HR in China: Expat vs. Halfpat

Thursday, May 25, 2006 8:37

Many within China agree that there is a shortage of local talent in the middle management sector. In the past, this was a significant issue as companies had only two options – to hire and relocate expensive expatriate (expat) staff from overseas, or inexpensive, inexperienced local staff. In the last 5-10 years however, a third option has emerged – the “local hire expatriate”, or halfpat. Attracted to China by either a sense of curiosity, or a strong belief in China’s potential, the halfpat (including overseas-born ethnic Chinese) is generally a recent graduate or young professional who have moved to China without a predetermined career path.

There are pros and cons for hiring either of these types of Western-trained non-local staff. The strength of an expat is their long-term understanding of an industry and their ability to manage business units back home. Halfpats, on the other hand, are more stable and committed to China in the long-term and they have significant cultural, linguistic and market understanding. For many companies though, the bottom line is a financial one. The staff retention, and overall success rate, of expats is not particularly impressive – particularly in contrast to that of halfpat staff, who do not require expensive relocation packages or language training as they have already taken on those costs themselves.

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8 Responses to “HR in China: Expat vs. Halfpat”

  1. The Hao Hao Report says:

    February 20th, 2007 at 7:50 am

    HR in China: Expats Vs. Halfpats…

    Many within China agree that there is a shortage of local talent in the middle management sector.

    In the past, this was a significant issue as companies had only two options – to hire and relocate expensive expatriate (expat) staff from overseas, or…

  2. Christine says:

    August 10th, 2007 at 10:02 am

    Great report! I fall into the halfpat that lucked out with an expat package category. Then again, this was ’99 before the term halfpat was even coined. LOL. …when you still felt you knew every foreigner in China because there weren’t nearly as many as there are now and it was still possible to request a $100K/year job in the retail and e-commerce sector because local experience in those two areas was non-existent at the time. I digress…

    This may sound biased (since I was a halfpat) but if I were a large corporation looking to enter or expand in the market now, the plus sides of hiring a halfpat in my opinion, far outweigh the risk of sending an expat who has no understanding of China and how things work there in all aspects. Business, social, historical cultures.

    Case in point, in ’99 when Home Shopping Network bought a stake in the company I was working for at the time. I suppose they could have sent a 20 year veteran of tv shopping from the U.S. over…but they would have quickly realized that pretty much everything that makes for a great formula for pushing 10,000 widgets an hour on air in the U.S. would not apply to the Chinese consumer. The products that sell well in the US would have tanked here and there was zero knowledge of the local market in terms of payment systems and logistics and fulfillment (3 industries in its infancy at the time as well).

    So, for the price of paying a halfpat what I feel many halfpats really deserve…all they needed to do was send me to HSN headquarters in the U.S. for a 6 month crash course on tv shopping. With my background in Chinese studies and previous experience on the ground in China retailing…I was able to come back after those 6 months and adapt what I learned to the realities of the China market rather than try to apply a cookie cutter U.S. based formula to the China business model.

    I hope this makes sense.

    My halfpat days are over now that I’m back in the U.S. and in a position that allows me to meet and interview several key decision makers who are interested in expanding into the China market…and off-air and off the record I would give them the same advice any day.

    Christine
    The China Business Network
    http://thechinabusinessnetwork.com

  3. Rich says:

    August 11th, 2007 at 1:24 am

    Hi Christine.

    Makes total sense to me, and I think that it can be reasonably expected that what you experienced will become more and more mainstream as companies look to reduce their expensive expatriates with a middle ground Halfpat.

    If for no other reason that the fact that average housing allowance for many of these expats is more than the requested salaries of the halfpats….

    Have a good weekend

  4. China » Blog Archive » Report on China’s Cloning Industry says:

    August 11th, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    […] Hi Christine. Makes total sense to me, and I think that it can be reasonably expected that what you experienced will become more and more mainstream as companies look to reduce their expensive expatriates with a middle ground Halfpat. … …more […]

  5. Mon says:

    August 14th, 2007 at 2:05 am

    Hi, saw this wonderful site. I agree that expats without any China or even Asian experience will not be a pay out. This is what we are discussing now in our company. Anyway, does anyone know or does this site have data on halfpat and expat populations, demographics , and cities where it is concentrated?

  6. Dez says:

    August 26th, 2007 at 10:05 pm

    I am a halfpat. Was taken up by adidas. My managers knew little to nothing about the Chinese market being that all they did during their off-time was hangout at expat bars and group together like little ant colonies. When presenting their ideas and pricing strategy to Chinese managers and people who actually knew the market, they would get smashed and rebuttal with no sense of backing. “Would you pay $60 for a polo in the states?” Sorry to burst your bubble, but is this the states?? Things like that….

    Anyway, I’ve been in Shanghai a year already. I think I’ve got enough experience under my belt to land myself a good job back in the states. Wouldn’t mind staying here longer if there were more product marketing positions open.

    Good article btw.

  7. Rich says:

    August 29th, 2007 at 6:11 am

    Dez,

    Thanks for stopping by and posting.

    I think one of the hardest jobs in China is being a cultural buffer. If your bosses don’t get, know you do, and you end up in the middle… one can sometimes feel like an orange at 7:30 in the morning hovering over a glass.

    Right now, as far as I can tell, there are a number of openings in this field – particularly if you are willing to work in a PR firm (Ogilvy, Edleman, etc are always hiring)

    Otherwise, leverage your time here back home and grab an expat job… I just don’t end up at the same bars as your bosses

  8. Halfpat is the New Expat in China? Not likely… | China Supertrends says:

    September 12th, 2008 at 9:54 am

    […] the halfpat story for some time, I recommend you check out a few of his posts on the topic here and here. Share this story: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can […]

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