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Career Advice: The CIO Role in China

Career Advice: The CIO Role in China

Today, having experience in China is a bonus. Tomorrow, it may become a necessity as China grows more and more central to the strategies of multinational corporations, both as supplier and customer

In 2005, Steve Bandrowczak jumped at the chance to take on a new challenge: the top IT job at PC maker Lenovo Group, a Chinese company.

"I've rolled out systems in 200-plus countries," says Bandrowczak, a 25-year IT veteran, describing his experiences as a globe-trotting CIO, including setting up Chinese distribution centers while head of IT for DHL Worldwide. "I've overseen 43 mergers. I've built and shut down data centers around the globe." But now Bandrowczak is poised to tackle a job that few American CIOs would have even considered until recently: managing enterprise IT in China.

Experts say there's a shortage of local IT executive and management talent in China, not nearly enough to keep up with local needs in an economy that's been growing at nearly 10 percent annually

"It's an exciting — but formidable — challenge," says Bandrowczak. "From a career perspective, it's the first time I've had the opportunity to build the center of a company's IT capabilities in China. You only get to do something this special once in your career."

Bandrowczak's mission is to build a new data centre and IT development centre in Beijing as the primary pieces of a global IT infrastructure that will support the aspirations of Lenovo, which made its first major move abroad by acquiring IBM's PC division last May. But managing major IT operations in China in some form or another is becoming less of a foreign concept for American CIOs.

One reason is simple supply and demand. Experts say there's a shortage of local IT executive and management talent in China, not nearly enough to keep up with local needs in an economy that's been growing at nearly 10 percent annually over the past two decades. Today, China has between 3000 and 5000 executives with experience managing in a multinational environment, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. But given the country's global aspirations, it will need 75,000 leaders who can work effectively in global environments within the next decade. In fact, when Lenovo paid $US1.75 billion for IBM's PC unit, it made no bones about the fact that it was paying mostly for access to Western managerial know-how and best practices.

Today, having experience in China is a bonus — often the key to landing coveted CIO positions like Bandrowczak's. Tomorrow, it may become a necessity. China is growing more and more central to the strategies of multinational corporations, both as supplier and customer. For example, China is the United States' second-largest supplier (after Canada) and the fourth-biggest market for American goods, according to the US Customs Service. "If you can show that you've taken an organization in massive growth mode in China and managed IT across those different cultures, that's going to be worth a lot. You're going to be able to get that big CIO job," explains Steve Mullinjer, managing partner at executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles in Shanghai. "China is such an increasingly integral part of every company's operations. In the future, if you don't have firsthand experience, you'll be in trouble."

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