Houthoff’s Greater China representative Yang Wan interviews Sophia Su, Deputy General Manager and Board Secretary of Tonghua Dongbao


Sophia Su – A professional shuttling between two different worlds

Sophia worked at Houthoff Rotterdam Office from 2004 to 2012 as the China Desk Manager and was one of the first core members of Houthoff’s China Team (together with Michiel Wesseling and Jan-Paul van der Hoek). Her contributions laid the foundation for the lasting success of Houthoff’s China practice.

After leaving Houthoff in 2012, Sophia returned to China and made the successful transition from a legal professional into a professional manager. She has worked

at several listed Chinese companies in various managerial roles, including Midea (Overseas Strategy Manager and Investor Relations Manager), Shanghai Flyco Electrical Appliance (Board Secretary) and Shanghai Yuyuan Tourist Mart (General Manager of Investor Relations). She is now working as the Deputy General Manager and Board Secretary of Tonghua Dongbao, a leading pharmaceutical Chinese company listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

Sophia holds an LL.M. degree from China University of Political Science and Law and an MBA degree from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University.

Sophia constantly shuttles between two worlds, from West to East and from law firm to enterprise.



As a professional with working experience in the West (Rotterdam) and the East (Shanghai), what are the distinct differences regarding the culture and business between the two worlds?

The main difference lies in the relationship between work and life. In the West, people value more the work-life balance. However, in the East, work is almost everything, and the more competitive working environment requires employees to be more dedicated and hard-working.

In the first few years of your return to China, did you feel the challenges caused by the differences regarding the culture and business? If so, how did you overcome these challenges?

The challenges caused by the imbalance between work and life in China are not easy, especially if you have a family and child, but in general, it is okay with me. When I was working for Houthoff, my key responsibility was to deal with Chinese clients, who also expected you to work on a 24/7 basis.

Do you miss Europe occasionally? If so, what do you miss most about Europe?

Yes, indeed. From time to time, I very much miss the equal and friendly working atmosphere at

Houthoff. Colleagues are always willing to help each other and treasure teamwork. It is pretty enjoyable.

Is it, in your view, significant for European companies to have a local presence in China to be successful in the region?

I think so. At least it would help if you had someone in China who can often meet your clients and contacts and grasp the changes or developments in the market. If you want to build a good company image here, then you need an office as well.

Do you have some advice for European companies who plan to do business with or in China?

My advice would be to be localised but with the controlling right in the financial aspects. Localisation means that you need a local management team and delegate power to your local team on some business decisions. The reason is that the relationship plays an essential role in doing business in China, and a localised team can assist you with maintaining a good relationship with local parties.



What is the most apparent distinction between your work at a law firm and an enterprise?

This is an exciting topic. One of my former employers, Midea, divides employees into two categories:

P (professional) and M (management), with different focuses on their future career development path. I joined the enterprise as a professional manager (not as a lawyer) from the very beginning. The distinction between professional work and management work is also similar between my work at a law firm and an enterprise.

In a law firm, you work as a legal professional, which requires you to study a specific field of knowledge more deeply and focus on your legal practice area. The concentration means not only professionalism and depth but also narrowness to some extent.

In contrast, the management work in an enterprise asks you to learn more extensively, including but not limited to the PR, finance, the R&D, compliance, sales etc. The business growth consists of multi-elements. You need a diverse knowledge structure and a business-oriented vision when doing things. For example, in addition to the compliance matter, I care about whether we can optimise the commercial value of the contract as much as possible. It is a different perspective from the lawyer.

What was the biggest challenge in your transformation from a legal professional to a professional manager? And how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge derives from the divergent knowledge structure. Challenges are also opportunities. I took the chance on an EMBA study at Erasmus University

(RSM). This provided me ample supplementary knowledge in business and finance and was a vital steppingstone to my transformation. Furthermore, I keep learning new knowledge like corporate management and operation for my work.

There is a prevailing opinion that the COVID pandemic brings many opportunities to numerous industries, particularly the healthcare sector. As a manager of a leading Chinese pharmaceutical company, how do you feel about this opinion? If you agree with the prevailing opinion, how does Tonghua Dongbao intend to seize the opportunity?

I agree that the COVID pandemic has brought opportunities to some companies in the healthcare sector. For instance, the health products industry may usher in an era of rapid expansion, as the healthcare awareness of Chinese people has increased vastly.

Our company, Tonghua Dongbao, has been committed to the production and R&D of products in the field of diabetes treatments. Thus, the COVID pandemic has had few impacts on our business. Even though Tonghua Dongbao has been the leader in the Chinese market of diabetes treatments for decades, we will continue focusing on what we are good at.


Yang Wan is our Greater China Representative and represents Houthoff in the market of Greater China. She is responsible for further developing business contacts with companies in the region who do business, or want to do business, in the Netherlands. Yang is also in close contact with law firms in the region that Houthoff has long-standing ties with. She has fulfilled this role since April 2021.

Yang Wan specialises in corporate law and M&A, with a focus on greenfield justify investments and cross-border acquisitions in the Netherlands or other European countries through the Netherlands. Since joining Houthoff in August 2014, she has worked on many China-related projects, including several landmark Chinese investments in the Netherlands.

Before joining Houthoff, Yang worked at the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (Eurojust) and a Dutch law firm. Yang has a combined background in law and finance, which provides her with a comprehensive and deep understanding of M&A transactions and international investments. She received her Chinese bar qualification certificate in 2011 and is conducting doctoral research regarding the foreign direct investment screening mechanism. Furthermore, Yang is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Level II candidate and passed the Chinese fund qualification exam (fund basics and private equity investment) in 2018. Yang’s sole responsibility as Representative is Houthoff’s business development in the Greater China region.

“Everyone can be a bridge between cultures, people, states and regional blocs in the era of globalisation. It is a challenging and fascinating job!”