Saturday, October 9, 2010

News from Oslo

With little surprise have I read that Liu Xiaobo has been awarded the Nobel prize. Reactions to that decision in China and the West could not be more contrary.
In my opinion, rewarding the prize to Liu Xiaobo symbolises the belief of many Westerners in the superiority of their democratic systems. That being said, I do not think that democracy is a bad system, but has it worked well lately?
It is doubtless that the Chinese system is not perfect, but if you look what the U.S. did when they invaded Iraq, or at their camps in Guantanamo, I don't really see why the West would have the moral upper ground (you could also look at different examples, such as the voting system in the UK, which has been due for reform for ages).
What I think is more important are social values. It may sound dated, but happiness, social etiquette, honesty and law-abidingness, are things that are a lot more important to me than disputes about political ideologies, because these things affect my daily life.
It may sound strange, but ask yourself: Would you dare tell a youngster to take his shoes from a bus seat (in China vs a Western country), or would you enjoy having a walk with your wife/girlfriend late in the evening (in a Chinese vs a Western city). One could certainly argue that this is a different topic, but it is my belief that politics and social values are very closely linked.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What can you bring to the table?

When talking about working in China, it is usually described as an exiting thing to do. The sheer drive of the economic development, the culture, but of course sometimes the frustrations when things don't go as smooth as they would in the West which spice things up and add to the excitement.
I wonder if this approach is still appropriate. To me it sounds like being in China is perceived as some kind of big adventure and combined with the life standard of most expats, it may even feel more like a luxury cruise.
How do think Pakistani immigrants feel in the US? Indian people in the UK, or Turkish ethnics in Germany?
I guess they would describe their stay abroad significantly different and in fact probably more down to earth: They have decided to move abroad for they feel it offers them better opportunities in some kind of way. That they should have in common with expats opting for a China stay.
In contrast to expats immigrants to other countries do however usually plan to stay for good, but a key difference is also that society expects a lot more from them than Chinese society expects from expats: integration, cultural adaption, language studies and so on.
In my opinion, China will at one point follow the West and ask its overseas workers to make more efforts and to integrate into society as well, rather than just fuel the economic growth. So have you ever asked yourself what it is that you can bring to the table?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The future of consulting in China

I can't seem to wonder whether the business model of strategy or management consultancies is actually going to last in China. Recalling that management consultancies like McKinsey, BCG and such were once founded in order to offer firms advice, as well as to save costs by not having to hire a bunch of highly qualified people permanently, but by only taking them on for one project, more and more companies seem to have realised that this equation does not always pay out.
This is even obvious in the West, were many firms have, quite successful, set up their own in-house consultancies (i.e. Siemens Management Consulting).
In China the situation is even more severe, because the rates top consultancies charge are, relative to the cost structures in China, even more extreme. Consultancies have thus often focused on international firms in China, rather than local firms. On top of that Chinese firms are generally skeptical as to whether or not a US or European led consultancy does really know how to do business in China.
It will therefore be interesting to see what the future brings for these firms and if a Chinese management consultancy will make it to the ranks of the international elite.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Business Schools

I have recently completed my postgraduate studies at a well recognised business school. Choosing the right degree is highly important when planning to work in management/strategy consulting.
Two factors, the subject of your first degree on the one hand and the length of your post-undergraduate work experience on the other hand should guide your decision. I make these points, because I want to emphasize that getting an MBA is, in my opinion, not always the wisest decision (in fact I believe that it only is if you come from a non-business related academic background).
So that unlocks a wide range of choices for all the business students who consider getting back to school to get a Master's. The next aspect to consider is: how can my degree help me land a job at a management consultancy?
The answer is easy: it should equip you with additional skills that can directly be applied to the work of a management consultant and that can also be used to market yourself in the application process. This leaves you with two choices: you could either select a programme that builds upon your existing strengths, so if you come from a mathematical/technical background, you could study something that furthers these skills, or you could study something that supplements your existing strengths, such as studying a softer subject when you have a very technical background.
I personally believe that the latter is the better choice, as it turns you into someone with a range of diverse skills and also demonstrates your ability to work in different contexts (which is what management consultancies are after), rather than turning you into an expert in one specific area.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Mckinsey, BCG, Bain and co

When I was at business school, many of my fellow students were interested in pursuing a career with one of the big generalist brands. I was one of them and I attended several recruitment events at which McKinsey, Bain and co visited our campus.
The first thing I realised was that the people working for these firms are not the 'Masters of Universe' their websites want to make us believe! At one event, for instance a range of consultancies had sent people to give recruitment speeches. We were all looking forward to hearing what they had to say and were particularly exited in anticipation of the McKinsey presentation.
The McKinsey guy however gave a mediocre presentation at best. Things he said about the McKinsey career path ran contrary to his own career path he had described before and overall he was not such a great presenter. We all felt that a legend had fallen.
Regardless of that I am convinced that the people at McKinsey are excellent at what they do and that McKinsey is one of the best consultancies in the world. However, they are also just human beings.
Finally I would like to give some advice when applying to these big names in consulting:
Take a good look at your CV, in my experience what they care about most are top grades at all stages of your education, including high school. If your performance was not outstanding at every institution you visited, or you have studied at an ivy league type of university, don't bother applying. Second thing they look for is work experience. I you haven't completed an internship with a big consultancy (assuming you are applying for an entrance level/analyst position) things might be very difficult as well.
All the other stuff they mention at their websites, diversity, languages, studies abroad. Good if you got that covered, but in my experience not as important as the other aspects.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Clients in China

Recognising that Western clients are very different from Chinese clients is key for every consultant in China. Although my work experience in the West is limited, the following story should outline what I mean:
I was once working on a project for an important client and as part of the project the client had asked us to source a further firm required for the project, as they said they weren't happy with the performance of the firm they had worked together in previous years. We spend a substantial amount of time finding adequate firms, as well as selecting the most suitable one with the client. Once the selection phase was virtually finished and the potential new partner had provided concepts and put in a lot of free of charge effort, our client told us to stop working with them and to get the original partner on-board instead.
Why did they change their minds? All managers involved in the process were key decision makers, so it was not a decision forced down on them. The potential new partner was also offering a better performance at the same price.
The only plausible explanation for the shift are thus cultural aspects. The client had obviously arrived at the conclusion that maintaining a long term relationship, as well as showing benevolence to a much smaller firm was more important than the other immediate financial and performance related factors.
In fact I wonder whether this decision was not the smarter one anyway, since the old partner may not be only more reliable in the future, but also owes our client. What are your thoughts on this?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Thoughts on the Chinese Language

I believe that Chinese language skills are fundamental to people interested in a career in China. By this I don't mean being able to get around, but speaking the language on a level similar to ones native language. This requirement is very different from the skills required from the first generation of expats - senior managers who moved to China in the 80s and 90s in order to lead the local operations of multinationals in China.
At that time skilled labour was scarce in China and foreigners with sufficient management expertise were sent abroad. This has totally changed with ten thousands of Chinese students swarming out every year to study at prestigious international universities.
It is thus standard to conduct at least one interview in Chinese when applying for entry/mid level consulting jobs in China. It is my perception that even managers high up the ranks will soon be required to meet this criterion. The reason therefore is simple: an expat who is unable to communicate is not only more expensive (as interpreters are required), but potentially also less effective, as it more difficult to connect with clients and co-workers, as well as to bridge the cultural gap.