More M.B.A.s From China Seek Employment Back Home
When Zhe Xu receives his M.B.A. degree from the University of California at Berkeley this spring, he will hop a plane back to his native China for a job in management consulting rather than seek employment in the U.S.
Just a few years ago, such a career move would have been almost unthinkable. Most students returned to China reluctantly and only because they couldn't land a position with an American company that would sponsor them for a work visa.
But Mr. Xu represents a new breed of Chinese M.B.A. student for whom China's booming economy is proving more alluring than a career in the West. "It is much more exciting right now to be in China, especially in the health-care area," says Mr. Xu, who plans to work in the field of life science and health-care consulting in the Shanghai office of Cambridge, Mass.-based Monitor Group. "Many things are changing rapidly, and I can really put my hands on some of the hot buttons and make my own mark on the country's economic development," he says.
While many Chinese students at U.S. business schools still covet a visa that will allow them to work in America, career-service directors say a growing number are much more willing--even eager--to return to their homeland after graduation. "International companies have long tried to pitch this idea of going back to China, where a student's language and cultural background are of great value to them, but until recently, it fell on deaf ears," says Paul Allaire, career-resource-center director at the University at Buffalo School of Management.
Abby Scott, executive director of M.B.A. career services at the Haas School of Business at Berkeley, even sees some Chinese-American students, who were raised and educated in the U.S., moving to China. "They want to be part of all the interesting things happening over there," she says. "The safe way is to get your feet wet by joining a multinational, but a few gutsy students are trying to start something of their own."
At Stanford University, Virginia Roberson, the business school's international career adviser, finds entrepreneurial-minded students especially drawn to China. "It's like the Wild West and the gold rush to them," she says.
Students say they expect greater career opportunities and compensation as China's economic expansion rolls on. "I plan to go back to China after my studies because of the high demand for real-estate and infrastructure development," says Patricia Cheung, a first-year M.B.A. student at Berkeley who will be interning this summer at Deutsche Bank's real-estate asset management office in Hong Kong and working extensively in China. "I am passionate and patriotic about China and also feel that it is where I have a comparative advantage both in language and culture. I speak fluent Mandarin, Cantonese and English and have lived or worked in many Asian countries."
Indeed, U.S. and European companies consider many Chinese M.B.A. graduates ideal managers because of their knowledge of languages and business customs. They have also studied the ways of Western companies in business school so they can relate well to their employer's management style.
"Chinese students are more valuable back in their home country, where they can charge a premium for their expertise," says Mark Wilkins, president of Stampede, who last year hired a Chinese graduate from the University at Buffalo in New York to represent the distributor of electronic products in Shenzhen, China. "We needed his knowledge of the country and language because doing business in China is all about relationships."
Johnson & Johnson, which has had business operations in China for more than two decades, is also finding it easier to recruit Chinese nationals and has already hired 13 this school year for its pharmaceutical and medical-device businesses. Irene DeNigris, director of global university recruitment, seeks M.B.A. graduates who have acquired both general-management skills and the ability to work in cross-cultural teams in business school.
"Salaries are much better than five years ago" in China, she says, but she acknowledges that student-loan repayment still poses a financial challenge for some M.B.A. graduates there. J&J and other companies offer bonuses, housing allowances and other incentives to help ease the loan burden.
Some Chinese students still prefer to spend at least a year or two working in the U.S., both to repay some of their education debt from their higher income and to learn about Western business practices firsthand. Zhou Yu, an M.B.A. and computational-finance student at Carnegie Mellon University, has accepted a job in fixed-income strategy at Citigroup because he believes some experience in New York should make him "more marketable." But in a few years, he and his wife hope to return to their families in Beijing.
Likewise, Qin Yu, an M.B.A. student at Ohio State University, plans to start with Intel as a senior financial analyst in the U.S. before heading back to China as a manager for the chip maker. "Most major U.S. companies have an operation in China now, so going back to China is not so bad," he says. "But before I go, I need to work in America to better understand the business culture. Academic experience alone is not sufficient."