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

And it worked — most of the time.

"You know very quickly whether you've grabbed the audience," Brennan says. "Either things happen very rapidly or nothing gets done at all. There's not a lot of middle ground." On one occasion, Brennan saw an implementation at a local plant grind to a halt because he hadn't spent enough time bringing plant executives on board.

Having a local second-in-command is invaluable, as Bandrowczak has also found out. His local expert in residence is actually the former CIO of Lenovo, Xiayon Wang. "She had tremendous experience and was the head architect and lead change agent at Lenovo," says Bandrowczak, who divides his time in Beijing among the local IT team, the business heads and the local factories. Wang didn't have the global deployment experience to continue on in the CIO role immediately following Lenovo's acquisition of IBM's PC division but stayed on as Bandrowczak's lieutenant in Beijing. "She's been extremely valuable to me," he says.

The Final Frontier

Besides the challenges on the ground in China, there is the challenge of time and distance for those trying to maintain a link with the United States. Wan, for example, eventually left Midea, returning to the United States because the job was putting too much stress on his family relationships (see "Life in China," this page). But not a week goes by that he doesn't hear about another CIO opportunity there. "I get calls from China all the time, asking me to come back," Wan says. "The demand for qualified IT leaders over there is only going to increase."

But the real lure of China is the unique challenge it presents to CIOs. The frontier, after all, has always called out to pioneers, promising the satisfaction and glory of triumphing over difficulties, the more exotic the better.

"Change management here in China is more complex and takes more time," says Brennan. "You'll definitely run into roadblocks. Some are political. Some are organizational. Others have to do with a lack of local vendors and consultants. It's not a good environment for someone who's easily discouraged. But if you keep at it, you'll find the positive spirit over here."

"What drives me personally is looking at where can I make my mark and leave something that's very memorable," says Bandrowczak. "If you think about the story of Lenovo, a Chinese company that's trying to compete in a global market in an industry that's very tough — and at the heart of its success or failure will be the enablement of IT — that's a story that will only be told once. And that's the job I signed up for."

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