If you’ve ever considered working or doing business in China, there’s a great deal you need to know. Everything from the work ethic, the business culture, to the business development approach is different to elsewhere.
An MBA can be a good access point, giving you a formal introduction to business as well as an opportunity to immerse yourself in Chinese culture. For many, it’s the first step into a long term career in China.
We spoke to two MBA students from Peking University (PKU) Guanghua School of Management in Beijing who revealed what you might not know about doing business in China.
1. The economy is high-tech
China’s growing influence over the past forty years has come from its giant manufacturing capacity. You’ll find ‘Made in China’ on everything from electrical appliances to your children’s toys.
But a surge of new high-tech companies, from Alibaba to Tencent to ByteDance (makers of the hit app TikTok), has seen China’s economy become increasingly digitally-oriented, diversifying away from low value manufacturing.
“A lot of the economy is driven by creativity, ideas, innovation,” explains Jorge Ramirez Dorantes, an MBA student at PKU.
Having grown up in Mexico, and worked in North America, Jorge was keen to see a new type of business environment, and experience exciting innovation in China
“I felt that China was the perfect place to go and really challenge yourself to see things you wouldn't normally see in other parts of the world,” he says.
During his MBA, Jorge’s IPP (internships & practicum projects) allowed him to get a chance to work at a Chinese company at the forefront of innovation. He worked at NIU, a Chinese smart mobility company constructing everything from e-bikes to scooters.
Part of the success of China’s high tech industries has been the society’s receptiveness to change. “The market is very dynamic. People are fast at adapting their systems, assuming change, and being creative.”
2. China’s pace of change is rapid
The rate at which China’s economy is growing gives you a good indication of the pace at which business moves and changes—predicted to bounce back to 8.4% in 2021.
If you are a person with a global mindset, you should understand the Chinese market.
This was one of the primary factors that drew Jorge to study his MBA in China. “Both as a consumer, with the largest domestic market and a huge middle class, and as a producer, given its scale, infrastructure, and manufacturing capabilities, China is attractive to any business professional in the 21st century.”
Jorge was blown away by the pace of his MBA IPP project at NIU, where the company was looking into expansion in new markets, specifically in Latin America. Within four months of working there, the team went from a very basic understanding of Latin America, to building a deep analysis of the economy and developing a go-to-market strategy.
It also showed Jorge that China isn’t just concerned with competing with European and North American companies: they are keen to tap into emerging economies in regions like Latin America and Africa.
3. There’s a very hard working ethic
China’s desire to be successful at everything it does comes from a strong work ethic. If you’re eager to work or do business in China, be prepared to work very hard.
PKU MBA student Peter Xie moved to Canada when he was 15 and stayed on to study and work in engineering, before coming back to his home country of China to study for an MBA. Comparing the two cultures, Peter believes Chinese employers work much harder for longer hours.
“Business in China is developing very fast because people are working really hard,” Peter says.
4. Business culture is people-oriented
Investing time in making personal connections is incredibly important in China. Networking and personal relationships all contribute a great deal to the way business is done.
Peter stresses the informality of how business is done in China, joking that business is done around the dinner table with a drink in hand.
He believes that networking is one of the main benefits of doing an MBA in China. “PKU is focused on social network building because you have people from lots of different areas. We communicate everyday at school, and after school with lots of social events.”
Peking University’s 100,000+ alumni network—with around 30,000 from Guanghua—hold important roles in both public and private organizations around the world, from China’s incumbent premier, Li Keqiang, to the CEO of Chinese tech giant Baidu, Robin Li.
This is crucial to building future business connections, sharing ideas, or even trading contacts for your future careers. “It’s almost as important as the business itself,” Peter says.
For internationals, this shouldn’t be hard. Peter emphasizes how friendly and welcoming Chinese people are to foreigners. “Studying in China is a lot of fun!” he says.
5. It’s worth investing time and effort in immersing yourself
Jorge quickly recognized how different China was when he started studying his MBA in Beijing. Even less obvious things like the apps and technologies they used were different to what he was used to.
He truly believes it's worth fully immersing yourself in the culture, such as learning the language and building relationships with people who lived there to get to know local customs.
At Guanghua, students can get access to Business Chinese courses for all levels. They are also encouraged to experience extracurriculars like the Peking Opera, Chinese painting and Tai Chi to have a better understanding of Chinese culture.
“Engage and commit with China, and that will open doors to a new level of your experience and opportunities you have.”
An MBA has proved to be the perfect chance to immerse himself in China, and to start building opportunities for the future there.