Voice of Experience: Jing Hu, Partner, Financial Services, PwC

By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Jing Hu, a partner in the financial services group at PwC’s Beijing office, has seen her self-confidence grow throughout her career. When she first joined the firm, she was fresh out of college in New York City. “I think my immigrant background shadowed me. I had a lot of insecurities,” she explained.

But the support and coaching she received from partners in New York, and later in Beijing, made her realize her own strength. “My colleagues had so much confidence in me and gave me guidance and coaching. That helped me be confident in myself.”

She added, “I was lucky to have met those people – working at PwC changed me a lot.”

Currently Hu is beginning work on a new client with a challenging IPO plan. She is also working with PwC’s other Beijing partners on helping the firm distinguish itself from competitors. She explained, “In China, there are mandatory auditor rotation rules for large state-run enterprises as well as financial institutions.” As a result, many companies see auditing as more of a compliance procedure, rather than a value-adding service.

“Differentiating ourselves, and showing how we can add business value – that is something I’m working hard with my colleagues on.”

Career Path at PwC

After growing up in China, Hu moved to the United States to attend Baruch College and joined PwC’s financial services group in New York right after graduating in 2000. A few years later, she got married, and when her husband became interested in the opportunities arising in Beijing, Hu contacted PwC’s HR department to see if there was an opportunity for her with PwC as well.

“I applied for secondment opportunities and when I reached out to people in Beijing, there was a warm response,” she said. The application process lasted a year, she continued, and by 2007, she was on her way to Beijing for a two year secondment. Ultimately, Hu’s colleagues convinced her to remain in Beijing permanently. Last July, she became a partner at the firm – the achievement she considers her proudest.

“From day one, I never thought of making partner,” she said. “I just thought this is a job – a prestigious job, but a job.”

Hu explained that early in her career, as an immigrant in the United States, she felt a measure of insecurity. “When I looked around at the kids I graduated from college with, who were smart and proud, I was always the quiet one.”

She continued, “In my group at PwC, some of the partners had been partners for 20 years. I knew how much knowledge they must have, and when I watched them speak with clients, I had so much respect for them. I never imagined one day I would be there.”

But the support of her colleagues gave her confidence. “During the process, other senior managers would say they saw me as a partner one day, and I thought they were just saying that to make me happy. I had doubts and it seemed too far away a dream.”

Hu’s sponsor partners also gave her some guidance on speaking more about her accomplishments and offering her opinion – something she was initially very uncomfortable with. “My sponsor partner talked to me about being prepared, not to show off, but to allow others to see me as a good candidate. I’m not the type to be very social or to broadcast what I’m doing. But my sponsor partner said, ‘Everyone who works with you knows you are very good and will support you, but people who don’t work with you closely don’t know that. You have to let them know.’”

While she felt it was against her nature, Hu began to work harder at sharing her opinions and experiences, and she began attending more events. She continued to speak up after her move back to China, and last year, she was nominated to become a partner in PwC’s Beijing office. “Now I like to share, in the occasion that I think it will help other people,” she said.

Gaining Confidence

“I do have one observation,” Hu said. “I would say that women today just starting their career are much more confident than how I was when I first started.”

That’s a trait that she wishes she possessed earlier, she explained. Fortunately the confidence others had in her helped her develop her own confidence in herself.

“I was lucky – all of the people I’ve met in the firm had a lot of interest in my career. For example, my first senior partner in New York, was male and also Asian. He was new to the States too and was very patient in coaching me,” she recalled.

Her first senior manager was a different kind of coach. “He was your typical New Yorker – loud and witty, and he even made me mad sometimes,” she said with a laugh. “He was very tough – he refused to look at the memo I wrote if he found three grammatical errors. He was very intimidating, but ultimately he was a good coach. He taught me all of the little things that are so important.”

The support of her senior partners, both in New York and Beijing also helped Hu gain confidence. “Working with people who had much, much more experience and had the benefit of knowledge encouraged me to show more confidence, because they had confidence in me.”

Developing Younger Recruits

Hu said that Beijing has specific challenges when it comes to attracting and promoting the next generation of partners. “We have the tradition of hiring a lot of graduates,” she began. “And as they stay in the firm and are promoted, we give them gradually more challenging tasks.”

Tasks at the entry level can be repetitive or even boring – like making copies or sending out confirmations, just as in the United States or Europe. But it’s becoming more difficult to convince younger workers to stick around for more engaging work. “There are a few reasons,” Hu began.

First of all, most of the new workers are in the second generation of China’s one-child policy. Particularly in a city like Beijing, this means they are probably well taken care of financially. “They have a lot of support from their grandparents,” she explained. “Their families have prepared for their housing and the financial pressure is not as much as it used to be.”

That means the compensation offered by auditing firms doesn’t convince as many young people to stick out the initial months or years of entry-level work that is common in a pyramid-structured office. “But it’s not just the money,” she continued. “They also have thoughts of having their own life. Working for a firm like this, we need people who are willing to spend time to learn to develop themselves and have the motivation.”

When young people reflect on months spent sending confirmations, Hu explained, they might reconsider about a career in auditing. “They might have thoughts about what being an auditor is like based on the early times, and that may make it seem less attractive.”

“We don’t think enough about how to challenge them, or maybe we don’t trust them to do the work. But this is not a good way to develop people. We have to think harder about how to develop a high performing team.”

She added, “We have to keep quality people and keep them challenged so we can maintain the best.”