I have recieved some questions on various channels regarding my experience in China. So, what has taken me in and out of China since 2008? The short story is that courtesy of the Chinese government I had the opportunity to study free-of-charge and expenses-paid from 2008 to 2011 then, straight after graduation, I was extremely lucky with encountering a whole bunch of job opportunities that enabled me to work in a career related to China from 2011 through to today.
I arrived in China in 2008 – originally with the intention of staying for 1 year only. Upon completion of my Bachelor Degree with a major in Chinese language at Victoria University of Wellington in 2007, I had recieved a scholarship for one year of advanced Chinese language study at Renmin University in Beijing. The scholarship covered my accomodation, study fees and even gave me a monthly cash-stipend to cover food and other expenses all courtesy of Hanban – the Chinese government authority responsible for administering the scholarship. After completing my 2 semesters of study, I successfully applied for an extension of the scholarship – one more semester of study. While in my 3rd semester, I heard about another scholarship which was available for international students to study at Masters level. I successfully applied and thus ended up embarking on Masters of Law with a major in Sociology at Renmin University which lasted 2009 to 2011. The curriculum was fully in Chinese and I was the only foreign student in my class which really gave me the environment I needed to get an edge on my Chinese proficiency.
Luck With Getting A Good Job In China
During my last year of study in 2011, I decided I would try to find work in China for after graduation. I was interested in gaining further China experience and I had heard that there were a lot of job prospects for foreigners in China. I attended many different job interviews but could not find anything suitable. Then, to my luck, one day one of my lecturers from Renmin University called me; previously unbeknown to me, her husband was an executive at HNA Group – a massive airline conglomerate in China. One of the airlines in the conglomerate, Hainan Airlines, were looking to employ native-English speakers at their Beijing office to help them with their business development and overseas marketing. My lecturer asked me if I would be interested in sending my CV through and attending an interview -which I agreed to. I eventually landed a job at Hainan Airlines and over the course of one year jumped from being in department responsible for development of international passenger routes to the department responsible for overseas marketing. At the end of the year, I transferred to the Strategic Planning Department whose offices were in Haikou, Hainan Island.
Working In China’s Haiwaii On International Projects
I arrived in Haikou, Hainan Island in October 2012 where I began my position as Strategy Supervisor at the headquarters of HNA Group – a Fortune 500 company which employes 400K+ employees globally. Despite my lack of experience, just being bilingual and having a willingness to put in the hours to learn and meet deliverables in what was a fully-Chinese office environment, fostered the trust of my superiors to give me much higher responsibilities than I had envisioned for the position. Within 2 months of arriving in Hainan, I was project manager responsible for consolidating the research and strategic plan which our department was doing for a new-market-entry project which entailed the setup of 6 new airlines in Africa. I often worked from 0830am to 0930pm – often on the weekends aswell – in order to both cope with the workload and also study up on the theory and industry developments which I needed to know to ensure that our research and strategic plan were accurate and relevant. Despite the long hours, I enjoyed having a real commercial project to be involved in and entrusted with as it gave me a massive opportunity to learn. Then, this type of opportunity would have been difficult for me to get elsewhere as there would have been more experienced people who could have done it. Since I was in the right place at the right time, I was given the opportunity to work on the project – along with other similar projects – and benefited immensely.
As with my Master’s degree, I was also a minority in at HNA Group in terms of being non-Chinese member of staff. It was again an experience that helped me further my understanding of Chinese language, Chinese culture and business etiquette in China. The HR Department even did an article about me in their internal magazine. Click here if you are interested in reading it.
After spending 1 year in Hainan, I decided that I had learnt enough from that position and that it was thus not worth investing further amounts of overtime to better myself. Hence, I took up an offer from CRM Factory – a consulting firm that had an airline-related consulting project in Beijing.
Welcome To The Company – The Project We Employed You For Is Gone
In October 2012 I arrived in Beijing and reported for my first day of work with my new employer – a German firm that did software development and digital marketing consulting mainly in the automotive industry. The firm had originally employed me due to my airline experience as they had an airline related consulting project coming up. However, on my first day of work, I was told the client had now decided not to go ahead with the project and that I was to be assigned to another project. Thus, I was again thrown into the deep end where I was responsible for an audit of a European automotive client’s digital marketing agencies in China. I was again in a situation where despite my limited experience, simply being bilingual and having a willingness to learn and work hard to get the job done had given me another huge opportunity to learn. Over 6-months, I produced a series of reports which recommended how to improve the automotive brand’s digital marketing strategy in China.
Having successfully completed my first project, I was then assigned to a new project where I was required to conduct a business analysis requirement analysis for a US automotive brands enterprise CRM software for its dealerships in China. After the business requirement analysis, I thenwas responsible for the project management of the development and roll-out of the CRM software. It was a huge learning curve and a great learning experience. I appreciated greatly the opportunity to really get to understand a business’s processes and customer journey – something which I needed to do to ensure the software met the client’s requirements. However, just as the project was ending my old employer HNA GROUP got in touch with me and gave me a job offer I couldn’t refuse.
The Sharing Economy & Selling Planes
In October 2013, I moved to Shenzhen – the Silicon Valley of China, to work at a new company owned by HNA Group which had been setup to explore various new business possibilities in the sharing economy and e-commerce. In 2013, apps based on the sharing economy like Uber and DidiTaxi were getting lots of media attention and HNA Group had decided it wanted a piece of the pie. With my previous experience I had attained in project management for software development, they wanted me back.
