I use the language skills gained from my studies at Sheffield daily

Alex Barton
Alexander Barton
Managing Director, Greater China at Intralink
Chinese Studies BA(Hons) graduate
After graduating, Alexander moved to Asia for his Masters degree; he now lives in Shanghai.

What is your current job and what does it involve?

I currently work for Intralink, a British business development and strategy consultancy with a deep specialism in East Asia. Intralink enables Western firms to expand in Asia, and Asian companies to expand in the West. Our in-country teams develop market entry strategies and play a hands-on role in executing these on behalf of our clients.

Most of Intralink’s clients are in technology-intensive sectors including software, telecoms, semiconductors, healthcare, medical devices, automotive and energy.

In my role as MD Greater China, I oversee project teams that develop market entry strategies and drive sales for our western technology clients in China.

Can you tell me about your journey from graduation to where you are now?

After graduating from Sheffield, I moved to Asia to pursue a Masters in International Business at the China campus of a British university in Ningbo. I joined Intralink’s Shanghai office upon graduating in 2010 and have held five roles over the past nine years.

My initial two roles as a Project Coordinator and Project Manager entailed drafting market analysis reports, developing market entry strategies, implementing these strategies and conducting both direct & channel sales on behalf of Intralink’s western clients in China.

During this period, I also helped to identify, benchmark and appoint distribution partners for clients across several industries. Before taking up my current position, I worked as a Project Director for several years.

Do you use the knowledge and skills you gained from your studies in your job?

As most of Intralink’s communication with customers in Asia is conducted in the local language (Chinese, Japanese, Korea), I use the language skills gained from my studies at Sheffield daily.

The language teachers at Sheffield were outstanding and the modules on Chinese culture, economics and politics also provided a solid base to understand the intricacies of China’s business environment.

How did your time at Sheffield help to prepare you for your chosen career?

Sheffield’s Chinese Studies course throws you straight into the deep end from day one. As most of the students had no prior knowledge of Chinese, we faced a steep learning curve from the very beginning. The teachers set a high pace from the start and expected to see progress on a weekly basis.

To keep up, students had to build consistent and disciplined study habits. Balancing language learning with other course work also helped build our time management skills.

As Intralink’s clients hail from a wide range of industries, we often need to build a thorough understanding of a new technology in a very short period of time, so the skills needed to successfully complete the course are all extremely useful in the workplace.

Why did you choose to Study Chinese Studies at Sheffield?

The primarily driver behind my choice was the strong reputation of Sheffield’s School of East Asian Studies. The department has a long history of academic excellence and is widely regarded as one of the top places to study Chinese in the UK.

The fact that students spend the second year studying abroad at Nanjing University, one of the top institutions in China, was also a key factor in my decision. Many other universities don’t provide this opportunity until the third year. Living in China early on in your studies significantly helps with learning the language and developing a better understanding of Chinese culture.

What are your favourite memories of studying at Sheffield?

Living in halls of residence in the first year was an absolute blast. I met a fantastic group of people and we all moved into houses together in the third year. Spending a year studying in China and travelling across the country with my course mates during the holiday periods was also an unforgettable experience.

Do you have any tips and advice for students wishing to go down a similar career path to you?

As a growing number of students are learning East Asian languages, the expectations for language proficiency levels among employers are increasingly high. Finding an internship in China during the summer holidays is a good way to differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack.

Remember that simply being able to speak the language is only half the battle. To get even remotely close to fully understanding China, you’ll also need to immerse yourself completely in the culture. Don’t stay in your ‘expat bubble’ – go out, explore, make friends, have fun and the rest will follow!

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