The China Connection: Opportunity Calls

Smith College’s long and meaningful connection to China extends back to 1915, when Smith alumnae helped launch Ginling College in Nanjing, China’s first college for women. The same year, Fung Yan Liu became Smith’s first Chinese alumna.

Since then the connections have steadily built, especially in recent decades as more young Chinese women have chosen to attend Smith. The class of 2016 counts twenty-nine students from China, more than from any other country outside the United States. But the connections go both ways, as China’s flourishing economy beckons ambitious alumnae. Here is a look at a few alumnae who have staked their careers in China.

Amy Adams ’99 Amy Adams
Founder, Occam Consulting
I have been in China since 1999 and founded a consulting and training company with my partner six years ago. We provide training and consulting services to multinational companies on doing business in China.

What was your career path?
I worked for a number of companies, both Chinese and Western, in China, first providing training, then managing service provision; then we started our company six years ago. We have since expanded to include an office in New Zealand.

What’s unique about doing business in China?
Things change much more quickly. The economy and society are going through rapid change and development; to continue this growth and development the Chinese government regulations change regularly, as do opportunities, services, and infrastructure.

In your work life, how are women regarded?
Chinese tend to have less of a problem with me as a woman leader; my Western clients sometimes need more convincing.

In your time in China, how has the country changed?
On the surface, China has changed amazingly in the last fifteen years—fashions, architecture, standards of living, education levels, and socially acceptable lifestyles; however, underneath these changes is a continuous Chinese identity and culture.

Ling YangLing Yang ’02
Vice president, Carlyle Group
I started in investment banking in New York and did private equity in the US before returning to China, where I have been doing private equity investments for four years.

What’s the climate like for women leaders?
I encounter more women in finance in China than in the United States at the senior levels. Politics is one area that is perhaps still tough for women leaders to emerge, but in business, I think the environment here is at least as conducive for female advancement as it is in the United States. However, no matter where it is, I see women having to make trade-offs and personal life sacrifices in order to become leaders. The challenges women face are universal, in my opinion. It seems that a woman has to be very lucky, in addition to being very competent, in order to have it all.

In your time in China, how has the country changed?
I would say that changes have been the most dramatic comparing the China in which I grew up and the one to which I returned after spending more than a decade abroad. Culturally, it’s more open and diverse; economically, richer. People are more confident and individualistic. One hears buzz of social and political debate now, although still not too openly.

How did Smith influence your career?
More fundamentally, Smith influenced me as a person. It is in such a significant way that perhaps I cannot blend in exactly seamlessly anymore back in China. But I am deeply happy that Smith and my experience in the United States have given me a perspective of China, my life, and what I am doing here, which I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Annie Steeper Morita ’90 Annie Steeper
Executive, DreamWorks Animation
Since August 2011, I have been working on DreamWorks Animation’s first joint venture in China. Oriental DreamWorks will engage in the development and production of high-quality original Chinese animation and live-action content for distribution both within China and around the world. The joint venture will pursue business opportunities in the areas of live entertainment; mobile, online, interactive games; and also consumer products.

What was your career path?
I interned for CNN in Beijing during my junior year abroad and then joined the company in Atlanta as an assignment editor on the international news desk. The company expanded into the Asia-Pacific region, and I transferred to the business unit as manager and then director of marketing in Hong Kong. I was responsible for launching CNN, TNT, and Cartoon Network to the region. Later, back in the United States, I worked for Electronic Arts and two start-ups.

What is unique about doing business in China?
The opportunities seem limitless, yet there is a definite structure and protocol. I like the value that is put on face-to-face meetings and the cultural importance of sharing a meal together.

What do you wish you had known about China?
I wish I had worked harder on my language skills. I am proficient in Mandarin and would give anything to be fluent. I currently work with a tutor for both Mandarin Chinese and Shanghainese dialect training.

How did Smith influence your career?
I spent my junior year in Beijing during a very influential time in history. The Deng Xiaoping–Gorbachev meeting in 1989 turned the world’s attention on the students and Chinese citizens in Tiananmen Square. I was hired by CNN to assist them during these events. I met journalists from all over the world and realized that my goal was to work for a global news agency. None of this would have happened unless my sophomore dean had supported my interest in China and studying abroad.

Kristen Kristin Glavitsch ’01
Cost engineer, Fluor Engineering & Construction
I work for an American multinational, an international contractor specializing in engineering, procurement, and construction management. I’m in cost reporting for the Oyu Tolgoi expansion project, which is a project to build a copper and gold mine in Mongolia.

What attracted you to China?
I thought it would be a short-term adventure abroad. I came here to teach English and study Mandarin, and I stayed for ten years. What has kept me in China is the opportunity—in my career, in learning the language and culture, and in my social life. I have friends from all over the world, and every day I can speak and read Mandarin. That’s pretty awesome.

What’s the climate for women?
There are few countries where women do not struggle to some extent, and in China it is no different. The Chinese freely say that they may hire a woman based on looks or age. It is common to put a photo on your résumé and for a potential employer to ask your age, and if you are planning on getting married soon and having children. At the same time, many employers say they prefer to hire women as they are more hardworking, motivated, and detail oriented.

What should an alumna know before considering work in China?
Many jobs require Mandarin, which was not the case just a few years ago. If you do not have a specialized, rare skill, the trend is toward localizing or having someone in the position who speaks Mandarin.

What do you wish you had known when you first came to China?
How to really network, build my brand, and maintain connections. And that real estate would skyrocket.

SAQ Winter 2012-13