Bringing Top Talent to China’s Greater Bay Area

Leadership StrategiesDigital TransformationExecutive Search
min Article
June 28, 2023
8 min
Leadership StrategiesDigital TransformationExecutive Search
As China’s Greater Bay Area aims to be a talent hub, enticing and retaining top global talent to the region is key.


China’s Greater Bay Area – comprised of Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao – has a massive goal: to establish itself as one of the world’s top talent and innovation centers. In 2021, at the central talent work conference, President Xi called for Beijing, Shanghai, and the Greater Bay Area to develop into major “talent highlands” and innovation hubs with advantages in capital, talent, industrial clusters, and market.

To enhance the core competitiveness of the Greater Bay Area, talent development is key. As such, Russell Reynolds Associates interviewed twelve representative companies in the region to explore the current demands and development trends for top talent in the Greater Bay Area.




of companies in the Greater Bay Area do not have enough senior talent pools and need to constantly refresh to keep the best and the brightest.
– CEO of a Conglomerate


While the Greater Bay Area has a competitive advantage as an already highly developed economic region in China, competition for global talent is still fierce. While the number of emigrants with bachelor’s degrees has increased by 130% in the past 20 years1  (mostly to countries such as the US, UK and Canada), there is still a gap in the Greater Bay Area’s highly educated population.

Chongzhi Duan, president of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has said that the development of the Greater Bay Area lacks motivated talents between ages 30 to 50.2  Meanwhile, the accelerated development of advanced manufacturing, new energy, biopharmaceuticals, fintech, artificial intelligence and other fields has highlighted the region’s need for new talent. Our interviewees indicated senior leadership that truly meet their organization’s needs are scarce.


Rising demand for growth-oriented and versatile senior leadership in the Greater Bay Area

The Greater Bay Area aims to strategically support leading enterprises in the region, as well as to forge many "specialized, special and new" small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). To help scale these SMEs, transform large enterprises, and develop new industries in the region, RRA identified the following talent archetypes:

1. Growth-oriented value-chain leaders

As many industries shift from supply-driven incremental markets to demand-driven stock (inventory) markets, the strategic direction and management mode should also change. Now, more organizations take a steady cultivation approach. As a result, demand for talent with full value chain management ability is growing.



In the past, it was an incremental market, where having a skill and being able to drive growth would be good enough. Now, it is a stock market, where the ‘wooden barrel theory’ prevails. There’s more need for all-round senior talent.

– An executive of a technology company


Additionally, the Greater Bay Area has created a complete ecosystem for industries such as new energy vehicles, biopharmaceuticals, and semiconductor technology – a unique advantage that provides an excellent environment for cultivating multi-faceted talent.



Our Greater Bay Area does not have the same technical advantages as the San Francisco Bay Area in the United States, but we have other advantages, such as our supply chain system.

– A Human Resources executive at a technology company


Value-chain leaders in the region need innovative mindsets and the courage to embrace innovative technologies and actively promote innovation in research and development, manufacturing, operations, and other areas in order to discover new growth opportunities. They adapt to changes quickly and flexibly, utilizing existing budgets and human resources to achieve results.


2. Versatile strategists with international perspectives

Large enterprises, especially those facing transformation, need professional leaders to help them manage talent and establish mechanisms. For example, Nanshan Group, China’s largest manufacturer of aluminum, is currently trying to transform in the face of significant competitive pressures and rising talent costs. However, Shiyun Wang, general manager of the Nanshan Group, believes that the team’s capabilities will be key to the enterprise’s future competitiveness.



We expect new leaders to demonstrate professionalism, not simply replicate past successes.

– An executive of a technology company


That said, "Little Giants3" – specialized and unique smaller enterprises that focus on a specific product also need versatile, strategic leaders to form a systematic and sustainable management system. Such leaders should also have a strong international perspective to help enterprises become world-class enterprises. In addition, the decision-making process within the enterprise also needs to be professionalized and institutionalized so that external managers can get up to speed quickly and begin meaningfully contributing.



Our middle-level managers have solid skills in their respective fields and can make the most of their strengths, but we need professional managers who can integrate different functions.

– Chief Digital Officer of a financial service company


  Family office requires strategic investment professional to manage family wealth.

Case study: Family office requires strategic investment professional to manage family wealth

The CHRO of a family office that interviewed indicated the dire need for strategic investment and general management talents with cross-border, cross-asset category and decision-making abilities.

With the growing number of ultra-high-net-worth families in China, there’s an increased demand for strategic investment professionals to help manage investments both in China and abroad. These professionals also need to be able to interact effectively with the founder, as these leaders often take an active approach to investment with a new perspective, rather than passively allocating assets.

