The cultural line between East and West continues to blur, due in no small part to an unprecedented increase in career opportunities for American MBA graduates in Asia.
Hong Kong and Tokyo continue to be hotbeds for Americans MBAs, but thanks to increased urbanization, increased and increasing incomes, not to mention widespread tech, China, India, and Singapore have all quickly joined the ranks as job destinations for financial service professionals in particular.
The exponential growth the Asian continent has experienced in recent years has attracted both American MBAs looking to move up the ranks in a way that’s becoming nearly impossible back home, and the Asian branches and startups that hope to thrive from their outsider perspective and expertise.
Harrison Lung, an associate partner at McKinsey Hong Kong, explains how Asia’s American appeal is related to the notion of the 21st as the ‘Chinese Century’. China’s top MBA programs include the Beijing International MBA (BiMBA) of the National School of Development (NSD) at Peking University (PKU) which has been ranked among the best in the world by Forbes.
“[Americans] are interested in [Asia] because of the growth, the opportunity for professional and personal development, the ability to be entrepreneurial, and the direct access to leaders in influential organizations,” he says.
“Asia is an exciting place to work across private and public sectors. There are incredible opportunities to do new things, solve big problems and be a part of enormous change.”
Take, for instance, China’s $1 trillion Silk Road Project to rebuild the Eurasian trade route. The “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which would span 60 countries and connect over 40 billion people, is a savvy geopolitical strategy intended to promote trade, access to energy, and influence throughout the region.
The increasingly ambiguous cultural divide between East and West notwithstanding, Americans are valued when they can act cross-cultural assets to Asian companies. HBS Guru Sanford Kreisberg believes that both think the other will “1) Know the latest tech, 2) Have powerful networks, and 3) Know secret, exotic strategies for success.”
Karen Marks of North Star Admissions explains: “The top business schools recruit students with international exposure and teach them how to be effective in this environment. Some Asian companies like Samsung and Rakuten have recruited from American programs for years, while others are more recent participants.”
Jeremy Schifeling of Break into Tech believes that one reason for the advent of the Eastern-bound MBA is that Asia has become part of the conversation at American business schools in a way that normalizes the idea to work and look for jobs abroad.
“While students who grew up in the US may not be as familiar with ICBC and Softbank as they are with Bank of America and Google, it's the rare case study that gets read in business school without a global component. And increasingly, those global components point east!” he says.
Accepted’s Linda Abraham believes that more MBAs are choosing to work in Asia simply because a large portion of MBAs hail from there to begin with.
“Some MBAs of Asian descent return to Asia because they have cultural ties, a certain cultural fluency,” she explains. “They get the American degree and the American business experience and then they become very valuable back in India, China, Singapore, Hong Kong. They not only know the local culture but they’ve had this exposure specifically to the United States.”
While one might argue that the real reason MBAs are moving in droves to Hong Kong and Singapore is because of the miniscule 15% tax rate for salaries of $400k and above, Linda is more optimistic:
“Maybe they see opportunities where they can contribute in a way they can’t contribute here because the poverty there is very different. It can be about a desire to contribute on a greater level—make a difference.”
So, how can American MBAs best position themselves for careers in Asia? For Harrison, knowledge of the local language and culture is key.
“A lot of doing business in Asia is about relationships,” he says. “If you speak the language and understand the country and culture, you'll be ahead of the game.”