Denitsa Hazarbassanova works in Business Development at Groupon China. We’ll discuss the various aspects of her career in China and see if she can’t give us some insights on how we might be able to emulate her success.
1. Please tell us briefly about your bio and background. How did you end up in China?
Still remember clearly the day when I was made an offer to come to Beijing – I was in the middle of preparing a report for my boss, and I had to finish a paper for a course. When my interviewer insisted we push the interview a couple of hours earlier, I was so upset that I completely forgot what I had prepared. But that was how I ended up working for Groupon International in Beijing two weeks later.
My background is diverse and eclectic: I am Spanish, but I am born in Bulgaria. I have a Bachelor in Psychology, a Master’s in Management research and a LLB on the way. My career has taken me to Bulgaria, Spain, the UK, the US, Russia and now China.
2. Can you give us a bit of background about your career progression between the Europe and China and why you chose that path? Would you still recommend China as a career destination in Asia or would you recommend an alternative destination?
The thing about my career is that it choses me, not the other way around. I did not plan a career in Asia, I just followed an interesting project. This strategy has taken me across countries and industries. I started my career as European Union projects manager, then I moved into project management for social projects. Next move was to the media sector, where I took my project management skills to advertising and later on filmmaking.
When I graduated from the University of Barcelona with a degree in Psychology, I dived into human resources – a bit of everything: analytics, recruitment, outplacement projects, policies and organisational design, HRO IT systems. This was interrupted from my Master’s at Oxford. Contacts from the university brought about a next career turn – research and analysis. In a way it all comes together at Groupon: while setting the company’s JV in China, I had the chance to brush on my HR skills, marketing tricks, project management and finally deepen my expertise in IT operational systems.
I would recommend China as a career destination: it allows you to experiment and pushes you to try harder and be creative. The vast amount of opportunities can be bewildering and I guess this is the test – you either enjoy it or you don’t. It is hard, and many people abandon China in favour of other Asian career destinations like Hong Kong or Singapore. For me China is the starting place, as a boot camp if you wish, that will get you fit for the rest of Asia.
3. Do you feel that there are specific industries or companies that would make a good career move for a young aspiring expatriate careerist?
I believe the opportunities are everywhere. You can allow yourself to go corporate or be an entrepreneur – choosing the industry will give you a safe place, somewhere you will be confident. Everything else is uncharted waters.
4. Can you tell us about some of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on? How about the most challenging? In what ways was this experience more valuable than it would have been in Europe?
The most interesting projects were always about engaging the people – be it customers or employees. It tests your ability to tune in with Chinese people: what makes them tick, what attracts them, what makes them happy.
Challenging is everything, especially in the beginning: you never know what reaction you are going to get to your decisions and strategies. And baby steps are not an option – everything is moving at incredible speed, if you are not the first to innovate, your idea is old news.
In Europe, you would have had time to think things over, but it would not have been as challenging. China really pushes you to pick your brain and test your speed.
5. Can you comment on the relative positives and negatives you faced in both the US and China, from a career perspective?
I guess the difference is as being among equals and being in a completely new environment. For me the unchallenged positive for China is that it is more entrepreneurial.
6. Mandarin fluency is increasingly becoming a basic requirement for expat professionals in China. Would you say that Mandarin fluency played a role in whether or not you were able to clinch your own position? Why or why not?
I wasn’t fluent in Mandarin when I took my position at Groupon. I wish I was. It’s an absolute must and it’s incredibly enjoyable. You can improve very fast if you have some basics.
It’s key if you want to grasp the (working) culture and really communicate.
7. Can you comment on what you do on a day-to-day basis at Groupon? What sorts of people are you looking to recruit and hire at Groupon China?
We strive for greatness every day. We try to find the best deals that will excite our customers. We devise ways to generate and increase our merchants’ business. What we usually look for is top school background, market understanding, entrepreneurial spirit and tons of ambition.