One interviewee observed that many investment professionals lack an understanding of the entrepreneurial mindset, and are unable to interact effectively with the founder, meaning the CEO or CIO has to intervene. Additionally, many next generation investment experts are skilled in analyzing and evaluating specific opportunities, but lack social development and macro perspectives, adding to the shortage of strategic investment talent.


3. Technology experts as commercial leaders

For innovative SMEs, the transition from research to scaled commercialization requires the presence of a senior technology expert with professional management skills. These leaders possess rich industry and product experience, as well as a strategic orientation, which can transform R&D achievements into commercial value.

In the early days of SenseTime, the company focused on recruiting research-oriented talent and pursuing technological breakthroughs. As Leo Liu, Vice President of SenseTime, told us, “For us, talent is the most critical aspect. The quality of our AI technology is directly proportional to our internal talent.”

However, as the internet grew, the company also needed to consider commercial value, asking: what kind of talent can monetize algorithms and push products to the market, consider the input-output ratio of each application scenario, and guide R&D with commercial returns, all while maintaining SenseTime's cutting-edge nature?

The answer? An “expert as manager,” who brings technology and commercial acumen, providing the company with long-lasting, sustainable development. The digital wave requires traditional industries to engage strategic leaders with specific technological foundations to steer the digital transformation of their enterprises.

These leaders are disruptive thinkers, free from the constraints of fixed thinking patterns and past successes, with the ability to create targeted business strategies and models in response to market conditions.



What we need is not technological innovation, but innovation that can apply technology to realized business models. We need senior management talent with both technology and business backgrounds. However, it is difficult to identify and recruit the volume of leaders we need with this combined skillset.

– Chief Digital Officer of a financial service company



In the future, we will focus on life sciences and biotechnology as key industries. We have technology accumulation and industry layout and we have a responsibility to promote technological innovation and industrial development. We need innovative talent who are not bound by tradition.

– A Human Resources executive at a healthcare company


  A leading internet company discovered that candidates coming from large enterprises

Case study

A leading internet company discovered that candidates coming from large enterprises often require a high level of clarity in work style, processes, and planning, including precision in areas such as bonuses and performance. However, the company’s team culture and work style are more similar to that of a start-up, filled with uncertainty, change, and challenges.

As such, they required candidates with disruptive thinking: someone who could break through existing frameworks, adapt to the organization’s way of working, and respond to uncertainty with an open mind.


Making the Greater Bay Area a top talent magnet

1. Attract top talent through policy support and supporting services

Globally, top talent is moving more. Interviewees have witnessed waves of talent migration over the past few years, including from China to other developed countries.

Meanwhile, expatriate talent is increasingly willing to return to China, attracted by China's financial support, settlement policies, and various benefits. According to the Ministry of Education, the number of overseas talents returning to the country in 2021 exceeded one million for the first time, with a year-on-year increase of 35.01%4. However, concerns about whether they can adapt to the local environment, if their children can enjoy high-quality education resources, whether there are complete settlement policies, and accessing medical insurance still loom large.

To address this, the Greater Bay Area has introduced a series of benefits for top talent, such as Guangdong’s personal income tax subsidies for international talent, housing subsidies and rental subsidies provided by Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan and other cities, and Hong Kong’s free 15-year bilingual education and participation in the joint entrance examination for overseas Chinese students. For example, Haikou provides benefits including exemption from the batch limit for children of top talent participating in the college entrance examination and guarantee of their spouse’s employment placement.



Policy support is essential, and when companies see other giants settling in, they will also gather around to form an ecosystem. Common forms include companies placing funds in Hong Kong and research and production lines in Guangdong Province, making use of complementary advantages between cities.

– Harry Lin, Russell Reynolds Associates


2. Optimize executive screening strategy

Most companies in the Greater Bay Area still rely on internal training and promotion for senior management personnel, and have yet to establish a comprehensive talent acquisition mechanism. Effective hiring strategies can help companies identify the talent that best meets their needs, thereby increasing talent retention rates and improving performance. A professional talent recruitment strategy involves not only finding the right match of skills and experience, but also comprehensively understanding the company's culture and founder's development philosophy, as well as uncovering deep needs for talent quality, ability, and leadership style.

By developing an ideal talent profile, job requirements can be translated into clear and concrete criteria for evaluating candidates. Additionally, engaging third-party organizations to conduct talent mappings across the country and even globally improves the Greater Bay Area’s knowledge of the talent landscape and position as a global talent magnet.

Before the candidate joins the company, clear and frequent communication between both parties is crucial to ensure the best possible match. In the face of a constantly changing and complex market environment, better compatibility increases the new hire’s chances for success.

