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Google-ING China

By Julie Irwin Zimmerman

Google Joe Van Deman’s name and the first hit you get is a travel blog he created this past summer. In terms of content, it’s still sparse. But the 25-year-old Van Deman should have plenty to write about now. In October, he moved to China for a six-month assignment for his employer—Google—to set up an advertising sales office in the Chinese capital of Beijing. He and his three-person team are hiring and training 100 Chinese citizens to sell ads for the Internet search engine giant.

While the move is a great career boost, in some ways it’s a return to the past. As a Xavier MBA student—which he became after earning a bachelor’s degree in international affairs at Xavier in 2005—Van Deman spent a summer studying at Peking University. Part of his daily routine included biking past the Beijing office of Google every day.

But a lot has changed in that short time. The bicycles that were ubiquitous last time are being replaced by luxury cars, and a gleaming new subway system now carries more than 3.5 million riders a day. Despite the progress, Van Deman had a few hesitations when his bosses told him he was headed to China.

“It’s a developing country, and it’s one of those places that’s not always a comfortable place to be,” he says.

There are business challenges as well. Chinese authorities block access to YouTube, the Google-owned video-sharing web site that’s an important part of its advertising strategy. And the dominant search engine in China is a home-grown effort called Baidu, while Google controls less than 30 percent of the market.

“I can walk up to people and tell them I work for Google, and they have no idea what that is,” says Van Deman, who’s been based in the company’s Ann Arbor, Mich., office since joining the company two years ago. “That doesn’t happen in the U.S.”

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