Rosanna is a great person and an excellent professional. She was our host on our stop in Shanghai and she dedicated a little of her time to us while she showed us China’s other face. That’s how we understood many things about the Asian giant. On this trip, we met other ex-pat and we could eat a variety of foods. The cuisine went beyond just Spring Rolls!
There were very intense days and we also chatted about projects, dreams, expectations, and above all life. I was curious about how an Italian woman ended up in China. So I decided to transform our conversations into the following interview. I hope you enjoy this, like me during my visit to Shanghai!
Rosanna (R); Anna (A)
A: Why did you leave Italy?
R: I have always dreamed of leaving Italy because there is a sexist mentality at work. One of my dreams was to speak a lot of languages and live in different countries. So, when I had the opportunity I asked for an Erasmus scholarship to study in Barcelona. I lived there for seven years.
A: Seven years?
R: Yes. When I finished my degree I found a job easily because I spoke many languages, including English. I worked in a company of foreign trade for two years and a half. I was in the collection management part for international clothing brands.
A: And then?
R: I got tired of working on the same thing. I felt it was the right moment to start a new adventure. Around that time I had started a Master in Asian Studies.
A: Had you already started visualizing China back then?
R: Not yet. A friend of mine had just adopted a Chinese girl and she persuaded me that China was the future country. I had studied Economics, but my interest in Humanities got stronger. At the beginning, I thought about starting a new degree in Anthropology, but after I decided to stop working and started traveling through Latin America.
A: ¿Latin America? What a change!
R: Yes, it was a trip that I wanted to do, too. Apart from traveling around different countries, I was a volunteer in Colombia in a project whose goal was to help girls come out of prostitution. Women’s roles and equality of opportunities have been the focus of my life for many years.
A: What did you do when you finished your volunteer work?
R: I came back to Barcelona. I had finished my Masters and thanks to the fact I knew many languages I was able to work in a Consulting Business which was opening a new office in Shanghai.
A: Then, you went to live in Shanghai!
R: No, it was later. I followed the projects from the Barcelona office and I travelled occasionally to China.
A: And when did you decide to move to Shanghai?
R: In 2008 the office manager in Shanghai changed her job and there was a vacancy. Then I saw my opportunity. I love Barcelona and I had never thought to live in China, but if I wanted to follow my dreams, working in different countries and grow professionally, that was my moment. I announced my candidacy for the office manager in Shanghai and my company was not only very surprised but also they were very happy because I was the perfect candidate.
A: You move to China to be an office manager in Shanghai
R: Yes, to be the manager of two offices of Strategic Consulting services.
A: Explain to me what is Strategic Consulting services, please
R: The principal goal of our company was to help and support companies to open a market in China, above all, in the part of accounting, tax management, and selection of Human Resources.
A: Human Resources too?
R: Yes. I learned this part step by step. The Master in Asian Studies helped me because I had pieces of knowledge about Chinese culture. It allowed me to understand how the Chinese people work, above all during the interviews.
A: Once in Shanghai, you created your own business
R: Not exactly. In 2011, the Spanish company decided to close the Shanghai headquarter because of the financial crisis and the departure of a partner who was in charge of the international area. There were different projects in process and they offered to me, with the other two partners, carry on with the business in Shanghai on our behalf.
A: Then when you started to run your business, did your business model change?
R: The Human Resources unit grew, unlike the services of management, accounting, and opening of companies that are reduced as a result of vast competition. Currently, this business line has been reinvented and has changed its focus, with a special focus on cultural mediation and regulations.
A: How have you developed your Human Resources strategy?
R: Both my business partner and myself have been trained as a coach and in other methodologies such as LEGO Serious Play and we use them in strategy design, people development, and training.
A: Who are your clients?
R: They are mainly European, especially Spanish and Italians, and from sectors such as automotive, machinery and tools, robotics, and software.
A: How has it been to be an entrepreneur in China?
