Jane Peng is a College of Business EMBA student in her second semester. Jane lives in Beijing where she works as a vendor manager lead for a premier international online retailer. Here she reflects on her time with the EMBA, the consumer orientation of the younger generation, and the innovation in the air.
Gone are the days when you had to travel to Silicon Valley to discover the latest product trends. China is now leading in some areas.
"Take internet finance," says College of Business EMBA student Jane Peng.
"I've shown this to people in London," she says pulling out her smartphone and WeChat.
"If we eat together and split the bill we can pay in WeChat. If we want to transfer money we can go to WeChat. Buy flights, register for the lottery, pay the phone bill, all in WeChat. I can even open a shop in WeChat – it's really amazing. Everything is in WeChat! People in the UK just can't believe how fast this has happened in China, in WeChat."
And constantly innovating online finance services are revolutionizing trade as well. "Say, I am a seller and I have a buyer on Taobao, but I don't have the money to get the goods. I can get a loan online for five days. It will be at a relatively high rate, and traditional banks wouldn't look at you without close examination of your credit history. But Alipay will do the job for you – and fast."
For "real" products and brands, Jane thinks countries like the US, Japan, and Israel are still leading. But in the internet China has the edge.
WeChat and its longer established rival, Alipay, have recently been using a variety of innovative marketing strategies to get closer to the customer. "WeChat has reinvented the red packet tradition. Last Chinese New Year they sent out one billion RMB virtual red packets. In order to participate, customers had to sign in with their bank details. And WeChat added some five million new bank accounts in 48 hours," Jane explains.
"Traditionally the banking industry has been very conservative, but right now online is changing things radically. If you bank with Alipay, you will get a 10% discount on all goods purchased through Taobao. A lot of people are going for that."
Jane has the advantage of discussing these sorts of issues with her fellow students on the EMBA – who represent most of the major sectors of China industry.
"Our banking classmates explained that traditional banks are not so interested in offering loans to customers with low levels of funds. But Alipay sees it differently and is interested in all customers, big or small. They are preparing an online credit card – you can buy anything with your virtual credit card in Taobao."
In order to compete with Alipay, other online providers are responding. Meanwhile Alipay has over 190 million registered users.
"There's a feeling in the air that anything is possible. I have a friend who launched a startup ten years ago. Now his business is listed on the NASDAQ."
Another of Jane's friends has just quit his job: "He had been working in online retailing in the US for a few years. Then he got a young girlfriend from Beijing, and she had a lot of crazy ideas. Why not do some international trading online? How about starting a company? And so now they have a small business producing traditional Chinese decorative knots, and watches with silk straps. With silk you can change the colour every day to match your clothes. This is what attracts young people – innovative, low tech fashion that makes you stand out from the crowd."
Jane is a keen observer of the latest trends in both China and the US. Born in Shanghai she moved overseas and studied in the US and Australia, eventually taking a diploma at the Gemological Institute of America. Qualified to work as a diamond appraiser, she worked as a fashion buyer in Los Angeles for a large jewellery company and a global fashion conglomerate, but found those roles limiting. In 2011 she seized the opportunity to move back to Shanghai serving a global luxury retailer, and since 2012 has been working in Beijing as a vendor manager lead for a premier international online retailer.
Why did she come to Hong Kong to study for her EMBA?
"CB is a top business school in Asia, and specializes in internet finance and marketing – two really hot areas. Also CB faculty offer me their international experience. A lot of the professors have backgrounds studying in the US, Europe or Japan."
She also wanted to reconnect with China. "I worked ten years in offline retailing mostly in the US. That's ten years when China was booming and becoming very competitive online. The EMBA is giving me the chance to get back up to speed and network with my Chinese classmates. That is a big plus for me."
Also she finds that managers face common problems across industries.
"Managers in large companies don't know how to motivate the younger generation. Let me illustrate this. There is a new trend. Traditionally companies have a lucky draw at Chinese New year. Three or four years ago the prize would be a smartphone, or cash. That's all over. Now you'll get a card giving you permission to get off work for one day, or to be late to work 20 days of the year. What the younger generation crave is freedom from these rigid employment structures."
Hong Kong universities are famous for delivering highly focused programmes, but is the EMBA primarily an academic experience?
"Well, tomorrow I'm off on an outward bound expedition to Sai Kung. Sunday we're doing role play which culminates in a drama production. Later this year some of my classmates are off to trek in the Gobi Desert. That's a very tough four days, you need to prepare hard and CityU students are participating for the first time this year. So there are a lot of networking and bonding activities. It's a well-rounded educational experience – and I'm grateful for that."
And as for the future, is Jane looking to the EMBA to progress her career?
"Everyone is talking about startup. Everyone has a dream to be the boss! In the US this kind of thinking was far away from me. Now in China it is getting closer. And the EMBA is giving me the courage to see myself as an entrepreneur."
By Eric Collins, Nov 2015