Interview | Leo Li, Global HR Director at Bosch Manufacturing Solutions

China’s rapid advances in areas such as digitalization and what these advances mean for Germany and Europe are drawing increasing attention in Germany but many Germans remain unaware of this. Leo Li, Global HR Director at Bosch Manufacturing Solutions, draws on his personal experience in Germany and shares his insights.

Is Germany leading China or China leading Germany?

Objectively, there are still many areas in Germany that are worth learning from, but in some areas, there is no doubt that China is ahead, and that includes digital HR. Bosch China has launched programs such as recruitment via WeChat, the We-Learn platform, and we have even applied AI technology in the recruitment field. A growing number of Germans want to know more about China, and the voices from media are all about the necessity and importance of learning new things from China. However, a lack of good ways and platforms will be a hindrance to them. As a Chinese manager who works in a foreign company, how to use your voice to influence others, how to tell “Chinese stories” effectively and help them to better understand China are obviously problems worth exploring.

Understand cultural difference and dare to speak up

When it comes to communication, there are clear differences between Chinese and Western cultures. Chinese tend to hold back, when Westerners speak up. Communication with Germans should be as straightforward as possible. Speaking quietly or responding with silence can be seen as a lack of confidence. Get rid of hierarchy concepts and dare to say no to your foreign boss as you are undeniably a “Chinese expert”. Speak and show your views with confidence. Some German practices do not work so well in China, but many Chinese managers do not speak up about it. Besides, corporate culture is also very important. If it’s always dominated by German corporate culture, some good local ideas may be stifled. It’s a pity.

Push yourself and keep learning

I experienced culture shock when I first came to Germany five years ago. I saw so many differences in culture, while it’s hard to change one’s personality, for example, you are introverted. I remember standing up in an inconclusive meeting and expressing my suggestions, although my German is not fluent enough. And my German colleagues seemed surprised that their formerly quiet Chinese coworker had suddenly spoken up. But I could see it started to change their minds about me. We also need to remember the importance of language. Constantly break out of your comfort zone and train yourself in cross-cultural style switching. 

Embrace change, share the future

In a culturally German company, Chinese need to constantly learn and adapt, while some Germans working with Chinese need to abandon their sense of superiority and genuinely listen to the opinions of others, so that good local suggestions or ideas don’t get missed. Bosch is putting many efforts in terms of internationalization and diversity, but we’re still in the early stages. Now many foreign managers like me start to work in Germany, previously all management positions were held by local Germans. But now many German colleagues have to work with foreign managers, which is also a change for them.

In a changing global competitive landscape, the rise of China increasingly attracts German companies’ attention. In the face of new changes, German companies are eager to learn more about China, so what does this mean for Chinese people working in German companies?

The interview was conducted by Sangyi Li, Key Account Manager China, based at ICUnet’s Shanghai office.


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