Swedish-born Chinese relocates to Shanghai for better business opportunities

By Wang Han Source:Global Times Published: 2018/7/12 18:18:39

Editor's Note:

Decades ago, many Chinese people spared no efforts and expense to immigrate to developed countries in order to pursue a better life and more job opportunities. Their offspring, however, are now attracted by China's rapid development and surging economy in order to realize the Chinese Dream their parents never had. The Global Times recently interviewed several "third-culture" Chinese who have recently returned to China for work. Yaou Wu is our tenth interviewee.

Photo: VCG

A 30-year-old Swedish-Chinese national, Yaou Wu, has become the Vice President China for SaltX Technology, a listed Swedish energy storage company which has invented a cost-efficient way to preserve large amounts of energy into salt.

Wu has a master's degree in engineering from KTH Royal Institute of Technology and also a master's in general management from the Stockholm School of Economics. He is fluent in Swedish, English and Chinese, and also has some basic understanding of German and Spanish.

Both of his parents were born and raised in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province. A turning point for the family was in 1986, when Wu's father received an offer to complete his PhD degree in chemistry at Uppsala University in Sweden.

"It was actually very close that I became an American-born Chinese instead of a Swedish-born Chinese," Wu told the Global Times.

After completing his master's at Peking University, Wu's father also had an offer to go to the US for his PhD. However, after some consideration he chose Sweden instead due to the country's "good reputation."

Wu's parents moved to Sweden in 1986, the year before he was born. In the 1980s, there were still very few Chinese in Sweden, which posed some challenges for the family to adapt to their new social environment.

"Firstly, Sweden did not have a large Chinese population like the US or Canada. Remember that this was in the mid-1980s and, at that point, I believe there were no more than a couple hundred Chinese living there," Wu said.

"Secondly, even though Swedish culture is open and polite toward minorities, it is quite difficult to get very close to Swedes unless you have known each other for many years. They tend to keep their distance from other people, not only toward minorities but also toward other Swedes."

As such, Swedish people kept their distance from the Wu family. Despite growing up as a "minority," he did not feel confused or frustrated by his cultural identity. Instead, he eventually found that his Chinese origin had an advantage.

Yaou Wu Photo: Xiang Jun/GT

Something special

"In the later years, when the status of China and the size of the Chinese economy grew, having a Chinese face and understanding the Chinese language were seen as special, in a positive way," Wu said.

"I have received a lot of professional opportunities because of the simple reason that I can communicate in Swedish, English and Chinese."

In 1995, when Wu was eight, he visited China for the first time with his parents.

"China back then was very different from China today. The level of housing was much lower and there were fewer goods in the shops," he said. "Despite this, I liked it because I had my relatives in China and because of the closeness between the people."

Nonetheless, it was not easy for his parents to stay in contact with relatives back in China due to the lack of efficient communication methods like phones and email.

One interesting case Wu remembered was that his grandparents had hand-made some clothes for him and mailed it from China to Sweden; when the clothes finally arrived two months later, Wu had already outgrown them.

Decades later, in 2013, Wu decided to build up his career in China during a visit here.

"The reason I chose China instead of other Western countries is partly because I have my family here, and partly because I wanted to explore something entirely different from Sweden," he told the Global Times.

He also pointed out that China now has more career opportunities than many Western countries.

"The market in China is very big and is growing by 6 to 7 percent annually compared to around 2 percent in Sweden and other mature markets," he said.

"This combination gives hard-working and creative individuals more opportunities than in smaller and more mature markets such as Sweden."

Read between the lines

An ideal job opportunity occurred in 2016, when Swedish solar energy company SunCool head hunted him to develop the company's business in China. In 2017 SunCool was merged with SaltX Technology and Wu was appointed as Vice President China for SaltX Technology.

"I believe the fact that I am a Swedish-born Chinese makes me perfectly positioned to connect Swedish and Chinese markets in terms of trade and investment," he said.

Though Wu loves Chinese culture, it did take him some time to adjust to the social and cultural differences. One major difference he found was that, socially, Chinese people are less direct.

"You need to be able to read between the lines and understand the concept of giving face and losing face. This is especially true when doing business with a Chinese counterpart," Wu told the Global Times.

He noticed that daily life in China is now far more convenient, diverse and advanced than Sweden.

"In China, you can pay with your phone everywhere and the level of service is much higher. You can get your food delivered anywhere anytime at almost no cost," he added.

He also found that Chinese people tend to be more open and generous than Swedes.

For instance, "going Dutch" (splitting the bill) is widely accepted among Swedes, even between lovers and close friends, while Chinese prefer to pay for their friends and business partners, according to Wu.

As for the reasons behind such customs, Wu suggested that, "In Sweden there is usually a larger distance between people, and they rely on the government and the social welfare system for help rather than their own family and friends."

Wu is also impressed with the vibrant entrepreneurial environment in China. He believes the huge population here and relatively low labor costs give entrepreneurs bigger advantages to start up a business.

"The cost of labor in Sweden is very high, and this has made it very hard for entrepreneurs in Sweden to hire people. In Sweden, around 80 percent of businesses are one-person business with only the owner working and no employees," he said.

"But in China, unless you are top management, the cost of labor is lower. So please use the opportunity that you can hire people from [Chinese] university at a quite lower wage."

Newspaper headline: The minority advantage


blog comments powered by Disqus