“After 4:00 a.m., finally got off work.” André Georgi posted a WeChat moment in Chinese, with a real-time picture of his company’s lobby: the rays of the wall lamps scatter on velvet drapes, and the shadows of late-working colleagues fell on thick carpets.
“Working overtime is quite normal, especially in investment banks, consulting firms and law firms,” the Peking University HSBC Business School (PHBS) alumnus said quickly in Chinese. “Don’t choose such jobs just for high salaries,” he added. “If you love it, you can learn and grow fast.” Georgi’s Chinese fluency and vaguely foreign voice made it hard to believe I was talking with a German.
Georgi earned his master’s degree in management from PHBS last June and was employed by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) as an associate consultant a few months later. This American multinational is one of the ” Big Three” strategy consulting firms (BCG, McKinsey and Bain). On his business trip to China, he squeezed in some time to visit his alma mater.
“My business trips in China will last three months, but I’ll leave for Beijing tomorrow,” Georgi said as he put his suitcase next to his chair. He added that “even traveling to three countries within one day is nothing new.”
During his first five months on the job, Georgi has traveled non-stop from Berlin to Madrid to Beijing. This job offers him not only a chance to travel the world, but also a platform to give full play to his talents.
However, according to the PHBS 2015 Employment Report, only 16.5% of graduates that year started their careers at leading companies in the non-financial sectors, such as management consulting, IT and real estate, but 51.6% started their careers in transitional financial firms like securities, banks and insurance.
Most of Georgi’s Chinese classmates desired to become investment bankers. “Salaries and stability are two major benchmarks for selecting a job,” commented Georgi, but adding “some know little about investment banks, and it’s like a sheep-flock effect.” Unlike investment banking, which he said has fixed frameworks and leaves little room for creativity, consulting is more challenging in that there is a lot of variety in cases.
“The job strikes a balance between the moon and pence,” Georgi said, using a metaphor derived from Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence, in which moon refers to dreams and pence indicates wealth and social status. Top consulting firms are like a magnet attracting graduates from the world’s prestigious universities, where they start out at a high career level and earn considerable salaries.
“I can work with different groups, learn from elites from all walks of life and attend high-level conferences,” said Georgi, summing up that group cooperation, a good platform and creativity are like “moonlight” to compensate for his exhausting workdays. “Not everyone loves such a work style. Firms need to find the right person.”
Consulting firms’ interviews often involve loads of case analyses to evaluate interviewees’ response to pressure and critical thinking abilities. “You need to analyze a case in a very short time and formulate logic and well-organized proposals,” Georgi said. “Only when you get all the nods, can you enter the next round of interviews.”
“I can use Chinese as a working language” said Georgi. He is among only a handful of former PHBS international students who are fluent in Chinese and among an even smaller number who are doing business in China.
PHBS master programs are taught in English, with compulsory Chinese courses designed for internationals. Though most of them still prefer to speak English in daily life, Georgi spared no effort to sharpen his professional and Chinese language skills.
“Our team discussed in Chinese. So other teams couldn’t know our thoughts until the final English presentation,” Georgi said, recalling the 2015 Sofaer International Case Competition, an annual event that has attracted student teams from the world’s leading business schools to make business proposals for troubled Israeli companies’ revival.
The team of four PHBS students, Luxi Cai, Andre Georgi, Jifei Ma, and Wenting Peng, plucked last year’s championship by putting forward a creative yet practical proposal that precisely targeted the firm’s customers, enhanced its partnership and solved its long-term capital problems. It was the first time that a Chinese team won since Sofaer’s launch 11 years ago. “I leveraged my comparative strength,” Georgi added, referring to a balance between his language skills and management expertise, which made him a stand out in the fierce job market.
Noting the changes in China’s job market, where bilingual graduates from top universities have become more desirable and language requirement for foreigners is on the rise, Georgi commented that competent, well-educated Chinese are now being hired for positions once commanded by foreigners. In addition, it is reported that Wanda Group, China’s leading enterprise, has over 200 foreign employees, 80% of whom can speak Chinese since language proficiency is a plus in recruitment.
As his work experience has grown, Georgi has learned to adjust to cross-culture scenarios. “Many things can only be understood after living here,” he said, admitting that Chinese culture-loaded concepts no longer appear strange and perplexing to him.
“Save your boss’ face, especially in a meeting,” Georgi added. “If you have any disagreement, you’d better bring it up after the meeting.” He also has learned that in China “business is not just business,” but involves various dimensions like guanxi and government. “If the Chinese government has different expectations, programs can easily be restricted,” lamented Georgi, referring to a six-month BCG case that, though guaranteed good customer feedback and profits, didn’t win the government’s approval. “ I’ll try to find the balance between two cultures.”
As for his future plans, Georgi said, “Maybe I’ll work at BCG for several years. But I’m also open to working for Chinese firms in Europe.” For him, life is not about rigidly following the edict to imitate others’ success. “The key is to pursue what really intrigues me, and then my perseverance will bring about luck.”
Writted by Annie Jin
Edited by Priscilla Young