Zhi Shengke is director of strategy and development and energy firm Wood Plc. Here he talks about China’s energy market and the role CBBC can play in helping shape it
Can you tell us about your upbringing, where you were born, raised and educated?
I was born in Shenyang in north China and came to Manchester in 2003. I hold an engineering degree from China, a PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Manchester and a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from Alliance Manchester Business School.
In 2018 I became the first Chinese person to be elected as a fellow of the Nuclear Institute, and I am also a fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology.
Outside of work, I have held voluntary roles in the arts and education sectors, serving as Vice Chairman of the Centre of Chinese Contemporary Arts (CFCCA) and as a school governor of Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester.
I enjoy cycling and have completed a number of cycling challenges and raised more than £20,000 for charities including SOS Children Villages and the Chinese Streamside Garden, a unique fusion of Chinese and British horticulture that is being created by the Royal Horticultural Society in Greater Manchester.
Can you also tell us about your career and the path you took to get to where you are at Wood?
I began my career at EDF Energy as a reactor operations engineer and went on to lead major projects and world-class engineering and operations teams. In 2012, I joined Wood’s nuclear business (formerly Amec Foster Wheeler), a leading reactor technology, consultancy, engineering and project management provider in the nuclear sector.
My work has involved various reactor types including advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs), pressurised water reactors (PWRs) and the HPR1000, and has encompassed ageing management, plant lifetime extension and regulatory generic design assessment (GDA).
I’m currently account manager in charge of Wood’s relationship with China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) as co-lead of China Outbound Investment; my role is to continuously grow Wood’s business associated with China and to achieve medium and long-term objectives by providing strategic direction and insights.
I am a proactive advocate of shaping and developing collaborations between the UK and Chinese supply chains through sourcing and developing crucial expertise and capacity building. I have been integral in developing Wood’s business with China in areas such as energy transition, digitalisation, smart urbanisation, environment and infrastructure. In addition, I am Nuclear Envoy for the Manchester China Forum, which was launched by Chancellor George Osborne in May 2013. I am also Deputy Chair of Nuclear Future, the official journal of the UK Nuclear Institute. Since January 2018, I have been guest lecturer for the International Masters Programme in Nuclear Engineering and Management at Tsinghua University.
China is one of the largest energy consumers in the world – do you see changing energy use habits in China either centrally or locally?
Energy usage in China is changing rapidly. The country has the largest nuclear reactor build programme in the world and is also developing the largest renewable fleet, underlining its strong commitment to clean energy and the creation of a low-carbon economy.
Wood is involved with a number of energy transition projects in China, including a coal liquefaction plant, which hugely reduces the emission of greenhouse gases.
China is developing the world’s largest electric vehicle fleet and is interested in hydrogen power, which is another area where Wood is offering its expertise and experience.
Will the Belt and Road Initiative encourage more people to use clean or renewable energy?
Promoting clean energy is one of China’s commitments under the Belt and Road Initiative. Wood is working with Chinese companies on a number of projects related to this in the UK and Europe.
Why did you decide to take a position on the board of CBBC?
Thanks to the breadth and depth of my experience in the UK, I believe I can help Chinese and British businesses, including world-leading corporations, to understand each other better and thereby help them to collaborate and find innovative solutions to the challenges they jointly face.
We all need to be agile enough to respond to the changes and trends shaping tomorrow’s world: the global energy transition, accelerating digital technology, growing urbanisation and demand for sustainable infrastructure. China is a global leader in these areas and I am well placed to observe and pass on the learning from its experience.
What do you hope CBBC can achieve in the near future?
As a membership organisation, I believe CBBC should be member-centric, putting ourselves in our members’ shoes, whether they are large corporates or SMEs, in order to understand their broadest objectives, greatest ambitions and biggest challenges. I will ensure CBBC will at all times advise, support and network with our members, blending teams across our services to respond to those evolving customer needs.
What advice would you give for people looking to work with China for the first time?
Building trust and long-term relationships are crucial in order to do business with Chinese companies. This requires patience, time and the willingness to invest in understanding each other’s perspectives.
Chinese companies are keen to learn about advanced technologies and know-how. Using WeChat, a social media and messaging app, can improve your communication with Chinese customers and business contacts. Last but not least, do visit your customers in China. You will be inspired by what they are doing.