CIO Life--and Business--in China

The career opportunities are huge. But so are the costs to your family, your health and your freedom.

As CIO of Lenovo, Steve Bandrowczak shuttles back and forth between New York and Beijing once a month. The travel is tough. “The biggest sacrifice is to your family and to yourself,” he says. But that’s just the cost of doing business for corporate IT executives today. “Anytime you’re in a global leadership position, you’re going to spend a significant amount of time traveling.”

The bigger leap is moving to China for an extended period of time—or for good. Most foreign CIOs will move into an expatriate community—either apartment complexes or gated communities. “There’s Starbucks, health clubs, western style shopping,” says Matt Brennan, who lived in China for five months as the interim CIO for automotive parts distributor Asimco. “It’s nice.”But there are challenges. Health care is not up to American standards. And those executives who bring their children will have to pay for expensive private schools, whose tuition rivals private colleges in the United States. Pollution is a problem in every large Chinese city, as is the lack of freedom to move around the country.

Yet living and working in China may be more difficult for Chinese nationals who return from the United States. When Charles Wan became CIO of Shenzhen-based appliance maker Midea, he moved his family to a large employee housing compound, where there was a garden, a pool, a restaurant and a school—“everything clean and organized,” Wan explains. “But outside, it was a different world: dirty, noisy, busy and crowded.” His American-bred daughter rebelled. “This place stinks,” she told Wan, and never wanted to venture outside the walls again. After several visits, his wife and daughters decided life in China just wasn’t for them.

There is also widespread mistrust of Chinese who return home after years in the United States. “Even though the government wants to welcome back overseas Chinese, people inside China perceive us very differently,” says Wan. Still, Wan remains captivated by China’s potential. He’s seeking out a patent for new technology that would serve both the Chinese and global market, and hasn’t ruled out a full-time return to his native land.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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