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Nathan Power, Business Development Manager, iMandarin, China

In less than 10 years, iMandarin has grown to be one of China’s largest private Chinese language providers and it now plans to go international. Nathan Power, who is overseeing its expansion plan, chatted with us about life in Shanghai and mastering the art of guanxi.

The PIE: How did you go from a music manager and concert promoter in Detroit to working for iMandarin in Shanghai?

"It’s all about personal connections and guanxi – which is Chinese for 'establishing business relations'"

NP: I arrived in Shanghai in September 2009 after owning my own company for five years managing electronic music groups and organising club nights. I had gone back to school and got my English teaching certificate with the intention of spending a year in Asia, teaching English and travelling around.

“Finding a job in China is like finding water in the ocean”

After a year teaching I had gone from fear and paranoia and “Oh my god, what am I doing here by myself?!” up to “I’m never leaving”, so I wanted to make sure that I learned the language. I told my boss on a Friday that I enjoyed working there but that I wasn’t going to renew my contract because I wanted to go to school to study Chinese.

The following Monday she called me at 7am and said: “You have a meeting with the CEO of the whole organisation tonight at five, don’t be late!”. So I scrambled to the market to figure out getting a suit. I went into the office and met the CEO and he said: “I understand that you’re trying to leave us to go to school to learn Chinese! Well I’m sorry that’s just not acceptable and I’m going to give you a job and you’re going to take it.”

The PIE: And what did the job entail?

He laid out his plan for a Chinese school where there had been only local business and they wanted to expand it to the international market. All of their employees were Chinese and they needed a western face to represent the company. He said it would involve travel and I could structure the whole programme from the bottom up.

The PIE: As an American working in China did you have problems getting a working visa?

NP: It’s really easy to get a work visa so long as you have a company to back you and finding a job in China is like finding water in the ocean. They take care of all the paperwork, all you have to do is smile for a picture and then go pick up your passport when your visa is ready.

The PIE: When did iMandarin start?

NP: They opened in 2003 with one centre in Shanghai and have grown to 20 locations in 10 cities across the country. Last year we opened up three new locations.

The PIE: Tell me more about what iMandarin offers.

“Our foundation is corporate training and then we build all of our business on expat families already living in China”

NP: iMandarin is part of a larger privately owned company called New World Education Group that also has English language schools. At iMandarin we teach Chinese mostly to Westerners, however we have a set of campuses that are specifically designed for Japanese clients.

The largest subsidiary of the New World Education Group is a school called Sakura JP which teaches Japanese to Chinese people and provides internships for Chinese people in Japan with companies like Sony or other larger companies. Because we have partnerships with those companies, frequently they will send us their executives and employees to learn Chinese so that they can work in their offices in China.

The majority of our business is built on local business, so our foundation is corporate training, and then next to that we build all of our business on expat families already living in China. We’ve used that momentum and now we’re expanding into actual international recruitment.

The PIE: How many students do you have in the Chinese language schools?[More>>]

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