Embracing digital disruption and doing business in China

5 July 2018

Saxon Booth and Garry Wang

Photo: Saxon Booth (left) and Garry Wang (right)

From automation to artificial intelligence, the impact of technology is radically disrupting jobs and industries. And when it comes to working in booming markets like China, the pace of change, and impact on work-life balance is in hyperdrive. Four UTS graduates share their vision of tomorrow and tips for forging an adaptive mindset in a constantly changing, ‘always on’ world.

Over 200 members of the UTS community gathered in Shanghai and Beijing last week to hear from some of our most innovative, creative and successful graduates as they shared their insights and advice on how technology and innovation is shaping their industry, and what life is like as an Australian working in China.

In Shanghai, former Hyundai Head of Design and current Principal at Global Design Index Casey Hyun (Bachelor of Arts in Industrial Design, 1996) spoke about how he believes we are long overdue for an entire rethink of cars as the industry moves towards autonomous vehicles.

“In 10, 15, 20 years from now the look, overall perception and layout of the whole vehicle will be completely different from what we are used to seeing right now,” he said. “We believe that the future of the vehicle – the interior at least – will turn into a moving lounge. Vehicles until now were developed for the actual function of driving, but when the technology develops to a point where we don’t have to drive the car, people will be spending more time doing their own stuff.”

Such a radical disruption in the car industry will not be without significant challenges he explained, citing in particular the domino effect on service industries.

“The issues right now that we are facing in terms of the future mobility is not just economy-driven issues, but also politically-driven issues,” he elaborated. “If an autonomous vehicle comes into the market and drives out all the cab drivers and related business – that is going to cause a lot of issues – a chain reaction which we have to think about and be responsible for as well.”

Read more about Casey's secrets here

For fellow panellist, Senior Partner at law firm Denton’s Shanghai, Chambers (Chunbao) Yang (Masters of Law, 2001), the pace at which technology has evolved is such that the legislative framework is struggling to keep up.

“The law is not moving as fast as the new technology, so there are some very big challenges,” said Chambers. “We have to keep redesigning things like trader structure for clients to provide legal opinions about whether new business models are legal or illegal.”

He believes the opportunity presented by artificial intelligence will likely play a significant role in providing legal services in the near future.

“AI may be the biggest change to the legal industry,” he said. “AI can conduct some simple tasks, like basic legal research or bilingual translation or simple legal writing.”

But he does not believe the complex, problem solving skill required in legal matters such as establishing a transaction structure or litigating will ever be replaced by AI.

“There is a trend now of people starting to feel overwhelmed by technology because we feel like we need to be an expert on so many things. But you also need people that can put the technology to a use to solve problems.” - Saxon Booth

In Beijing, panellists Saxon Booth (Bachelor of Arts in Communications – Journalism Bachelor of Laws, 2007; Master of Arts in International Studies and Chinese Language, 2016) and Garry Wang (Bachelor of Business Bachelor of Science, 2013) shared stories about working in the tech world in China and adapting to a markedly different workplace culture.

Saxon, who is Director of Business Development at digital marketing and technology solutions agency Dragon Trail Interactive, spoke about the pervasiveness of tech in his day-to-day life in China.

“Technology makes you think more about your work – everyone can reach you all the time,” he said. “The challenge in China is there is much less of a divide between work and personal life. You’re always reachable, and your boss has no qualms reaching you whenever he wants.”

As a humanities student who now works exclusively in tech, he rejects the assumption that there is only room for “developers and data geeks” in the industry.

“There is a trend now of people starting to feel overwhelmed by technology because we feel like we need to be an expert on so many things,” he said. “But in the tech-driven world you also need people that can put the technology to a use to solve problems. You need people to think about why we need the technology for our clients, to design use cases and understand consumer flows.”

Since moving to Beijing in 2013, Garry has founded or co-founded five start-ups including Base Fit, China’s top provider of team-based functional training, and consultancy CREXSO offering integrated art solutions for high profile architects and interior designers.

His experience has been similar to Saxon. “In the start-up environment I can say there is no such thing as work-life balance,” said Garry. “We work from 9am to 9pm, six days a week, for weeks on end.”

Armed with an Australian education and foreign worldview has led to confusion and even clashes with colleagues for both Garry and Saxon.

Saxon says coming to China, “everything gets flipped upside down, and if you don’t embrace it from day one you should leave. You need to jump straight in immediately otherwise you are never going to survive here. You have to embrace all the cultural differences in your workplace. You can’t impose your rationality on other people – people learn in different ways here and contribute in different ways and that is important to embrace.”

Garry lists, “the lack of critical thinking ability of some of my staff” and “the fear to fail” as some of the biggest cultural differences he has had to overcome. But he has been able to harness his different mindset and put it to good use, including developing his own hybrid style of management.

He says he alternates between, “a combination of traditional Chinese style where I micromanage, or a more international style where I give a goal, a direction and a budget, and then I am happy for them to fail, potentially lose the money, but to grow for their own self-development and overall growth of the company.”

The frantic pace of life in Beijing – a city with a population the size of the country of Australia – is not for everyone, but both Saxon and Garry have relished the opportunity and offered advice to those considering moving.

“If you don’t already live here, live here for 12 months,” recommended Garry. “Dive in head first.”

“China is about stimulation, Australia is about stability,” said Saxon. “You have to surrender stability when moving to China and embrace the stimulation. Change your mindset and embrace all the things that come with that.”

Byline: Clio Anne Ellis

View images from the event below

2018 UTS China Alumni Receptions

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