Finally, standardizing and professionalizing the interview and feedback processes can improve the efficiency of the entire process, and ensure that internal candidates who are not selected for executive positions continue to be actively engaged in their current work. Comprehensive onboarding plans and expert consultations can also make the transition smoother, helping executives quickly establish confidence and integrate into the team.



To deal with the challenges of talent assimilation after joining a company, not only do leaders need the ability to learn and adapt quickly, but companies also need to provide a development environment, a standardized management system, and a well-established organizational culture to achieve long-term success.

– Olivia Liang, Russell Reynolds Associates


3. Focus on long-term retention

To inspire top talent and ensure commitment to the Greater Bay Area, organizations can establish a reward mechanism for innovative achievements, grant sufficient authorization to talent, provide support for their development, and build an inclusive cultural atmosphere. We learned that many companies have strengthened their performance incentive plans to stimulate employees' motivation and loyalty.

Additionally, ensuring that top talent is able to embrace new challenges, develop a sense of achievement from their work, and continue learning and developing is equally important. Comprehensive career planning and systematic training are essential to talent growth, and systematic talent development plans should be established early. Such mechanisms can not only identify and enhance employees' core competitiveness but also increase the promotion opportunities for executives and reduce talent loss. Most importantly, building an inclusive culture can motivate talent and help retain them long-term.



To empower new leadership, entrepreneurs need to let go while also establishing sound mechanisms and systems that ensure their own autonomy and creativity is maintained. Only in this way can talent’s value be better realized.

– Blues Zhao, Russell Reynolds Associates



  • Harry Lin conducts searches for technology executives across multiple sectors. He is based jointly in Beijing and Hong Kong.
  • Olivia Liang provides clients in the private capital and industrial resources sectors with impeccable service and business insights. She is based in Shenzhen.
  • Blues Zhao partners with companies in the Industrial and Natural Resources Industry, as well as the technology and financial services sectors, to create strategic leadership development solutions. He is based in Shenzhen.
  • Justine Qin is a member of Russell Reynolds Associates' China Accounts Knowledge team. She is based in Beijing.


The authors wish to thank the leaders we interviewed for this piece, some of whom wished to remain anonymous. Those who agreed to be credited are listed below:


  • Trevor Cheung, Chief Digital Officer of Corporate Banking at Bank of China Hong Kong
  • Xiao Fang, CHRO of MGI Tech Co, Ltd.
  • Keith Ip, Chief Technology Officer of Li & Fung
  • Leo Liu, Vice President at SenseTime
  • Ming Liu, Vice President of Human Resources at UBTECH
  • Shan Liu, Keshun Waterproof Technology Co., Ltd
  • Kenny Luo, Talent Acquisition Head at Tencent
  • Xiuying Tan, Director of Human Resources at BGI
  • Shiyun Wang, General Manager of the Nanshan Group and Deputy Secretary of the Nanshan Group Party Committee
  • Ou Yang, Former Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of China Overseas Property Holdings Limited
  • Wilson Zhang, Senior Human Capital Expert



1 Cao, Xiaojing, 曹晓静, ed. “Yuegangao Dawanqu: Ruhe Xinyi Quanqiu Gaoduan Rencai? 粤港澳大湾区:如何吸引全球高端人才?[China’s Greater Bay Area: How to Attract Global Top Talent?].” 南方网, December 24, 2021.

2 Xiao, Longping, 肖隆平. “Xianggang Zhongwen Daxue Xiaozhang Duanchongzhi: Dawanqu Jixu Youganjing Zhongqingnian Rencai 香港中文大学校长段崇智:大湾区急需有干劲中青年人才 [Chinese University of Hong Kong President Chongzhi Duan: The Greater Bay Area Is in Urgent Need of Motivated Young-and-Middle-Age Talent].” Edited by Ke, Rui柯锐. 腾讯新闻, November 15, 2022.

3 Feng, Coco. “China Has Named Nearly 9,000 ‘Little Giants’ in Push to Preference Home-Grown Technologies from Smaller Companies.” South China Morning Post, September 9, 2022.

4 Tong, Nannan, 童楠楠, 窦悦 Dou, Yue, and 王建冬 Wang, Jiandong. “[Zhuanjia Guandian] Dashuju Fenxi 2021 Nian Liuxue Guiguo Jiuye Xuesheng Shouchao Baiwan【专家观点】大数据分析2021年留学归国就业学生首超百万 疏通海归就业"中梗堵"需持续精准发力 [Big Data Analysis Predicts Number of Overseas Returnees Exceed One Million for the First Time].” Guojia fazhan he gaige weiyuanhui 国家发展和改革委员会 [National Development and Reform Commission], September 7, 2021.