Interview With Ms. Jing Gayle Gao
From APEC HRDWG Wiki
This interview was held on October 22, 2010, with with Ms. Jing Gayle Gao, Regional HR Vice President, Asia at Beiersdorf. This interview is provided with Ms. Gao's permission.
What skills do you see as necessary to work in multinational companies in APEC economies?
Many APEC economies, especially Asian economies, have developed very quickly. Development in these economies is often not a step-by-step process; instead, it may happen quickly at times, bypassing expected steps. Many young people in APEC economies are used to things happening in this way. This, coupled with cultural backgrounds rooted in tradition and philosophy, sometimes leads young people to draw conclusions without a lot of data. They tend to take action before they analyze the situation. Relying on data analysis to make decisions is more of a Western concept, while Asian values include making decisions with common sense. Once young people in Asia are equipped with the skills of data analysis, they will be able to combine these skills with their deep understanding of the Asian markets. This combination will then become their strength.
Young people also need language skills and professional expertise, as well as strong communication and leadership skills. They need to be able to advocate for themselves and explain their thoughts clearly. These skills are critical for rising in careers in multinational companies.
What challenges are multinational companies facing in recruiting young people?
Recruitment challenges include strong competition from local companies. These days, only one multinational company is among the top ten companies in China. The rest are state-owned companies. This trend has also been visible in Japan and Korea for a long time. State-owned companies are improving their compensation and benefits packages considerably; they are much more competitive in the business world than they used to be. In addition, young people often feel loyalty to their own countries’ enterprises. Nonetheless, the multinational companies still have a lot of advantages, including fair competition within the organization and more opportunities to do international work.
Another challenge is a shortage of qualified young people who speak English well. It is extremely important to speak English. This skill will help young people find opportunities and climb the career ladder in multinational and state-owned companies.
Once young people are hired, what challenges do companies face in working with them?
Young multinational professionals are in high demand in many APEC economies. Companies compete for the best workers. As a result, multinational companies sometimes experience a high turnover among their employees and perceive them as having low loyalty to the company. Young people are eager to grow, when often they should be a little more patient with the step-by-step career path.
How important is green business to your work? What should young people know about green business?
All companies in which I have worked have environmental programs. This is a new trend for multinational companies. They want to develop a socially responsible and environmentally friendly image for their consumers. Also, the younger generation of employees are very interested in linking their work to the social good; they want to make a contribution to society. Young people are proud to work for an environmentally conscious company.
What challenges are there in hiring and retaining women?
Hiring women is not a challenge. In fact, there is a higher percentage of female executives in Asia than in Europe. In China, women have always worked, just as their husbands have, though they have often had to interrupt their work for family and children. Since the economy has developed so fast, many couples are able to support their families with just one salary. The economic status of the family has improved. As such, many women have more time to spend with their child. Families in China usually only have one child, so spending time with that child and educating him or her is very important.
What are international employers in APEC economies doing to strengthen cross-cultural and business language competencies? What are their challenges?
International employers in APEC economies are doing a lot to strengthen these competencies. Multinationals often provide language training for their employees. This is very common. Almost always, English is the only language that is taught. In fact, I used to work for two German companies, and even they provided training only in business English.
When employees are sent to a new country, multinational companies provide cross-cultural training. This is a must for those who work in foreign countries. I think it’s important to note that when people talk about cultural differences, they often think only of the differences between the East and West. In fact, there are significant cultural differences even between Asian countries. For example, there are big cultural differences between China and India, or between Thailand and Korea. These differences aren’t as large as the differences between the East and the West, but they are still significant.
One interesting practice is that of cross-country swaps of high-potential employees. Multinationals will sometimes swap same-level employees who work in different countries. This swap will usually last for a year or two. In nearly all of these cases, the employees speak English well and are high-potential employees. Many of these swaps are seen as rewards and opportunities to build new skills. It doesn’t matter where you go though, English will be the language used for communication.
There are several challenges involved in sending employees to work in other countries. Different compensation levels is one barrier. For example, if a Chinese person goes to work in Japan, he or she will need a significant pay raise. When that employee comes back to China, the readjustment to Chinese salaries is difficult. There are also a lot of labor migration restrictions among countries, which can be tricky. Finally, it can be difficult to deal with the taxes complications that arise from sending someone to work in another country. The company must do a lot of extra paperwork, so employers are only willing to send high-potential employees abroad.