A stint at Honda, BHP Billiton or General Electric will be more valuable than Marxist-Leninist credentials on the resumes of those being head-hunted to fill senior positions at 12 top state-owned enterprises. Derided as inefficient and unresponsive, large state-owned companies have been making a big effort to catch up with overseas rivals as they seek to build global brands. Wang Yong, the newly appointed minister of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), warned last week that Chinese companies would face more intensified competition with foreign companies. Beijing began searching for global executive talent in 2004, but the recruitment drive announced yesterday is the most important to date in terms of seniority. Vacancies include the post of general manager at the State Nuclear Power Technology Corp, China State Construction Engineering Corp and Dongfeng Motor Corp. The China National Administration of Coal Geology, China National Gold Group Corp and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Corp are seeking deputy general managers. Advertisements for the recruitment drive in the China Daily - a newspaper aimed at foreign readers - say 'candidates from home and abroad' are wanted to help strengthen Chinese companies. An official involved in the headhunting who asked not to be named said he hoped executives with overseas experience would help the management of mainland companies become more internationally focused. Candidates are being interviewed in English to test their language ability. Beijing sought to recruit 22 senior executives with international experience in 2004, but an adviser to the Shanghai government said many did not stay long with the state-owned firms owing to differences in culture and management style. Shanghai-based Jinjiang International Hotel Management appointed Chris Bachran that year as chief executive, hoping the veteran American hotel manager would orchestrate a fast expansion of the company. But he quit the mainland's largest hotel chain after only two years. Mainland media said Bachran could not reach common ground with local managers on human resources and strategic planning. Unlike at most Western firms, top executives in mainland companies often do not have the last word on major decisions. The government has the final say on everything from filling key posts to which projects should be invested in. Chinatex Corp, a major textile producer, is among the state-owned companies looking for a general manager. An official from the company's public affairs office said 'the candidates have to pass several challenging tests, but that will be arranged by SASAC. The general manager is not the enterprise's choice but the party's'. Despite the cultural differences, management experts say hiring talent from overseas is the right step. 'Problems are definitely unavoidable,' Ning Xiangdong, a professor in Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management, said. 'But the practice is right and must be continued.' He believes the process will become easier once China narrows the gap in business practices but said it would take time. The government wants to build up 30 to 50 state firms as national champions in fields ranging from oil to banking and airlines. Some are among the biggest globally in their industries owing to their protected position in China's huge market. 'Beijing is in short supply of thousands of professionals - experts in restructuring and daily management,' said Wang Zhong, deputy chief of Shanghai Jiao Tong University's corporate research institute. 'The recruitment plan is a sign that the central government fully understands the necessity to bring in outside qualified managers. But the problem lies in whether the professionals will be properly used.'