We developed a B2C crowdfunding platform for various aviation-related financial products and also conceptualized several platform concepts based on the sharing-economy such as an empty-leg platform for corporate jets and fractional ownership for aircraft. We also set up an online platform for second hand aircraft sales in China which we used to advertise aircraft being retired from the fleet of HNA Group. Later, I also developed relationships with various overseas aircraft brands and signed sales agent agreements with them. We then used our online platform to market these aircraft in China.
One of the aircraft brands we were a sales agent for was a New Zealand aircraft manufacturer – Pacific Aerospace. Some time in mid-2014, Pacific Aerospace approached me about working for them. At that time, they were just starting a Joint Venture in China and wanted some New Zealand people proficient in Mandarin and with airline or aviation experience on the team. I liked the idea of connecting my career somehow back to New Zealand as I was worried that I was starting to set myself on a career trajectory that was completely unrelated to New Zealand. Hence, I ended up taking the offer.
Connecting Back to NZ
I started as Head of Business Development at Pacific Aerospace and their Joint-Venture in China BPAT (Beijing Pan-Pacific Aerospace) in October 2014. The Chinese partner in the JV was BAIC Group – a huge automotive conglemerate in China which owns the JV with Beijing Hyundai and Mercedes-Daimler. BAIC had a huge amount of resources that they were allocating to the construction of a production line in China for Pacific Aerospace’s aircraft the P-750 and the setup of a General Aviation operator for the operations of Tandem Skydiving and also provision of General Aviation wet-leasing and dry-leasing services. Over the course of my time there, I was responsible for project management, strategic planning and market-launch for two new tandem skydiving drop-zones and also the setup of an aircraft leasing venture. It was a very interesting position that involved me frequently reporting to our Sino-NZ board of directors whom I had to seek approval for and give bilingual reports regarding the various projects. As many other people working in JVs have experienced, I also often found it difficult to make serious headway on many of the projects that the JV was supposed to be doing due to the vastly differing opinions between the New Zealand directors and the Chinese directors. After working there for a year and a half, I simply became tired of always being caught in the middle and decided to quit and start my own consulting company in March 2016.
Starting A Business In China
In March 2016, I registered my own consulting company in Shenzhen – 321 JUMP. I focused on the tourism industry and marketing and sales for adventure tourism operators overseas whom wanted to attract Chinese tourists.
Along with a friend, we developed a solution based around a simple concept whereby we offered a Chinese website solution with an RMB payment capability, bookings module and Chinese-language virtual customer service for small to medium sized tourism operators. Our clients were namely tandem skydiving drop zones – whom did not have resources to have their own dedicated in-house capabilities to deal with Chinese tourists and our service fee was predominately commission-based.
We achieved some successes and managed to roll out our solution to operators in Fiji, Guam, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal Saipan and Thailand and serviced several thousand tourists in addition to providing consulting and web design for our client operators. We had originally hoped to get our business revenue up to the level that would be sufficient for us to employ staff to replace us and thus then take on more overseeing roles. However, it was difficult to get the revenue to the scale we had hoped for and, both of us having young families and limited further resources to put into the business, we decided to just put it down to experience and focus instead on furthering our careers elsewhere.
Bringing NZ Cider In China
While winding down 321 JUMP, I started looking for employment again. It was early 2018 and, despite having experience in the airline, aviation and tourism industry, I was finding it very hard to even land even interviews with potential employers let along a job. I applied for many different positions in the airline, aviation and tourism industry which were China related; however, these attempts were unsuccessful. After talking with a few mentors, they suggested that I try a different industry. Wanting to try to keep my career both New Zealand and China-related, I decided to look at the food and beverage export industry. Eventually, I landed a position at New Zealand’s largest independent cider company – Zeffer Cider Co. – as Greater China Sales Manager & Asia Regional Manager which I started in April 2018.
This was a very exciting position which I enjoyed thoroughly. I was responsible for managing and developing key sales accounts and importers and distributors across the region. My time at Zeffer took me all around the Greater China region and more or less made starbucks and airports my base offices. I managed to get Zeffer Cider into many new sales channels including 150+ Supermarkets and one of the world’s largest multinational restaurant groups. It was a very challenging position as we were essentially competing with mutli-national alcohol groups albeit on a very modest budget. However, it was a very rewarding position and I enjoyed promoting a New Zealand product in China.
Unfortunately, in early 2020, Zeffer’s importers and buyers across Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan all began to cancel orders as they feared the uncertainty that the pandemic was bringing. The ultimate consequence of the wave of cancellations and lack of future orders was that Zeffer had to prioritize its markets closer to home and scale back its budget for export markets. That meant I was unable to renew my contract with Zeffer in May 2020. As an owner of shares in Zeffer which I purchased during my time as an employee there, I understood the need to re-arrange the budget and am happy to see Zeffer thriving in other markets.
Since late 2019, I had been basing myself in Vladivostok, Russia, where we had extended family and also which was a convenient hub in terms of easy access to Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei and Tokyo – locations which I needed to frequently visit for Zeffer. Hence, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and later when my Zeffer contract ended, I found myself with my family here in Vladivostok. With young children, it was difficult for us to travel back to New Zealand to look for work. Hence, I stayed here in Vladivostok and was fortunate enough to be able to work remotely from here for a small conglomerate of tourism and aviation operators in Guam and Saipan. Since Mid-2020 until now, I have been responsible for the sales, marketing and business development for Skydive Saipan, Skydive Guam and Waco LLC in Greater China, Korea and Japan. I am also COO for a new startup project in Asia for the conglomerate and thus government liaisons in the target country and also strategic planning for the startup fall within my responsibilities.
So, if you were one of the people asking: “Who is this guy and what was he even doing in China?” , you now know the answer.