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Private equity: Sky-high in Shanghai

Private equity is the new gold mine in China. But the industry can be impenetrable unless you're a) Chinese and b) have prior deal experience.

Over the past month, the sector has seen some high-profile additions, including Liu Chuanzhi, founder of Lenovo, the Chinese computer company, and John Bond, former chairman of HSBC.

But if you're a smaller fry, penetrating the industry can be a lot more challenging. "At more junior levels, the top private equity firms in China are looking for a special pattern, and there's not much deviation from it," comments John O'Loghlen, a 33-year-old former Goldman Sachs banker who's tried to penetrate the industry following several years in corporate finance.

What does this pattern look like? O'Loghlen says you'll need excellent Mandarin, an MBA from a top US or European business school, and several years' experience of working in private equity (PE).

Others say the hottest Asian PE candidates have usually spent several years studying and working in the US.

Kevin Yeung, of executive search firm The Whitney Group in Hong, says bankers with execution skills are in demand in the pre-IPO market and that language skills are not always mandatory.

However, another recruiter in Shanghai says spots for foreigners are open in more junior auditing and accounting roles, where successful candidates need to be able to read deal documentation in Chinese.

If you do get a foot in the door, watch where you put it.

Yeung warns that professionals moving into the space need to choose their opening carefully: "The large buy-out firms, such as KKR and the Carlyle group, have been having trouble finding decent investment opportunities in China. Prospects are best in the venture capital space in pre-IPO financing," he says.

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