R: Well, the truth is that it depends on whether you are a large company or an individual. There are opportunities for everyone, especially a few years ago. Today, it still exists but in different sectors.
Whereas in China there are no opportunities for freelance work, as in Spain. That is why you have to start a company, even if it is small. This entails financial and fiscal obligations that you have to obey, in addition to regulations that depend on the sector and the geographical area where you are. Sometimes, even from one neighborhood to another in a big city, there are different nuances.
A: How complicated is the process!
R: Yes, it is complex. However, for us, it is positive because our service consists precisely of this. We manage and facilitate our clients in such a way that they understand and move through the process with no problem.
A: Have you ever started a business?
R: I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My father had his own company in Italy and I helped him in the warehouse and in the administration during the summer holidays. My mother, in addition to being a teacher, kept accounts for him and often spoke at home about management and finance. But I had never thought of being an entrepreneur.
A: What has been the source of learning that has inspired your company?
R: On the one hand, my experience as a consultant in the previous company. Also, the Chambers of Commerce where I have participated, especially the European Chamber that has given me the possibility of participating in working groups with other senior professionals from very large companies.
On the other hand, my way of being. I am very analytical and I can quickly detect risks and opportunities. Because I’m a restless person, I’m always looking for ways to be innovative.
A: I confirm it! You are a whirlwind and a source of projects. To all this, what does your business partner say?
R: I am lucky that my main partner is the opposite of me. She is very operational, practical and concrete. Sometimes when I get blocked and it is not clear, it can take a while to make a decision. Right now, she is critical. We encourage each other. I help her get out of her comfort zone and she helps me land when I get creative.
A: How has COVID-19 made an impact on your work?
R: We have not stopped. We continue to train and improve. Each new challenge is learning. We are using this time to take advantage of the opportunity to improve our services and be even more efficient.
A: What are your favorite achievements in the professional field?
R: The personal growth that I have experienced has brought me to this point. To have invested in me to continue improving and now, to be able to help others through my service as a Career Coach and as a teacher in different business schools.
In addition, I would also like to highlight my active participation in the European Chamber for several years as Vice-Chair of the Human Resources working group. I have achieved an intermediate level of Chinese.
A: You are a recognized professional and a reference for many!
R: Yes, I am a reference among the Shanghai professional community and I have participated in the RAI (Italian public radio station) as Italian Excellence Abroad.
A: How many things have you achieved!
R: I am currently doing a Ph.D. in what I define the R&D area of the company and that is related to the digital transition and the new services that will be offered in the future.
A: What has been the greatest challenge to overcome in your professional career?
R: I have overcome my own beliefs about being a woman in a field, many times, very masculinized. My limitations regarding my exterior image and against competitors. Finally, speak fluent Chinese.
A: What are your next steps?
R: Finish the doctorate and consolidate a stable network of partners and clients in Europe to be able to return to Barcelona and contribute more business from there. Create a bridge between China and Europe.
A: What would you say to a person whose dream is to be an entrepreneur in China?
R: China is no longer the same as it was 10 years ago. It is not as easy to start without a clear objective or project from the beginning. China is no longer for everyone. I would tell him or her to learn some Chinese culture and language first, to travel and gain experience. If after spending time with them you like and find the right opportunity related to your skills and ambitions, then it is worth undertaking in China.
A: How do you think your actions can contribute to our society and its values?
R: I hope to inspire other women to be what they want to be, beyond what society has been telling them since childhood. Also to be able to guide other people who are in moments of personal or professional doubts, as others have helped me.
A: Do you think money is the most important thing?
R: Money is necessary but is not what drives me. I try to be fair with my employees and transparent with my clients. In addition, I try to minimize my environmental impact and contribute to society with volunteer activities within the company to influence and provoke employees to think in the community.
A: A personal question to finish How do you see yourself in a few years?
R: This is a question that I still have to answer myself. The COVID-19 crisis has taken me on a path of introspection and has caused me many headaches. I hope to find the final answer to this adventure.
Thank you very much, Rosanna!