Big metropolitan cities such as Tokyo, London, New York or Shanghai are amazing places to visit, but how would it be to live and work there? A couple of years ago, Shanghai was calling for Michael Sikora, a former WU graduate. He followed the call and became Managing Director of abc Automotive Business Consulting Limited, an engineering partner and service provider for automotive parts and module suppliers. In this interview, the host of the Alumni Hub Shanghai talks about his experiences working abroad.
What does your typical workday in Shanghai look like?
After a healthy breakfast I drive 40 minutes to downtown Shanghai, enter a mid-range skyscraper and take the elevator to 18th floor. Before my Chinese employees arrive at 9 a.m., I usually prepare the morning project briefing agenda. As Europe is still sleeping, I have enough time to answer e-mails, develop project proposals for our client base or look after financial issues. Welcoming Chinese government representatives and industry park managers from High-Tech Development Zones (HTDZ) as well as local suppliers brings always “life” in our office as most delegations arrive ahead of schedule.
I enjoy my lunch break with partners and suppliers in the fancy quarter Xintiandi with its Shikumen type lane houses, containing some of the finest Asian and Fusion restaurants of Shanghai.
Our Skype TelCo and VoIP lines get busy when the European working day starts at 9 a.m. Central European Time – it’s already 3 or 4 p.m. in Shanghai. My sourcing team is discussing technical aspects with purchasing managers of our clients. Chinese staff finish work about 5:30 p.m., but I often stay longer as European small and medium-sized enterprises tend to focus on their China agenda after lunch break.
Describe the people and the atmosphere of Shanghai!
Shanghai was and is a very special Chinese city and shows many contradictory aspects of modern life in China. It is a swinging city where making money is a top priority and those who make (made) a fortune (in the old days) show it without any shame. Although the Chinese Communist Party was founded here in 1921 Shanghai is again the epicenter of capitalism.
The new Shanghai is a mirror of a modern, progressive young urban Chinese society. Gone are the days of old Shanghai under Western dominance which was mainly a playground for colonial powers and foreigners in all aspects of life. These days, foreign business people and investors with their know-how and money are once again highly welcomed to Shanghai. Most of the old glamorous buildings are refurbished and hosting fancy bars and restaurants entertaining and catering now the upper-class Chinese elite. The new Shanghai and its financial district with some of the tallest buildings of the world (Shanghai World Financial Center: 472 m, Shanghai Tower: 632 m, to be completed in 2014) along the Huangpu River give a clear message to the world: China is a rising economic and political superpower. The difference is that these days it’s the Chinese who are throwing the parties and Europe and the US are still plagued by ongoing economic crises.
Which challenges do you face living and working abroad?
A major challenge me and my fellow Shanghailanders are facing is the unilateral and negative picture foreign media and press is constantly drawing about China. This contributes to a wrong image and misunderstanding of modern China and its business opportunities. Six to seven hours time difference and slow overseas response time on the one side and fast responding Chinese partners on the other side need a strong buffer in between.
Where do you see differences in the working attitude between Austria and China?
I am always amazed how much hardship young students from the countryside can endure to achieve a better life. Family ties and reciprocal or mutual help within the family network come first and must be considered in any business undertakings. The young generation is also much prouder of the economic and technical achievements of their home country. Young Chinese professionals in their twenties often speak two foreign languages fluently and are equipped with astonishing problem-solving and creative intellectual skills.
What kind of advice do you have for graduates who are also planning on going abroad?
A good approach for your departure into the unknown territory abroad is to have a clear vision what you want to achieve (and what you don’t want to reach), combined with a large portion of courage and energy, even sometimes dourness. Don’t trust those who warn you about the risks involved and bring forward arguments why you will fail: most of them did not have the guts to live their own dreams!