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Old 07-05-2009, 09:56 PM
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Default Reversal of Fortune Bringing Asians Home From the West

Reversal of Fortune Bringing Asians Home From the West - The Jakarta Globe

Singapore. “Go East” is a message being heeded by many Asian professionals in the United States and Europe who see brighter job prospects in a region that is expected to outperform the rest of the world in economic growth.

Zhang Zheng Han, 26, is one of a growing flock of highly educated Asians living in the West who have bought one-way tickets home, lured by job opportunities, family ties and a comfortable lifestyle.

“Right now no nation is changing as swiftly as China,” he said. “There are so many opportunities for people in my generation.”

After getting his master’s degree in engineering from Britain’s Nottingham University, he came back to China and immediately began work for a stem cell research company.

Other Asians should follow, according to the American investor Jim Rogers, who jointly founded the Quantum Fund with George Soros.

He thinks this century will be China’s and now lives in ethnically Chinese Singapore, where his young children are learning Mandarin.

“If you’re in London, you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. You gotta move East,” he said.

The trend of reverse migration has accelerated in the past few months as the financial crisis has hit the United States and Europe harder than many of the Asian economies.

This influx will serve Asia well as it needs skilled managers to leverage further growth, many experts say.

“These returnees would serve as a bridge between Asia and the rest of the economies,” said Irvin Seah, an economist at Singapore’s DBS, the largest bank in Southeast Asia.

“With the exposure they had in Western economies and their local knowledge, they will be able to fill the human capital gap in Asia and significantly contribute to Asia’s growth.”

The average Asian returnee nowadays is in his or her 30s, has a master’s or doctoral degree, and comes from the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, according to Vivek Wadhwa, a researcher at Harvard Law School.

Their influx into Asia’s job market may help to plug the gaps in middle and senior management in companies operating in the region. They are cheaper to hire than expatriates but are more qualified than locals thanks to soft skills learned in the West.

Experts say these skills are frequently found lacking in the Asian workplace.

“We’re constantly replacing expats with Asian returnees, people from their home countries who have been somewhat Westernized in business practices or business culture,” said Ames Gross, president of Pacific Bridge, a US-based recruitment company that specializes in matching returnees to Asia-based companies.

Wages in developing Southeast Asian countries may be around 25 percent of those in the West, Gross said, but the wage gap for professionals was now narrowing.

Companies in Singapore and Hong Kong currently pay salaries comparable with those in the US and Europe.

They will need a lot of talent to drive future growth.

Executive-search company MRI Group said last year that companies in China would need 70,000 mid-level and senior managers over the next five years.

This year, an estimated six million students will graduate in China and three million in India, but human resource experts say local graduates often lack the communication and practical business skills that are required to get jobs.

Asian returnees said their exposure to Western business practices had enhanced their interaction with international customers.

“At the organizational level, companies in the US tend to understand marketing, positioning and differentiation pretty well,” said Vikram Narayan, an Indian returnee who started his own company, Ascendus Technologies, in Bangalore. He had been an analyst with Sun Microsystems.

“Managing customer expectations is definitely something I learned when I was in the US.”

It is not just management and marketing know-how. Asian returnees have been credited for bringing sparks of technological innovation back to their home countries.

Robin Li, a graduate of the State University of New York, jointly founded China’s largest search engine, Baidu. Hotmail is the brainchild of Sabeer Bhatia, who returned home to India after graduating from Stanford University in California.

“The returnees are a lot more innovative and entrepreneurial than the locals are,” Harvard Law School’s Wadhwa said. “So you’re already seeing huge benefits to India and China from people who came back.”
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