"China's Consulting Market is Still Young"

Christine Yu, Managing Director of Kerkhoff Consulting in China, about management consulting in Cathay, an old name for the Middle Empire.


JobguideXpress: You studied economics at Fudan University in Shanghai and at the University of St. Gallen. What made you become a management consultant?

Yu: I found it fascinating that, as a consultant, one can do so much with the proper strategy, process and methods know-how in companies within the shortest possible time. When I develop new strategies with our clients, I find our collaboration very intensive and often even exhilarating. As a management consultant, one learns a lot while working on a project. You will constantly encounter different challenges and meet many interesting people with whom things are put in motion which you couldn't have imagined even in your wildest dreams.

JobguideXpress: For example?

Yu: I never dreamt it was possible that, in my lifetime, I would work on a very particular problem jointly with a foodstuff giant and its supplying farmers. That problem was how to grow a rare Chinese root – which can only be harvested every few years on very specific mountain slopes in a very specific region of China – in such a way that it will be continuously available for industrial production without ravaging nature.

JobguideXpress: Who had been the client in this consulting project – Greenpeace China?

Yu: No, it had nothing to do with Greenpeace. Sustainable management is meanwhile high on the agenda even with quite a few Chinese food producers. The project had been specifically about Infinitus wanting to secure its supply chain; Infinitus is a manufacturer of health products with headquarters in Hong Kong, whose soy sauces you might perhaps know from Asia shops in Europe. In its health products, Infinitus is using numerous Chinese medicinal herbs which are not always available in the quantities required for industrial production. The company had called us in as a purchasing consultancy to develop solutions for the security of supply and for price stability.

JobguideXpress: Is the subject of sustainability a consulting trend in China?

Yu: Chinese companies are highly aware of the fact that sustainable management is a huge subject for them. Already due to raw materials becoming scarcer and because of highly fluctuating raw material prices. However, it's also increasingly more important for Chinese companies to bring efficiency into their supply chains – because the competition from other Asian countries is getting stronger. Some companies, for instance from the textile industry, are currently undergoing restructuring or strategy changes because they noticed that they are no longer able to hold their ground in price competitions with Vietnam or Bangladesh. Insofar, fundamentals of sustainability are already a topic in consulting projects even from a business economics point of view.

JobguideXpress: How open are Chinese companies generally for management consulting?

Yu: Overall, the Chinese consulting market is still very young. On the one hand, that means enormous growth opportunities. On the other hand, a lot of patience is required because the service as such still requires a lot of explanations. Nonetheless, it can be said that management consulting has meanwhile become the normality in large state-owned and private enterprises.

JobguideXpress: Do you also provide consulting for German companies wanting to do business in China?

Yu: Consulting international enterprises had even been our starting point for establishing Kerkhoff Consulting in China. Initially, we had helped western companies especially in finding purchasing partners in China and establishing reliable business relations with them. For a couple of years now, we have also been working for Chinese clients. In terms of purchasing and supply chain management, we assist not only Chinese state-owned enterprises and private companies, but also western companies which are here represented with their own branch establishments and plants.

JobguideXpress: How important is it to be of Chinese descent so that Chinese clients will accept you as a consultant?

Yu: If your question is aimed at whether non-Chinese people will also be accepted as management consultants by Chinese companies, the answer will be: Yes, expertise will count. Our consulting team in China is staffed in parts with Chinese and in parts with German consultants. It's important that a consultant has good language skills in English, but better yet in Chinese and is able to move in the different cultures.

The talk was conducted by Julia Leendertse