With nearly 20 years’ experience at multinational firms, Bi Lin left the relative safety of her company last year and started her own business, determined to test her ideas amid tense market competition.
Bi used to be the general manager of a global headhunting company’s operation in Shanghai. Crowned as the “godmother of multimillion-yuan consultants”, she was the first local general manager of the company in China. However, as time went by, the problems of large multinational companies started to emerge, which led her to think about starting her own company.
In the very early days, working at a global headquarters was empowering enough that Bi and her team could do what they thought was right for the Chinese market. But as the Chinese branch grew bigger, the global management team played an ever-greater role in the Chinese office’s decision-making process.
For Bi, that became a big problem.
“The global management team does not know well enough about the Chinese market. Since it is a public company, the line of reporting is quite long. Therefore, we were moving like an elephant, which means that we could not respond to the market trends and clients’ demands quickly enough,” she said.
Besides, she said, the restrictions at multinational companies are quite apparent. People often describe each employee at such companies as a small cog in a giant machine, meaning that the influence of one person on the company is quite limited, even if he or she has already assumed a senior position.
The idea of setting up her own company started to take shape in late 2016, when she saw the company’s slowdown and noted the rising passion for entrepreneurship in China. A large number of her friends, who had been working at leading multinational companies such as Unilever and P&G, left their former posts and started their own businesses. Their success or lack of it was not as big a part of their decision as a determination to test what they have learned at the multinational companies.
Bi created her own headhunting company, Leading&Selective Recruitment, at the age of 41. Of course, she could also have taken a management post at another leading multinational company and led a relatively leisurely life. But her resolve to test her understanding of the market gained the upper hand.
“I think I am mature enough now. More importantly, I would like to hew the rest of my life differently,” she said.
The experiences she gained at multinational companies were quite valuable, she said. The complete system, the management style and the developed training programs are things that most of the privately owned enterprises and startups in China should emulate, she said.
“A large number of the products or services we see now in China are imported from these multinational companies — for example, headhunting. Although we say from time to time about the rise of domestic companies and the seeming regression of multinational companies, the latter’s brand image and influence is still there. So our goal right now is to create a local brand that can run neck and neck with these companies one day,” she said.
She also stressed that there is no single career solution that works for everybody. For young people who are creative and willing to test their talent, a smaller sized startup might be a good choice. But in such cases, the management team should be willing to help and teach these young people. Otherwise, they will feel quite frustrated.
“I am quite content with myself right now. While working at the multinational company, I felt somehow bounded, for there are many restrictions. But now, I can say and do what I think is right,” she said.