Chinese People working in Western countries work hard and are often valuable employees. We should not think that makes them the right person to get you started in China. Great Chinese Staff in the West are often the wrong person when you put them back in China as a Chinese Returnee.
Returnees can be good, but we should deeply investigate them before and after they start. They often change once they are in their home country and often change even more if they are in their home town. All the old bad habits from China come flooding back, and you never would have guessed. Even they might not have realized it would happen.
Chinese Returnees Usually Struggle
Some companies think sending their Chinese Engineer to go set up their China entity in their hometown is smart because he has lots of relations there. Those relations are a double edged sword. That sword will cut most Westerners. I have been here over 20 years and do not dare to appoint a leader this way.
I copy part a Christian Science Monitor article on China’s impact below and see the whole thing here.
Interestingly, during the Ming and Qing dynasties, there was a rule that no high official could serve within 400 miles of his birthplace so that he did not come under pressure to favor local interests.
The Chinese government today still does that. How about you? For a Western Company this rule needs double emphasis. You must have deep insight to let a Chinese staff manage your China entity, but especially within 400 miles of his hometown.
Chinese culture is sticky, and the old boy network can influence people who worked very well for you back in your home country.
One Chinese returnee who did not go to his hometown still had trouble. He was an engineer in America after graduating from college in China. He grew up in China and ‘knew’ Chinese staff cannot be trusted. So he took the start up GM job and alienated all by trusting no one. All his Chinese language and culture skills crippled him, and the factory suffered. Others feel they are better than the Chinese staff and alienate staff. Others try to make friends to not alienate, and the company does not run. It is really hard for them to succeed. See also The Home Office and the China Local Office.
Some Related Thought
We help companies place Expatriate and Chinese Leadership here in China and know both can be done very successfully. Of note, we are totally different from other Western Recruiters. We know you must know people very well to hire them in China, or your risks rise fast. Because of this. We especially do not, however, recommend placing your Shanghai entity in the hands of a Shanghai person unless we do very deep background checks. Too many bad stories come from blindly doing such things. We know returnees can be good, but it takes very careful thought to use successfully.