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Sino-US relations

Executives from China urge students in US to come home

Attendees at University of Pennsylvania summit told that their skills are now in high demand back in China

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 April, 2017, 2:46pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 April, 2017, 11:29pm

Executives at Chinese companies want their young, US-educated compatriots back home. That was the recurring message delivered to an audience of students from China during a weekend event at one of the most prestigious universities in the United States.

Amid a recent warming of relations between Beijing and Washington, helped by a summit between the two countries’ presidents earlier this month, Chinese companies are scrambling for American resources. And it’s no longer exclusively about technology and natural resources.

Increasingly, Chinese firms want the full range of skills available only by repatriating people.

“We really hope that going back home will be your first choice because many industries in China need you,” Zhou Xin, the chief executive officer of New York-listed E-House (China) Holdings, told students attending the Penn Wharton China Summit.

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It was organised by Chinese students attending the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in Philadelphia.

Hu Haiping, the CEO of Shanghai-based Shanshan Group, echoed Zhou’s encouragement, pointing out that “countless” companies in China needed a bridge to international markets and that language skills were crucial for this.

Speakers also included China’s New York-based Consul General Zhang Qiyue, Li Ning, founder of the Chinese sportswear company of the same name, and Sotheby’s CEO Tad Smith.

As its domestic economy matures, China is pushing the country’s corporate sector to become globally competitive. Major initiatives include the “Made in China 2025” plan, which seeks to localise the production of world-class IT products like semiconductors, robotics and clean-energy vehicles. The 10-year plan is backed by 2.2 trillion yuan (US$320 billion) worth of state-directed financing.

But money isn’t enough. Chinese companies need decision-makers who understand what leads to breakthroughs in lab technology and materials engineering, but also non-technical, “soft skills” in marketing, human-resources management and fluency in English.

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“For Chinese students in the US, there’s a lot of opportunity back in China because a lot of companies have US business and international business as a goal if not now, then maybe in five or 10 years,” said Xie Chengrun, a student who helped organise the summit. “Any companies back in China looking to develop international business will need people like us.”

More than 328,000 students from China were registered at US colleges and universities in 2016, up from 62,582 a decade earlier, according to data compiled by the New York-based Institute of International Education.

Held this past weekend, when most Americans observed Easter or Passover, the Penn Wharton China summit attracted 1,500 students, primarily from mainland China, according to Xie. That’s up from 1,200 for the event’s debut last year.

Last week, executives of some of China’s biggest building and engineering firms, including China State Construction Engineering Corporation, held a roundtable discussion with Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The Chinese firms sought advice on how to become more successful in bidding for business in the US.

As China evolves, domestic industries must cater to the demands of the middle class there, which will have more wealth, international exposure and leisure time.

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“We’re going through crucial changes every day and every minute,” Consul General Zhang said at the Penn Wharton event. “We’re trying to promote political, economic, cultural, social, and ecological development all at the same time. These transformations will come with great opportunities.”

The Penn Wharton summit participants cited the importance of creative industries in the effort to reach the government’s development goals. Chinese investment in US entertainment companies, including Dalian Wanda Group’s US$3.5 billion acquisition of Legendary Entertainment last year, underscores this demand.

“The biggest crisis we have in [China’s] arts and entertainment industry is the lack of skills,” said Zhang Jizhong, producer of a number of television series for state broadcaster CCTV, including an adaptation of the classic Journey to the West.

“I’m encouraging all of the students I see here to come back to China, and they can contact me personally,” Zhang said at the summit.