Powering Innovation in China and Korea through PwC, Pilates and Partnerships
Facing a map with directions leading to places named the sandbox, emerging tech lab, studio, and incubators, the CEIBS MBA Admissions team had to double check that they were indeed at the offices of accounting powerhouse PwC. Their Experience Centre in the fashionable surroundings of Xintiandi, Shanghai is far from what you would expect from an accountancy office, but then so is the subject of today’s alumni interview with MBA2010 Jennifer Han, Partner of PwC’s Advisory team and Head of Cross Border Advisory Services between Korea and China. We caught up with Jennifer to discuss her thoughts on the future of Korea-China business opportunities, her key takeaways from CEIBS, and advice for Korean applicants looking to study an MBA in China.
As someone who enrolled at CEIBS without Mandarin language skills but is now fluent, what advice do you have for applicants like yourself who have aspirations to work in professional services in Shanghai?
As a deal advisor, I lead the integrated M&A advisory service from beginning to end, all of which is quite demanding on my ability to speak Mandarin. I would advise those who are coming to Shanghai to first consider the following:
Am I prepared to put effort into meaningful and regular relationship building with CEIBS alumni?
How can I grasp the niche market opportunity by leveraging my previous work experience and cultural background?
Can you briefly describe a typical day for you at PwC?
I wake up every day at 5am and start by checking the financial news and handling any urgent work matters that may have come through overnight. From 6am, I run for half an hour in Century Park and then attend a Pilate’s class. After that, I go to the office and attend five to six meetings and conference calls in a row. These usually include lunch or dinner appointments with client senior management to discuss topics such as deal strategy, due diligence, M&A trends and the Chinese economy. I am also very busy at the moment initiating new seminars and coaching sessions on deal making, RMB funds and entrepreneurship coaching.
What future business opportunities do you see on the horizon between South Korea and China?
The aim is to create stronger economic ties between the two countries through lowering trade barriers, enhancing cooperation in advanced technologies, and strengthening financial infrastructure. What is interesting though, is that both Chinese consumer behaviour and government policies are changing. In particular, more Chinese consumers are looking to buy safe foreign goods, especially Korean beauty care products and food. The Korean government is actively discussing business opportunities with its Chinese counterparts to stimulate the Korean economy and promote Korean firms entering the China market. In addition, we are seeing an increase in the volume of attractive deals for Chinese investors in the M&A market in Korea. In a nutshell, I am excited to see that the increasing cultural, political, and economic ties between China and Korea are accelerating the new business opportunities related to inbound and outbound deals between Korea and China.
Which takeaways from CEIBS professors still guide your career today?
Localization is the most important element to succeeding in the Chinese market
Platform business will be the main disruptive theme around the world, including in China
Unrivalled relationship and trust building skills
Given the scale of innovation that we see in Shanghai, what are the biggest changes that you have seen internally at PwC since you joined?
I believe the big changes are related to the environment and pollution issues, which brings new business opportunities such as electric car innovation and artificial intelligence. In addition, the unprecedented pace of change and mega trends in China such as the aging population, online and offline integration, changes in capital market policies and the Belt and Road Initiative have meant that PwC must grasp opportunities in advance in order to stay ahead. Our innovation centre is a great example of how we are supporting technology development, particularly when related to cross border deal advisory.
Why should MBA applicants from South Korea consider studying at CEIBS?
First of all, I believe Koreans should take a serious look at opportunities in China. From my experience, I have seen numerous business alliances, joint ventures and M&A opportunities between Korea and China in industries such as TMT, healthcare and beauty, media, automotive and high tech. To throw some numbers at you, 2016 was another record year for China M&A with deal volumes up 21% at 11,409 transactions, and values up 11% at US$770bn. In value terms, we saw China outbound M&A grow at US$221bn by an astounding 246% - nearly 3.5 times the previous high from 2015.
If you have a strong interest in China, then CEIBS is the best school to step up and be a part of these opportunities. Through its well-structured and tailored curriculum, strong alumni network including the Korean Chapter and practical business related activities, I strongly recommend the CEIBS MBA programme as it was one of the most memorable experiences in my life.
How helpful have you found the international alumni chapter in Shanghai?
The international chapter organises regular activities to connect international alumni with career and business cooperation opportunities. As the CEIBS alumni network becomes increasingly diverse, with many graduates currently involved in global business related to China, the international alumni chapter provides a great platform for meaningful and productive gatherings. As you heard from my daily schedule, I am very busy but hope in the future to dedicate more time to the chapter.
What advice do you have for maintaining a healthy work-life balance?
“Carpe diem” is one of my favourite sayings, but I strongly believe that everyone needs a peaceful zone outside of work for meditation and reflection. I find this extremely valuable when trying to find the balance between work and life, and to relieve stress.