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Meet Anne-Sophie, a KEDGE Alumna living in Beijing

Meet Anne-Sophie Lehec, who has been living in Asia for 7 years, first in Hong Kong, then Shanghai, and now Beijing.

A freelancer working on audiovisual projects, Anne-Sophie juggles between programming, selling Asian films, and consulting in project development. She spoke to KEDGE about her experience as a French entrepreneur in the Chinese capital, her day-to-day life, and her future projects.


Hello, Anne-Sophie. To begin with, can you tell us about your educational background: what did you study before and at KEDGE?

Before Kedge, I went to a three year literary prep school. At Kedge, I joined the "Creative Industries" programme. I took a year and a half break. During my first internship, I was quickly offered a short term contract in the company I was working for in France, a company specialising in selling independent films abroad, called Celluoid Dreams. We worked on Un Prophète by Jacques Audiard and all the films by  Kitano, for example. Then I went to Shanghai to study at a partner university.

Tell us about your decision to move to Beijing in China?

It wasn't really a decision, it was more like I fell in love with China after doing an exchange in Shanghai. I fell in love with China, and Asia in general and wanted to stay here to live and work.

Why did you start you own company in another country?

After I graduated from Kedge, I was offered a permanent contract in France and I took it, but it didn't take long before I was back in Asia. I went to Hong Kong as part of a VIA programme (Volontaire Internationale en Administration), where I worked at the French Consulate as Audiovisual attachée. I managed the relationship between France and Hong Kong in the fields of television, cinema, radio and journalism, for everything that concerned the two countries. It could be filming, but also the release of French films in Hong Kong or welcoming French journalists that were coming to do a reportage in the country.

1 minute / 1 Kedger: Anne-Sophie, expat Alumna in Beijing

Published by Kedge Business School Alumni on Tuesday, March 6, 2018

After two years, I wanted to stay in Asia, and the easiest and fastest way to go back to school to learn Chinese, while maintaining a job, was to create a micro-entreprise. That is why I decided to create my own company. My job consists in selling Asian films abroad; I have to find places that are interested in distributing independent and engaged Asia films: theatres, festivals, TV, video (DVD, Bluray) or video on demand. Very quickly, after arriving in China, I was offered a nearly full-time contract. I have other clients elsewhere in Asia and in France, but my main client takes up 99% of my time, although that may change soon, to be continued…

What is your company's CSR policy?

We are a very small SME. There are only five of us, so it isn't really that relevant. We don't have meetings where we talk about the company's social and environmental responsibility.

On the other hand, from a social perspective, we only work on independent films, that defend a strong view point. Some of our directors aren't allowed to shoot or even to return to their country. I work on Asian films, for example I have an Afghan director for whom it is really complicated. She is the first woman to shoot a film since the Taliban took control of the country, it is very difficult for her and complicated to work with her for many reasons. If we weren't there to showcase her work, to bring it to the public, it wouldn't happen. There aren't any other companies that are doing that today. We are very small, but we are committed to defending voices that are often forgotten, and we don't want them to be forgotten. 


What differences do you see between the work environments in France and in China?

There are huge differences, at all levels and from all points of view. At the legislative level, in China we have five days of vacation per year maximum, whereas in France we have five weeks. When it comes to working hours in China, we can work seven days a week. There are some people in China that count their vacation days by saying "I am so happy, I have 52 days of vacation per year". In reality, they are counting their Sundays as vacation days. That is not really how we see things in France. In China, working really long hours is completely normal, even though the productivity level is sometimes nil. Which means that it is completely reasonable and normal to take a nap in front of your colleagues at work in China, something we couldn't really imagine in France. Additionally, the minimum salary is completely different, and contributions to retirement and social security also cannot be compared. In China, there are numerous jobs that we wouldn't even imagine having in France, because it would make no sense. For example, a person to fill your shopping bags at the cash register at the supermarket.

Then, the way we work. When we want information, we have to ask several times, we have to learn to ask the boss and not the employee. If you ask an employee, they will have to ask their boss to see if they can provide the information, when, etc. and it takes forever. Language is often an important problem. It is very procedural, when we ask for things in China, you need a stamp, a signature, a double stamp, whereas in France you get the order and that is what you need to do. In China, you need 15 approvals by 15 people with 15 stamps, it can be tiresome at times, but once you know how it works you just have to anticipate. 

