Mar 25, 2014

Rio Goh reveals his secrets of establishing a successful career in China

I interviewed Rio Goh, the new country head of Morgan McKinley in China and listened to his stories of establishing a successful career in China. Since his arrival in 2005, Goh has started as a manager for a boutique recruiting firm and after several years, he has successfully gotten director role under his belt. How have he managed to do that...

Jing Yan: How have you started to grow your career in financial recruitment? And please talk about your experience of building up the brand of your first employer?

Rio Goh
: Basically, I started my recruitment career in Randstad and I did not plan this when I graduated from university. Randstad as a Dutch company was setting up in China and I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to help them. As Randstad was very new at that stage, it was my job (being Dutch Chinese) to help them introduce Randstad to the market, it was about meeting enough people, building up relationships, and then delivering and building a track record so we could build credibility. After that, we were able to build momentum, and I started to focus on helping them build the Banking business.

It seems that your key to success is following the right opportunity first. And what do you think is more important to anyone’s success, opportunity or passion?

I think sometimes people don’t know what their passion is until they get the right opportunity. We all have our ideals and our preferences. But sometimes, you can’t get all of that, especially when the job is not the right one. When you actually land the right job, you can then fulfill your own needs. For example, mine is to make sure you deliver upon your promises, and meet expectations in terms of service quality. You need to over deliver and work with people and really drive this business so it becomes profitable for different teams. That’s what drives me on a day to day base.

However, it is not the end goal, the process of achieving this goal is equally important. In recruitment, you need to deal with a lot of challenges every day. You need to be able to balance between success and failure. It provides you the platform and opportunity to take steps to grow, not only as a professional but also as a person. Because you learn from so many people every day, that for me is most important.

For most people, even getting the right opportunity is the luckiest thing in the world. But is luck enough?

I am very lucky and appreciate the opportunities I have been given, but I also knew that I would succeed in a service oriented role, with my education and my parent’s family’s background in the hospitality sector. I knew this job in this particular industry would work well for me.

What do you think are the crucial factors for people to become one of the top line roles in international companies in China today?

Persistency, and tenacity, you cannot give up too soon. You also need to understand that there is no end destination. The journey is always on-going. If one day, you feel you are there, I think that’s the moment when your growth stops. Complacency or hypocrisy are 2 very dangerous threats. Do the things yourself that you want other people to do. I think these are the crucial factors for anyone to succeed in China.

Is this what made you the country head of Morgan McKinley?

Morgan McKinley is a relatively small organization at this moment in China, and we have about 600 people globally, in China we have about 25 people. I think what made me become the country head, is because of my track record, the drive and motivation to grow and to go beyond people’s expectation. There is still lots to be done and plenty new things I learn on a daily base.

Which one will you choose, a person who has a good track record or a person who has yet to get a track record but with a good education background with MBA degrees?

It’s a tough call. Track record obviously is important but I will also try to determine if someone has the right attitude, someone who is open, flexible, adaptable, driven and passionate. To me, these characteristics are the critical factors to decide between these two candidates. Both candidates should look good on paper, but when I meet them, I will focus on personality and soft skills.

As the country head of Morgan McKinley, what are your future focus and plans? 

The first goal is to make sure that the people, talented people we have here, can fulfill their potential. We really try to understand what drives and motivates them, what their strengths are, and make sure they are in the right job, so that we can provide the right platform for them to succeed.

The second goal is for Morgan McKinley to become the best in what we do. As a recruitment firm, we do not strive to become the biggest, but in terms of what we do we want to do well: the client relationships we have, we want to go in-depth and service them. We do not want any shallow relationships, one-off or transactional relationships. We really want to become the best at what we do. That’s the ambition we have for our businesses now and for the future.

In your profile, it says that you can speak 5 different languages fluently. How do you manage to do that? 

I grew up in Holland, and with my Chinese background, I speak Minnan hua (Fujian dialect) and Cantonese, and when you grow up in Holland you have to speak one additional foreign languages (next to English), normally this would be French, or German and I chose German. Apart from that, when I came to Shanghai in 2005, I picked up Mandarin. It is a combination of work, the right environment and the interest in the culture and language. Wherever I live I would try to speak the language.

For most people, learning foreign languages require much effort and practice, not to mention speaking them fluently. 

Yes, I actually have something with languages, I have even picked up local dialects, such as Shanghainese, very quickly. I am not a numbers person, my interests are in culture, people and languages.

How does it contribute to your understanding of different cultures here? 

I still remember when I first came to Shanghai, I barely spoke any Chinese, only the basics. It was very difficult for me to connect with colleagues, and whenever you speak with people who don’t know the language here, there is always a language and cultural gap. So I think language skills give me an advantage to understand different cultures and connect with people easily.

What have you learned about Chinese culture? Anything special?

For me, I definitely feel more at home in China, because of my family background, and even more so now than Holland. I like go back Holland for a break, but I am always keen to leave and go back to Shanghai. Holland is always a place where I can live anyway as I grew up there.

There’s a bit of a culture shock comparing China and the West. For example, people in Holland are very direct, we speak out when we disagree on certain things. In China you have to put in more effort and time to really understand people’s opinion and motivation. Meanwhile, relationships are very important in China from our cultural point of view. In Holland, it really doesn’t matter whether you are a Dutch or not. They look at other things, but not the background or the languages one speak. In China, however, people appreciate that we have a good relationship; we like to maintain and invest time into it. We have about 25 people in the office, my approach is to make sure I understand everyone from a personal point of view, so that we can connect better, not only work wise, but also on a personal level.

You've talked about personal connection, how do you manage to achieve this with Chinese employees?

Just small things, sometimes, keeping in touch through text message, or WeChat; when catching up, asking about people’s personal situation and family. Or even simply having a drink or dinner after work, and meeting up during the weekend to get to know what is going on in their lives. I always appreciate it when my boss shows an interest in my personal life.

How long does it take for you to become adaptive in living and working in China?

I am still adapting, and I am always learning, I don’t think I am fully adapted yet because the environment changes too. For me, to really settle down and feel at ease, I guess it takes me 3 to 4 years at least.

Any advice for foreigners and expat workers in terms of culture understanding?

Some people try hard and they still don’t understand the culture, and some don’t try at all. I think my advice is wherever you go, you should try your best to understand the local custom, the local culture, and the local language. Eventually you have to adapt to them, not them to you.