Firm's cultural revolution

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 May, 2008, 12:00am

PricewaterhouseCoopers China is forging ahead with a major revamp of company culture with programmes in place to recruit and develop the best Chinese talent locally and from overseas.

The new China Sourcing Initiative (CSI), aimed at recruiting overseas Chinese who have international experience, is in addition to an extensive localisation strategy that recruits more than 2,800 Chinese each year. There is also a new Performance, Coaching and Development (PCD) programme.

'We have put a lot of money into identifying talent gaps, and into coaching and development to create a culture to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace,' said Dave McCann, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

'If we get it right, the firm will look and feel very different soon. We expect our rivals in China will copy us but the truth is that culture can't be copied, and we're determined to make ours distinctive.'

Mr McCann went to Beijing from Britain 11 years ago to develop the localisation strategy at his firm. At present, 94 per cent of staff in mainland China offices are Chinese.

The CSI programme has seen managers sent from the mainland to the London, New York and Sydney offices of PricewaterhouseCoopers, tasked with recruiting new graduates and experienced people who have valuable local Chinese knowledge and language skills for mainland and Hong Kong firms.

High economic growth rates in China have led to a shortage of suitable professionals, most prominently middle managers with the right skills.

'CSI is a long-term strategic initiative, and we are not expecting huge results in the first year. It is a five-year plan. Many Chinese graduates study overseas but then can't get work permits to remain. We want to attract the talent who can see China as a place of opportunity.

'Improved income is drawing people back and we are putting our recruitment people to work with campuses overseas to give us an advantage,' Mr McCann said.

'If we attract 100 to 200 new recruits through this in the first year we'd be happy. The most important thing is to find the quality to complement the 1,800 local graduates and 1,000 experienced staff we recruit every year.'

The new initiative should not be seen as discouraging for local Chinese, he said.

The company's Global Mobility Programme sends hundreds of its staff on overseas secondment to gain an understanding of how business is done in foreign cities.

Mr McCann said: 'Of course we value international experience, it's an important mindset, but it has to show in the work you do. Our clients want an international mindset, so there is a lot of value in seeing how business is done in other cities. Obviously, it's expensive to send our staff overseas but it encourages loyalty and retention.

'Ninety per cent of our partners have been on a secondment earlier in their careers. We can't prove that this is the reason they have stayed with the company, but it may be an indicator of how it has helped.

'Ten years ago the opportunity to work or study overseas was regarded as ideal, but now many Chinese are less keen as they can get more responsibility by staying at home. They don't tend to fear overseas talent as much as they did in the past.'

Special advantages were not given to overseas returnees, it was the experience that counted in the workplace, Mr McCann said. But returnees often had expectations when they came to the firm.

'The guy who returns from an American university may be disappointed to discover there is no pay advantage and may demand some return on his academic investment. They don't get treated as special cases. For some it's a tough discovery.'

The PCD programme was put in place last year for 9,000 employees across the mainland and Hong Kong to nurture staff at all levels.

Staff also receive an average of 100 hours of training per year.

'We have had very good feedback with management saying PCD helps them give credible justification for pay and promotion decisions. There are fewer surprises for staff and this improves trust,' McCann said.