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Inside View: TMRC China

China still throws a great learning curve for those in the formative years of their career says Holger Metzger, Managing Director of market research firm TMRC China

We spoke with Holger E. Metzger, Managing Director of TMRC China, to learn about opportunities for MBAs interested in market research.

TMRC has offices in Shanghai and Beijing, and also conducts regional projects in a number of South East Asian countries. Holger has worked in China since 1992 and he tells us that China still throws a great learning curve for those in the formative years of their career. You need to stay on your toes to keep up with fast-evolving changes in consumer tastes and behaviours though!

Can you please tell us about TMRC in a few sentences?
The company was started in 1997 by three of us to perform qualitative research. I had been in marketing in greater China and Taiwan for a number of years but TMRC was started with a view to making consumer insights more tangible. At that point a lot of investment was rolling into the country and companies needed to understand the Chinese consumer better.

Our approach has expanded over the years and today we’re one of the most innovative research based companies in China and South East Asia. We have offices in India, Thailand and Indonesia, and frequently undertake client projects in Vietnam, Singapore, and Malaysia.

How do you choose what projects to work on, what are some of the exciting findings that you’ve made?
Our projects are specifically sponsored by particular clients. They ask us to help them understand consumers and to learn how consumers view them. We also help them work with ad agencies to make sure their brand message and ideas are being passed on.

One exciting one was an anti-ageing cream. The team asked us to help them understand how middle-aged women feel and experience the ageing process and why it’s important to work against ageing. We found that the biggest motivator for women trying to retain their looks was the feel of life and the hope and anticipation of a bright future. They wanted to have that feeling of being able to dream and look forward to goals like they did when they were younger. It wasn’t about appealing to other people. This of course had huge implications for advertising and for branding.

Is China still an exciting place to build an expat career?
China is still very dynamic and has so many markets within it, many of which are increasing and evolving very quickly. It’s a big challenge for anyone to take on because it sharpens your skills. It gives the chance for anyone in the formative years of their career to learn a lot. The thing to bear in mind is that consumers are also changing, especially their views and outlook on life, so marketing products need to fit into the lives of consumers.

How often do you hire MBAs?
We have a number of MBAs on our Indian team and one in the Shanghai office but we don’t hire people simply because of an MBA. MBAs are very beneficial to our teams because they come with the ability to think in a disciplined way, they know very solid theories and they have great organizational skills. 

However, we also like people who have elements of social sciences and humanities as part of their skills. This is because our business is about knowing what makes people tick and understanding humans. 

Creativity is also important to us, so whether you’re a visual artist, into literature and story-telling or have other artistic abilities we’re also interested in knowing that.

What kind of traits do you like to see when you interview people?
When we interview people we ask them about market related theories but we also put them in a room and ask them to write a story about anything. When they’ve done that we ask them to pick out the emotional and factual truths and try to put a brand spin on this and market it. We like to see how people how put ideas together and communicate them.

How big is your team, are you currently hiring?
There are about forty of us in the Shanghai office. We’re always on the look-out for good people to join our regional teams. For the jobs in China, Chinese skills are required but native- and non-native speaks are welcome to join the regional teams. On average, we usually have five to six additions each year.

Can you describe your office culture?
We’re working in a converted factory and so we have a huge floor space. It's laid back in the sense that people can sit and talk with each other, the space is open and there is a coffee shop right in the middle of the floor.

The walls have graffiti done by our artists in their spare time, and there is a projector on the ceiling that requires you to take off your shoes and lie down to watch presentations. We try to make it as relaxed as possible because we want to facilitate communication.

Communication is extremely important to us and each morning we start with presentations to each other on what we’ve done. We have a culture that welcomes criticisms but each time you critique something, you need to also give two solid suggestions for improvement. We also have many in-house training sessions to learn new approaches to make our work better.

TMRC Brainstorming Room

TMRC Brainstorming Room 2

TMRC Creative Blue Space

TMRC Individual Work Spaces

TMRC Larger Work Area

TMRC Coffee Lounge


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