With the global economy in crisis, many professionals with roots in Hong Kong or the mainland are returning home in a bid to find better opportunities. One such person is Jason Gu, who, having lived and worked in the United States for the past decade, recently returned to his native city of Shanghai. With little difficulty, he managed to secure a job as a business operations controller, overseeing 400 employees and running the Greater China operations for Infor, the world's third largest business software company. 'London and the US were hit hard by the financial turmoil and the outlook isn't good,' said Mr Gu, a graduate in management and marine chemistry from Qingdao's Ocean University of China. He added that several factors had influenced his decision to relocate, among them his personal view that Asia would continue to rise and that, in due course, Shanghai would replace Hong Kong and Singapore as a financial hub. 'Staying in the US was never my long-term goal,' he said. 'My goal was to train, and gain the knowledge and skills to be a multinational executive.' To this end, during his 10 years in the US, he had completed an internationally recognised MBA from the State University of New York, gained experience with various multinationals, and learned about the kind of cultural differences that are part of the modern work environment. Immediately before his recent move, he had worked for three years as a senior manager and business analyst with a firm in Washington. In returning to Shanghai, he was confident these 'assets' would be very much in demand since mainland companies and international firms, with growing mainland interests, were still sorely in need of professionals with advanced qualifications and practical overseas experience. After assessing comparative contract terms and working conditions, Mr Gu had little hesitation in coming to a decision. 'The pay is roughly the same, but the living costs in Shanghai are lower, so spending power is [greater] here,' he said. 'The working environment is as good as in western companies, almost at an international standard.' Shanghai's property boom means housing prices are close to US levels for similar types of property. The quality of accommodation is comparable and, in China, the daily commute is perhaps not as far. Even so, Mr Gu would not necessarily advise others to take the same path as himself. 'It depends on your job,' he said. 'If you are a software engineer, for example, or at management level, and want to move up in a multinational or a company that is expanding, then you need to find your strengths and weaknesses, and [consider relocating].' His own move was partly prompted by the feeling he had hit a glass ceiling in the United States. Staying there, the best he could hope for was to reach an upper-middle management position, not the top echelons. There would also have been less call to use his Chinese and western strengths. 'So I had to look for a multinational company that operates in Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation countries,' he said. According to Dan Chavasse, Michael Page International's managing director for Greater China and Southeast Asia, two factors are driving this migration of professionals back to Asia. First, a push factor of executives returning to China stems from the decline of financial markets in North America and Europe. Second, a pull factor for luring top candidates is the number of high-level positions available in Asia. The firm's own salary and employment forecast, which surveyed about 450 employers and 1,600 employees in Hong Kong and the mainland, tracked these trends. Released in mid-2008, it showed the number of returnee placements in Hong Kong and the mainland in July last year was 75 per cent higher than in the previous March. The survey also found that, back then, 26 per cent of employers, who had trouble contending with skills shortages in their home markets, would consider recruiting staff from overseas. 'China has a desperate shortage of middle-management professionals,' Mr Chavasse said. 'The most desirable people have worked for western companies in Europe, North America, Hong Kong or Singapore. There are lots of senior professionals and graduates, but not people in the middle.' While attracting top candidates through global recruitment companies was the most popular vehicle, Mr Chavasse advised employers to use various channels for junior to middle-level positions, including the internet and local job boards from the mainland and Hong Kong. Once such in-demand employees are hired, it is also vital to pay close attention to their on-the-job training and career development. 'Since there is a shortage of candidates, many people move jobs after 12 to 18 months for a higher salary,' Mr Chavasse said. The survey also showed that while a large proportion of the returnees were heading to China's banking industry, others were taking up senior finance positions in the commercial sector. The roles included chief financial officer, treasury director, and director of financial planning and analysis. Of employees who had worked internationally, 84 per cent said experience abroad had enhanced their employment prospects on their return. As someone who has had a series of international posts over the past 20 years, Hongkonger Sunny Wu is familiar with the pros and cons of life in Sydney, London, Singapore and Shanghai. 'To work in another country is very exciting, but you have to think about it carefully,' he said. 'It is not easy to move if you have teenagers or young kids.' A one-time regional finance head for consumer goods giant Unilever, Mr Wu subsequently held a similar position with cosmetics company Avon, which required him to move to New York. It taught him that any relocation brings surprises and can serve to highlight the attractions of 'home'. 'If you look at numbers for your salary, the US is better, but the take-home pay is better in Hong Kong [because of the low taxes],' said Mr Wu, who took an MBA at the University of Warwick in 1990. In New York, he found the commute to and from work could take up to three hours a day, compared with his previous 10 minutes in Hong Kong. And he realised that, while Americans might spend less time in the office because of flexi-hours, their movements were often tied to suburban train timetables. Mr Wu returned to Hong Kong last year for personal reasons. He is optimistic that his overseas experience with an organisation that was going through some financial troubles will enable him to land a good senior position. 'When a company is facing difficulties, they need better finance people,' he said. 'I was told by many people there is a demand. I am a senior person with experience, and a company has to be willing to pay for someone like me.'