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Market Be Damned, Chinese Youth Dream Big

March 8, 2016 by Robin Meyerhoff 26

Economists are concerned about the slowing Chinese economy. But young people continue to dream big when it comes to their careers and goals for businesses in China.

Huifang Guo lives in Beijing and attends Tsinghua University as an MBA student. Her goal is to finish her PhD at Stanford. Despite global concerns about the flagging Chinese economy, Huifang is optimistic about the future and believes that she – and other young professionals in China – are in a great position to impact the business world.

Tsinghua University is on par with the London School of Economics or MIT, and a magnet for China’s best and brightest. Haifang grew up on Shenzhen, China home to some of China’s most successful high-tech businesses, like Huawei, as well as a thriving community of local and foreign startups.

“I was raised with an awareness of innovation. Many of my classmates started new firms when they were in college. But many of the founders lacked the knowledge to run a business. That’s how I discovered my passion. I study innovation, entrepreneurship and business strategy. Not every firm survives so I want to use my knowledge to help them grow and develop, as a consultant.”

One way she’s developing her skills, is by participating in the SAP University Alliances program – a company that has piqued her interest. Recently, SAP CEO Bill McDermott visited China and launched his book, Winner’s Dream, at Tsinghua University. Huifang attended and identified strongly with his story of optimism, hard work, and persistence.

Huifang’s background and aspirations are representative of her generation. Margaret Chen, Vice President of Human Resources for SAP Greater China, explains, “Before people were more concerned with job security and financial security. But many in the younger generation come from more well-off families. They want to find a job that aligns with their values and identity – one where they can make an impact on the world.”

Further, as Huifang says, “China has become more open to the world. For my parents it was really difficult to go abroad and receive an education but in our generation, many of my friends go abroad to study during high school, college, masters or doctorate programs. So the mix of knowledge, technology and culture have brought more opportunities to China’s young people.”

Partly that is due to the One Child Policy, which has been in effect since 1979. Last October, China reversed their long-standing one child policy due to concerns about its aging population. But the emerging generation of business professionals (known as the “post 90s” as after 1990) was raised during the policy’s midst, and able to take advantage of its benefits.

According to Huifang, “The benefit of the program is that the parents can focus their resources on one child so that person receives better education and opportunities,” which translates to higher expectations about job satisfaction and professional mobility.

Another difference, young people in China today are surrounded by an entrepreneurial culture. As Margaret explains, with huge global Internet successes like Alibaba and over 400 Chinese billionaires according to Forbes, this generation is inspired to be entrepreneurial.

Over the past few years the government has put incentives in place to encourage people to start their own businesses. Among other initiatives, the central government announced a $6.5 billion startup fund early in 2015. This year’s market conditions may have dimmed the prospects of last year’s explosion of startups (some estimate a new startup was founded every seven minutes.) But luckily, there are young people like Huifang, who are pursuing careers that will help those startups thrive.

Dreams Matter

The younger generation in China, like millennials in other parts of the world, is more likely to change jobs if their employer fails to provide room for them to pursue their passions. Margaret says that’s why SAP Greater China established a program, “Let’s Shine,” which encourages people to share their dreams so SAP can help fulfill them.

“For example, a young top talent in Shanghai is a certified fitness trainer. He’s a software developer but wanted to build a fitness academy. So we gave him budget and he created training program that is free for SAP employees. It’s only in Shanghai now but we’re helping him scale it to other China locations. It helps him fulfill his dream and it’s beneficial to SAP.”

For now, it’s Huifang’s dream to complete her studies in Silicon Valley so she can bring that perspective on innovation back to China. She’s already considering important issues like how to establish new systems of trust to accompany the new business models wrought by technology. With her entrepreneurial spirit and global understanding of the challenges facing domestic businesses, Huifang points the way towards a bright future for China.

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