The AmCham China Young Professionals Committee (YPC) held its second installment in the Beers with Behemoths (BwB) series, giving young professionals an amazing opportunity to connect with an industry elite in a casual happy hour setting. At this BwB, PGA TOUR Vice President/Greater China Managing Director and Vice-Chair of the AmCham China Board of Governors Greg Gilligan shared professional advice and industry insights about corporate work in China at Little Creatures in San Li Tun. After moving to China 22 years ago, Greg began a successful career moving from regional management and then national corporate affairs at McDonald’s, to consulting at APCO Worldwide, and now as a top executive at the PGA Tour.
The night's discussion opened with a question on how to be an effective young executive. Greg emphasized that emotional intelligence is indispensable. In important and capable organizations, being smart is not enough to set you apart. However, “your ability to influence people,” he explained, “comes from solid EQ skills (empathy, self-control, awareness of self and others, charisma, etc.) rather than being the ‘smartest jerk’ in the office.’” Additionally, he expanded, “higher-level positions emphasize less technical skills and instead require more EQ-centric capabilities.” Greg found working to increase emotional intelligence to be an asset that dramatically increased his impact throughout an organization and in his professional career and personal life.
In terms of personal growth, Greg praised the power of reading. A busy professional and personal life can easily pull you away from reading, but Greg believes that it can enhance your ability to overcome limitations. Especially for professionals in China, subscribing to newsletters about China is essential. And, generally, “reading fills your soul and keeps you intellectually engaged,” he said. [See Greg's Reccomended Reading List at the end of this article.]
Additionally, Greg advised that financial security is vital to ease many of life’s challenges. Being a good saver is naturally a welcome cushion in dire times but can also broaden your opportunities. For example, if you need to leave your current position, some money in the bank can empower you to handle a gap in paychecks to make the most of a great chance at self-development or alternative employment.
Greg further promoted the importance of personal wellness for professional success. Strengthening himself personally and squeezing the most out of life has made him stronger, more mentally acute, and helped him to give his organization his all. Strengths that are physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual are all career enablers, allow one to enjoy life more, and be more interesting to be around. “Being one-dimensionally focused only on work conversely makes one a less capable person in life and work,” Greg explained.
Greg then addressed the nuances of work between Chinese nationals and American expats. He said the main difference is communication. While Westerners tend to be direct and wear their hearts on their sleeves, Chinese people expect others to intuit more of their meaning. In his McDonald’s days, he had to coach store managers that, when employees are absent for personal reasons one day, they likely had a family issue. After many successive days, however, they are really implying that they have an issue with their work or with their managers personally. Greg was proud to have a team during his time at McDonald’s that, over many years, managed the lowest turnover rate in all of China.
The evening wrapped up with advice on the best approach to mentorship. Often, Greg has found that young professionals do not have the right understanding of what mentorship can be. “Mentorship,” he explained, “does not have conditions. You cannot expect to ride on your mentor’s coattails – a pure “guanxi” play – instead you need to find a symbiotic relationship that allows safe and unfiltered communication with someone you can open up to without vulnerability and whose accomplishments you can learn from.” If you can demonstrate that you are bringing no obligations and are simply a sponge seeking to learn and willing to put your true self forward, that is when a mentor will open up and true learning occurs.
The Young Professionals Committee would like to thank Greg Gilligan for his insights and advice on starting a career in China and for his commitment to supporting the careers of our young professional community. For more information about the next BwB, the Young Professionals Committee, or to be added to the YPC WeChat group, email firstname.lastname@example.org.