Too few good men

By Li Fangfang (China Business Weekly)
Updated: 2008-01-21 13:39

Going short

"China's scorching economic growth is outpacing the supply of qualified professionals, especially in the middle and top levels," says Zeng of Renmin University. "Its growing appetite for management talent has made it the most exciting front in the global headhunting trade."

This extraordinary growth is spawning new companies and ratcheting up demand for experienced executive talent.

Property tycoon Wang Shi, chairman of China's largest developer Vanke, declares his enterprise is running short of senior vice-presidents. The observation is echoed by Chi Jingtao, chief human resources manager of China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corp: "My toughest job is to choose suitable CEOs among more than 300 executives in our group. The shortage of management-level talents in all segments in our group, ranging from foodstuff trading, farm products packaging to real estate and financing, has been our biggest bottleneck."

In 2005, a report by consultancy McKinsey and Co said multinationals were facing manpower shortage and high turnover rate of management-level talents in China. It also predicted that in the next 10 to 15 years, local companies looking to expand their global businesses will need 75,000 management-level professionals with international experience. Presently there are no more than 5,000.

"What's needed is well-educated talent with international experience and excellent ability to deal with foreigners," says Xiao Mingzheng, director of Center for HR Development and Management Research with Peking University.

"Even a sales person in a trading company selling machines has to have some knowledge of machines, along with sales, language and communication abilities to sell the machines abroad," says Shi Jin, chief manager in charge of North China region in Randstad, a professional staffing firm.

Both Xiao and Shi believe poaching is not a solution, although more than 600 headhunting companies are on the prowl in Shanghai and over 300 in Beijing.

Shared onus

Moreover, "the onus of development does not only lie on the executives", says Xiao. "It should be a combined effort of both the executives and the enterprises. Employers have a responsibility to train professionals to boost their development."

During last year's Undergraduates Credit Forum in Beijing, recruitment Director Wei Hong of Lenovo said from 2001 to 2005, his company recruited 1,623 graduates from campus and that fresh graduates accounted for 15 percent of the staff in Lenovo. "One-third of our executives at the vice-president level originally came as fresh graduates. Lenovo Chairman Yang Yuanqing and Digital China's CEO Guo Wei are typical cases."

In the CEO-CASS Business School annual ranking of up-and-coming CEOs under 45, China's young professionals last year maintained their leading position for the second year running, taking all top-five slots and eight of the top 10.

"However, the rate at which the enterprises are training talent is obviously far less than the rate at which these enterprises are growing themselves. In the short term, shortage of high-level professionals will indeed be a bottleneck for both multinationals and local companies in China," says Zeng of Renmin University.

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