In the Spotlight: China
BGRS has been providing mobility services in China since 2006. China continues to be a maturing mobility market, with a growing number of headquartered international companies moving talent into and out of China. Dawn Brandenburg, Director of China Operations in BGRS’s Shanghai Office, has been living and working in China as an expat for over 18 years. She shares her insights on China, In the Spotlight.
BGRS has been providing relocation services in China for over 10 years, what have been the biggest changes during that time?
Dawn: Historically, China was usually a host location. International assignees moved into China, but not many were moving out from China. As a result, most multinational companies did not have mobility teams located in the region. The mobility function within companies consisted of in-house Human Resources or Administration teams that managed and coordinated the on-the-ground services through local partners. These local partners, referred to mobility service providers in region, were mostly destination services providers (DSPs) or compliance management suppliers (i.e. tax and immigration). Furthermore, for a long time the DSP/realtor model functioned at no additional cost to the client, proving to be a cost effect solution for moving talent into China. These providers generated their revenue from landlord commissions by providing home finding services. This led to an understanding that local DSPs, or Real Estate agencies, which dominate the market, are “relocation service providers,” but, their scope is more limited than that name suggests.
China is definitely a maturing market, and with the globalization of many Chinese headquartered companies, we see China becoming a home country location too, with many Chinese nationals being sent out from China for international assignments. As a result, over the past decade, we have seen more companies establish regional mobility teams to support increased out-bound or intra-regional moves. This has shifted the understanding of mobility services as a whole. Many relocation management companies have entered the market and have brick and mortar operations set up. These full service operations demonstrate what a specialized relocation services provider is capable of, and elevates the understanding that mobility services incorporates so much more than the traditional DSP partnership.
What do you think has contributed to BGRS’s success in the region?
Dawn: BGRS is a truly global company and we offer a full suite of mobility services and capabilities in the region. This sets us apart from other providers. Many companies in the region started with specialties outside of relocation, and then expanded to become relocation providers. However, BGRS is a company that is specialized exclusively in mobility. We have deep rooted knowledge and expertise that many other enterprises simply do not. That alone sets BGRS apart and has certainly contributed to our success in China.
In China, BGRS is well known and recognized for our service excellence. Our employees have done a great job maintaining high service scores for all of the clients we service in this region. In addition, the job market in China is fairly competitive and often has an active employee turnover rate. BGRS is working hard towards being an Employer of Choice, and this is a great asset in the industry and helps us retain our talented employees. We are proud of the fact we have consistent teams of dedicated and tenured professionals. And, our clients and prospects benefit from the stability, commitment, and deep knowledge on their client services teams.
What are some of the key considerations for companies moving talent into China?
Dawn: Immigration compliance is an important aspect of moving talent, but frequent changes can cause challenges. The Chinese government does not always provide ample notice before changes to immigration policies take effect. Changes to immigration laws can happen frequently, and with little notice and no flexibility. Thanks to strong relationships with our immigration partners, BGRS has a pulse on the market, which helps us stay apprised of potential changes and allows us to proactively communicate with our clients and set expectations on possible implications. Once we receive written confirmation that the law has in fact changed, we are able to act accordingly. We contact our clients and their mobility or HR teams to ensure a smooth process.
Additionally, companies should be aware of the cultural differences. While it is true that China is an increasingly mature market and its major cities are truly international, there are still many aspects of the culture that can be confusing to Westerners. For example, if an executive is having a meeting and he or she asks, “Do you have any questions?” or, “What are your thoughts?” it is common for those in the meeting not to vocalize their concerns or pose any questions. Learning how to communicate effectively and efficiently can be an important consideration for any company sending talent into China.
Lastly, I think it’s important for companies to consider the differences between the tiered cities. Large cities such as Shanghai and Beijing qualify as Tier 1 cities and allow for more comfortable living by most international standards. They are more diverse, and have more amenities and conveniences. Companies moving their employees into smaller cities, however, will need to consider that there aren’t always good schools, restaurants, shopping, available and that a transition to such a location may be much more challenging. Overlooking the differences between a Tier 1 and a Tier 2, 3, or 4 city can definitely have an impact an assignment’s success.
You’ve lived in Shanghai for 18 years, what are some “must see” locations in Shanghai?
Dawn: It’s hard to decide on just a couple, because there are so many wonderful and beautiful locations, and Shanghai has so many pockets of architecture, shopping and dining. But, if I had to choose just three, I would say, everyone must visit:
The Former French Concession is an area of Shanghai that was designated for the French. Today it is a busy shopping street and an extremely popular dining area. The streets are lined with trees and beautiful Tudor mansions which are reminiscent of its French namesake.
The Bund, or Waitan, is a famous waterfront area in central Shanghai. With sculptures and monuments along the mile long walkway, it is a beautiful place to see the unique architecture of the city center.
The Yu Garden is an extensive Chinese garden. The garden is near the City God Temple in the northeast section of the Old City. It is a serene garden with ponds, sculptures, bridges, and architecture.