Relocation across Asia – A senior marketers story

November 14, 2022

Elizabeth Gualtieri is an accomplished APAC marketing, brand, and communications leader. She has successfully delivered strategic regional marketing and communications plans (B2B / B2C) for MNCs across related sectors; from architecture and design (Gensler), CRE and capital investment (JLL), industrial asset management and property funds (Goodman) to hospitality (Accor).

In her current role, Elizabeth is the Regional Marketing Director, Greater China for Gensler, where she leads a marketing team of 12 across the region, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing, with a pipeline of new locations in planning.

Australian-born, Elizabeth’s career has taken her from Sydney to Shanghai, Shanghai to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Singapore, and Singapore to Shanghai.

We talked to Elizabeth about her global career and her decision to relocate internationally.

There is a story behind every decision to migrate.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics Games was the catalyst in launching my expat career. Prior to it, I was travelling back and forth on business from Sydney to Asia. The experience piqued my interest and I leapt at the chance to relocate when the opportunity arose.

Relocating to Shanghai office was proposed. It was 2007, and the lead up to the Olympics, with China embracing the ideals of the Games. The China market was evolving at an historically rapid pace. It was an exciting time professionally to be working in China, as the country embraced change, and companies, with ambitious plans were either entering the market or doubling down on their existing investment. The city was an eclectic mix of entrepreneurial start-ups and fledging MNCs.  A treasured memory of that time is the invitation to attend the 2008 Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony.

From working in Greater China, I have gone on to take up other career defining roles in Hong Kong and Singapore, taking on new positions in different companies and sectors with each move. Working across these three different countries has given me an appreciation for the subtle differences of each of their work cultures.

I feel privileged today to be able to experience living in Shanghai the second time round. The decision to return is borne out of the same curiosity that bought me to Shanghai the first time. This time I am witness to the maturing of the city and the domestic market, from highly creative China own brands emerging, to the rise of digital and the middle class well and truly established. I return this time with a deeper understanding of the path travelled by China in the last 15 years and as a marketer it is invaluable insight.

Making the step to leaving Australia and move overseas

Without question, it’s saying goodbye to family members. Holidays at home never feel long enough when you are an expat. If am too long away from Australia I can hanker for its open spaces and big skies. Trips home keep me feeling connected and I cherish my time home when I return to Melbourne. Conversely, there are always upsides, family members have had the opportunity often to stay and explore the cities where I have lived.

The unexpected surprises about working in China

On returning to China, the most surprising aspects for me are from a marketer’s perspective. I am discovering how universal the issues and trends in China are becoming as the economy and the next generations mature.

Interestingly, the very same generational differences in attitudes toward careers are emerging here too. During 2021, the counterculture ‘Tang Ping’ movement took off amongst generation-X Chinese as a backlash against China’s hypercompetitive work environment and the pressures to overworking. It’s the concept of ‘lying flat’, (or tang ping in Chinese) as a break from relentless work. The equivalent to the “quietly quitting’ movement that gathered speed in the West. It presents same challenges here in recruitment and retention.

Another trend is the acceleration of all things digital. Having doubled down on investment in digitization, China now has a sophisticated digital infrastructure in place. Going cashless is the first surprise for those new to China. However, for Chinese consumers themselves they are already highly engaged in interactive digital, with the growth in digital marketing campaigns, digital events and brand collaboration events exploding in the last two years. The level of digital innovation and creativity permeates all aspects of work and daily life in China to the point that it not only the norm, but locals can be blasé to it. It means you need to keep abreast of technological developments if you are to stay competitive.

An encouraging social trend on the rise is the growing interest in sustainability and the concept of ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) as the country seeks to green its economy and improve social equality. It is now greatly helped by better government policy incentives and regulations. In Shanghai, you can spot a small band of sustainable focused businesses popping up through the city.

What is most surprising is the speed at which China has not only caught up on some trends however is now pulling a head on others.

The 3 most important things people should know about making a career move overseas.

Firstly, know yourself. Be clear about why you want to work overseas so that your motivation can sustain you on those days you may encounter any difficulties. At its simplest, do you have the level of self-awareness and energy to navigate the challenges that will confront you.   

Secondly, it is important to invest the time upfront on researching. Moving overseas is a significant – and ongoing – investment so don’t overlook the practicalities of knowing the detailed costs and the personal effort involved in getting and staying there. Whether it be securing a work visa, health insurance coverage, household relocation quotes, to understanding how much you will need to earn to cover rent and other essentials and still build savings is critical for informing your decision to move. Just the time needed in figuring out a foreign tax system, particularly in another language cannot be overestimated. It is also wise to plan for worst case scenarios too. Have a return flight ticket budgeted.

Thirdly, the sense of disconnect you may experience once you arrive in country first time can be unexpectedly overwhelming. Think in advance how you can build up and grow your connections beyond just the work setting – even knowing just one person can make a difference to your landing in a new country – just practical things like where to shop or how to get a good mobile deal. From a business perspective intensify your understanding of the market by joining business networking groups. You don’t need to go it alone. Allow people share their knowledge with you.

International experience adds to your skill set and can benefit your career

The positive reasons to make a career move overseas are numerous, and the experience can be both life-enriching and career-enhancing. Undoubtedly living and working abroad throws all sorts of new and unforeseen problems your way, and you are constantly surprised, usually in hindsight, at your own resilience and resourcefulness in a foreign environment.

From a career point of view moving to another country helps you see the global marketplace from another perspective. Seeing how a different country approaches business is a fool proof way to open up your own mind to new ways of doing things.  A global mindset also means gaining cultural awareness, while making you aware of your biases too. The opportunity for constant personal development is open to you.

In my career experience, working in China for seven years proved to be the springboard for me gaining a foothold in comparable roles in Hong Kong and Singapore, where my China in-market experience was highly valued and testimony to my capability to operate cross-culturally, managing geographically dispersed teams, while delivery an ambitious project pipeline. That same experience has secured me my current role in China.

Today, I am a dedicated career marketer, comfortable in operating in fast-moving markets, during various market cycles, with a skill set that spans all aspects of marketing, brand management, and communications. My skills have been tested and honed in multiple international markets and sectors; – from architecture and design (Gensler), CRE and capital investment (JLL), industrial asset management, and property funds (Goodman) to hospitality (Accor).

In short, moving my career abroad has given me a range of unique experiences and jobs. In hindsight. I am grateful to my younger self for taking that first step to relocate.

If you are interested in discussing the possibility of moving your career internationally or looking to hire talent from around the globe, please get in touch.

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