It's not unusual for high-profile politicians and bureaucrats to leave government for more lucrative positions in the private sector. But when New York transit chief Jay Walder announced his resignation this summer, it wasn't to go to a New York investment bank like Goldman Sachs or a hedge fund.
Walder is moving to Hong Kong to become the chief executive of MTR Corp., the city's railway operator. He's one of many lured East by the vast opportunity presented by the rapid economic growth of China.
"The pace of change here is so fast," said Robin Chan, a Chinese-American technology entrepreneur who travels 200,000 miles a year between Silicon Valley and Beijing. "There's something very seductive about a country that is growing at this scale, and there's a palpable sense of excitement about that for people who are here."
If you're thinking about heading to China to find your fortune or jump-start your career, you'll need to invest time and effort to assimilate. You'll have to learn Mandarin or Cantonese, and preferably both.
If that doesn't deter you, here's a look at some of the best opportunities to make your mark.
American tech companies are capitalizing on China's growing consumer base by hiring software engineers to develop their Asian products. Microsoft plans to hire 750 employees by year's end for its research and development operations in China, according to China Daily. Microsoft has R&D staff in nine offices in the Asia-Pacific region, including Beijing and Bangkok, with 3,000 technologists.
When Zynga, the social games maker, purchased the Chinese social gaming company XPD Media in 2010, it had 35 employees. It has since grown to about 150, said founder Robin Chan, who until this year managed Zynga's Asia operations.
German software maker SAP AG says that it will up to 600 people in India and China through the rest of 2011. Hewlett-Packard recently announced that it's building a 7,500 square-meter cloud-computing data center for IT provider Range Technology Development Co. in Langfang, Hebei province.
Meanwhile, Chinese companies like search engine leader Baidu and networking equipment maker Huawei are also expected to continue to grow.
MBAs are in high demand among top consulting firms with offices in Asia. Bain & Company, for instance, has increased its hiring every year in the region, where it has approximately 13 offices, including those in Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. Many of its new hires come from elite business schools in the U.S., but the company is increasingly recruiting from international schools like Insead's Singapore campus and the China Europe International Business School which has campuses in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, said Mark Howorth, head of Bain's global MBA recruiting.
Because there are a short supply of MBAs with Mandarin and Cantonese language skills, the company will sometimes transfer existing employees to Asia from the U.S., or hire non-MBAs with several years of industry experience, Howorth said.
China's thirst for consumer goods is illustrated by Apple's experience. The company currently has six retail stores in the region, but that hasn't sated the country's appetite for its goods. So knock-off retail outlets are selling iPads and iPhones. Apple plans to open 25 stores in China by year's end to help it meet demand. That's helping create a big opening for retail sales managers and not just for Apple products.
"Luxury brands are either trying to go into the Chinese market or grow in the market," said Stephanie Cheung, an MBA candidate at Columbia Business School who serves as vice president of career development at the school's Asian Business Association. Brands "want to hire middle managers who have a wider scope of how the global economy works," she said.
There are also opportunities for advertising salespeople with Internet experience, according to a report by McKinsey & Company released this summer. There are about 2,000 Internet salespeople in China, and only a third have sufficient digital experience. Skilled salespeople can command high salaries and stock options, the report found.
"A growing middle class is what's fueling China," said Kurt Piemonte, associate director of career and professional development at Harvard Business School. Piemonte travels to Asia up to four times a year to meet with companies looking to recruit for their Asian operations. The biggest needs he sees are in finance and retail sales and general management.
Wall Street may be contracting, but in China finance and accounting firms are hiring. They're likely to continue to do so in the next few years.
Banks want wealth managers and private bankers in the region to look after assets of wealthy families and individuals. According to the Global Wealth Report 2011 from the Boston Consulting Group, wealth grew the fastest in the Asia-Pacific region (excluding Japan) at 17.1% in 2010. By contrast, the growth rate in North America was 10.2% during the same period.
Royal Bank of Canada plans to increase its 60-strong banker roster in Asia to between 100 and 120 by 2015, a spokesperson confirmed. The wealth management unit works out of Beijing, Brunei, Singapore and Hong Kong. Most hiring will take place in Hong Kong and Singapore.
DBS Group, Southeast Asia's largest bank, is spending $198 million to expand its private banking operations over the next five years.
U.K-based Standard Chartered, which in August announced plans to add 10 more outlets in China by the end of this year, will do "strong hiring" in China, said Lee Slater, group head of talent acquisition and international mobility. The bank plans to hire relationship managers for its consumer bank across Asia, he said.
Accounting firms are hiring in emerging markets, particularly in Asia. Last month, PricewaterhouseCoopers said it would add 15,000 staff in China and Hong Kong during the next five years, more than doubling its workforce.
"This is definitely a region where we continue to look for growth, increase headcount and support our review," said Paula Loop, U.S. and global talent leader at PwC.
KPMG China has hired 2,000 since the firm announced plans to hire 250,000 globally during the next five years, said Maggie Lee, head of human resources, and plans to add between 1,700 and 2,000 graduates next year as well as several hundred experienced staff. The accounting firm currently has 10,000 employees in China, up from 4,000 ten years ago.
Write to Joseph Walker at Joseph.Walker@dowjones.com
Write to Julie Steinberg at Julie.Steinberg@dowjones.com