What are your objectives for the future, do you still see yourself in China?

In five years, I still see myself in Asia, in China, I don't know. It will also depend on my personal life. It will be one of the first things to take into consideration, but I don't see myself going back to France in the next years. 

I still see myself working in cinema of course, and working on the relationship between France and Asia. Up until now, I have only worked international sales, the goal was to bring Asian films to a foreign public, French, American, South-American, African... Now, I would like to move into production, or even content creation, or helping create content by finding funding and providing artistic advice to reach a larger public in Europe with Chinese and Asian films for example. 

Anne-Sophie and students from the pro-act KAS, in the middle of the interview

How did KEDGE help you develop and realise your projects? 

KEDGE provides you with a foundation to become organised and understand the business world. That is essential, especially when you create your own company and have to manage everything, or when you work in small companies or micro companies, or very small SMEs where the employees do everything: they are the secretary, the HR manager, the accountant... That is what I do today. We really wear all the hats and have to know how to juggle everything. The school teaches that well, especially with the associations where we often work in groups and are immersed in the life of a small company, because an association is like a small company. I was a member of Extérieur Nuit at KEDGE, which wasn't as big as it is today, there were only eight of us, so we managed a lot more things because there were less of us. In that sense, the school was a major value-add. 

Then, the school enabled me to go abroad. Without KEDGE, I may not have made the decision to go to the US or to Asia. Today, I speak English and can live in Asia with no problem because the school pushed me to do that. I am not sure that I would have gone that far on my own. I may have gone somewhere else in Europe, etc. but probably in countries that are easier to approach.

On a more personal note, before moving abroad, what were your fears?

I didn't have any. I wasn't expecting anything. I had already lived in China, and Asia, I had already travelled throughout the continent, so I didn't have any apprehensions. Expect maybe being understood, because when I came back to Beijing, I didn't speak Chinese. I registered for a language school, I had four hours of Chinese in the morning and worked in the afternoon, but we progress really fast with four hours of practice per day. After six months, you can even manage to speak over the phone, make a reservation, order at a restaurant, or simply have water delivered, because you can't drink the tap water here, you have to have it delivered, otherwise you don't have any drinking water. So, I guess that was my biggest fear, being understood, and being able to do things on my own without having to call on friends or contacts to help me with everything. 

The pro-act KAS students on the Great Wall of China

What advice do you have for students that are considering moving abroad, to China?

Go for it (laughs)! No really, go for it, its a challenge. It won't be easy every day, but at the same time it will be a growing experience, both professionally and personally. It is something you can really sell afterwards. Getting a job in France after working in Asia for seven years, and China in particular, won't be a problem, you can find something easily. 

And from a personal point of view, you open up to another culture, to others, it makes you more tolerant, you change the way you see people, the world, the way you consider things, so it is very beneficial.

What has China brought you that you never would have found in France?

A diversity of people. In France, I would have stayed with my French friends, whom I am happy to see when I am in France, but here I have Chinese friends, and expat friends from different nationalities, there are Filipinos, Canadians, Americans, Italians, Germans, Lithuanians. A diversity of profiles, it's a great richness, and we stand to gain a lot, when you share experiences with so many different people. The second thing is the language, even if I don't speak it perfectly, I speak Chinese, and if I had stayed in France that wouldn't have been possible. Additionally, I have had responsibilities at work that I never would have had in France at my age. I was directly placed in the position of Director and had to manage things, whereas in France, I would have been told I was a junior, then you get a job as an assistant, and 10 years later maybe you'll become director. It helps accelerate your career in a big way.

At the same time, the standard of living isn't the same. With what I earn, I have a really really nice life, whereas in France I would have been in the lower medium class. 

Finally, security in my daily life. I never hold on tightly to my purse in the metro or keep my phone in my pocket because you never know. No, if it's on the table, it is on the table, and it's not a problem. That changes everything, to be able to go home at 3 in the morning without worrying, walking fast, or pretending to call someone, just in case. That doesn't happen here. 


Interview conducted in Beijing by the Kedge Asian Success team, composed of Romane Clerc, Cyril Colliot and Maud Ribaucourt.


Maud, Cyril and Romane, projet KAS creators.


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