Global CIO: Would You Move To China? This CIO Did - InformationWeek

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3/25/2010
10:22 PM
Chris Murphy
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Global CIO: Would You Move To China? This CIO Did

Why a U.S. CIO moved his family to Shanghai.

What if.

What if you took that recruiter call.

What if the job sounded like a good fit, that right next move in your career.

What if ... well, of course your spouse would say "no way," right? Your spouse would explain how you're insane to uproot the kids, including a teenager with special needs who sometimes requires a wheelchair, and toss the family into a foreign country where you don't know the language, culture, or one single person.

"She said 'Oh, that would be fantastic. You should really try to get that job,'" says George McKinnon, who was VP of engineering at Expedia at the time.

Gulp.

Now it's up to you. Good business opportunity, the family on board -- what would you do? Would you pack up and go to China, the world's biggest growth economy?

McKinnon did, and for the past 11 months he has been CIO of Bleum, an IT outsourcing firm that focuses on providing outsourcing in China to U.S. and European companies. He's living in Shanghai with his wife, Liz, their 11-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son.

It was a big change personally and professionally for McKinnon, who also spent six years as CIO of Nationwide Insurance, more than two years as CIO of Wausau Insurance, and a stint at Microsoft. Understanding McKinnon's choice dares you to consider what career choices you would make. Our 2010 IT Salary Survey shows U.S. IT pros feeling risk averse amid frozen pay and hiring, but taking a chance--an overseas move, a shift to a new IT area, or a move into a business unit role--might be what it takes to rev a career. (Download our Salary Survey free here.)

Unique Opportunity

Bleum is unusual among China-based IT outsourcers because it's focused on serving companies in the West, rather than on the booming Chinese domestic market. Bleum's typical client is experienced with IT offshore outsourcing, probably in India, and is looking to diversify its outsourcing into new geographies.

In China, language and culture tend to be the biggest barriers for Western companies outsourcing there, so Bleum tries to remove those by running an English-only office, and using what it describes as Western management practices. Founded by Eric Rongley, who had run a Chinese development organization for CapitalOne, Bleum has clients including banks, hedge funds, and what McKinnon describes as one of the U.S.'s largest e-commerce sites. To get hired, applicants must take an IQ test and an English language test.

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Employee retention's tough in Shanghai. One way Bleum competes is its Western focus-- hiring people who consider exposure to Western companies and their management, and working in an English-language environment, a career advantage. It has kept turnover under 10%, which is good in the high-growth Chinese economy.

"The Chinese professional is very hungry, very aggressive, wants to work very hard," McKinnon says. "... You have a very motivated workforce. So unless you're going to pay more than everyone else, how are you going to recruit and retain?"

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