Hongyan (Annie) Xu
...I decided to do an MBA and move into a position in a global company. Since I was looking for cultural exposure, I chose Europe, and RSM...
There are significant differences in the way a Chinese and a western firm are managed. In a western business, roles and responsibilities are clearly defined – it is function-driven; Chinese companies look the same from the outside, but the decision-making process is much more centralised and for westerners this can be confusing. It is changing though; global-operating Chinese companies are adapting to the western way of management.
Five years ago I was an aeronautic engineer working for a Chinese company owned by the central government in Beijing. Now I am the director of strategic partnerships in Siemens Power Generation Oil & Gas and Industrial Applications in Germany.
I finished my double degree in aeronautic engineering and international business at Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 1997, before working for CATIC (China Aero-Technology Import & Export Cooperation) for around five years. I was given the opportunity to develop from a project manager to a senior manager in marketing and sales. In this role I was required to travel extensively outside China, and I began to see a very clear career path: I needed to understand how a western business operated. I decided to do an MBA and move into a position in a global company. Since I was looking for cultural exposure, I chose Europe, and RSM.
After I graduated in 2004, I was offered a job at GE as a global supply chain integration leader. This was a position that required integrating seven manufacturing sites that were acquisitions. In my job, I needed to establish a standardised way of managing these sites and ensure that they delivered on their targets, while we rationalised operations. It was a great learning experience. What I enjoyed most was the hands-on execution culture.
When I was approached by Siemens for a segment business development position, I saw the opportunity to combine a strategic and operational role, so I moved to Siemens. In this position I have been working in three areas: regionalisation, global acquisitions and integration. While acquisitions drive non-organic growth, regionalisation drives organic growth by setting up local competency centres. At GE I was focused on supply chain, here I am leading a team of 20+ professionals to integrate acquired businesses into the Siemens world, while streamlining the business to improve its operational result.
An important part of my job requires – and this is something the MBA has helped me to learn – the ability to prioritise and think strategically. The business world is running at a high speed. In order to be effective it is more essential then ever to be focussed while keeping the big picture in mind, and knowing when to go into the details.
Working with a multi-functional globally-dispersed team, it is essential to have good communication skills. I always remember the speech of Dean Mike Page at my first day at RSM. He said, “For most of the professors and MBA colleagues, English is not the first language. When you deal with people, remember that, and look for understanding the message rather than focussing on the wordings.” I use the same words when I welcome a new member to my team. It is only one example of what one has to keep in mind when leading people of different backgrounds.
The biggest challenge in my role is being an Asian woman in a male-dominated German engineering company. The majority of my team are male, mostly German, experienced professionals. But this challenge also brings me the greatest reward – to be accepted by such a team.
I highly value the experience I am getting in my current role. In the long run, I might go back to China – the opportunities are tremendous there – but right now I would like to develop myself further in Germany.
Without the MBA, I simply could not have qualified for a management job at GE or Siemens in Europe. But it is more than that – the programme showed me how different functions and different businesses can be managed. Before my MBA, I was more concerned when I saw an unfamiliar business situation and had to rely on my intuition. Now I know I can always go back to the business fundamentals. Nothing is a business miracle – for a complex situation, it is about finding a way to break it down into small and solvable pieces and be persistent in the execution. This has become my style, and I think people respect that.
Text and photography: RSM Outlook