans to spend half his time in the southwestern Chinese city and the remainder in Dallas.
After three trips to China, he has developed an admiration for the Chinese people's work ethic and culture. "In the next five to 10 years, everyone is going to be going over there," he said. "I want to be on the leading edge of that transition.
"What's happening there is so amazing," he added. "It's the industrial revolution in early 19th-century America all over again."
Americans who have taken the plunge and moved to China often find the experience an eye-opener.
In November 2004, Nokia Oyj employee Ron Davenport sold his house and two cars in Grapevine and moved to a gated community in Beijing.
Now, he is helping develop low-cost phones at Nokia's product creation center in Beijing.
"The pace is quite frantic," Davenport, 41, said of the Chinese business environment. "But I am much more sensitive to growth in other parts of the world."
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For Mark Abe, living in China became a necessity. The 40-year-old executive for Plano, Texas-based Electronic Data Systems Corp. arrived in Beijing three months ago to help his company win information technology services contracts from Chinese airlines, airports and other air services providers.
"It's very hard to build those relationships when you're flying in and out," he said.
The expatriate from Orange County, Calif., quickly learned that conducting business in China requires forming personal relationships, not just making sales calls.
"The business models that are prevalent here in China are different from ones in other parts of the world," he said, referring to the nation's many state-owned firms.
"Don't wait," he advised others considering working in China. "The country is changing so fast. Jump in with both feet and don't look back."
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Taking on a China assignment does involve some challenges and adjustments.
Chief among them is finding health care that meets U.S. standards, according to the Cendant Mobility study.
An unhappy spouse and children can also cause problems.
"Make sure your family really wants to come," said Davenport, who moved to Beijing with his wife and two of his three daughters. (The oldest daughter lives on her own in the U.S.)
Davenport said his wife and daughters are thriving in Beijing because of their outgoing and independent personalities. His middle daughter has found a new hobby, snowboarding in the nearby mountains. His youngest, a second-grader, is studying Mandarin.
Once expatriates and their families adapt to life in China, the hardest part is often coming home.
Attorney Carter Meyer endured a difficult transition when he and his wife returned to Dallas in August 2004 after living in Beijing and Tokyo for a little more than two years.
"It was hard getting used to it," he said. "I missed the (Chinese) food quite a bit. I missed the people."
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During his time abroad, Meyer traveled throughout Asia. In China, language didn't prove to be a huge barrier because most of the professionals he met spoke English.
And to their delight, he and his wife were able to save a lot of money but still live comfortably, with help from a driver and a housekeeper.
Meyer, 37, recently left Vinson & Elkins to become head of a small venture capital firm. But if the right opportunity came along in the future, he would consider going back to Asia.
"On a resume, it has a lot of credibility," he said of his time spent in China. And "I appreciate the size of the world a lot better."
(c) 2006, The Dallas Morning News.
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PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): EXECUTIVES-CHINA
GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): EXECUTIVES-CHINA
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