Carving out an international consulting career, from China to Chile
Ignacio Tornero is a Chilean citizen fluent in not just Spanish and English, but also Mandarin. His fascination with Chinese language and culture led him to Shanghai, China where he earned a UBC International Master of Business Administration (IMBA) degree. Today, he runs a business and legal consultancy that brings together Latin American and Chinese companies.
Bridging two cultures
Tornero grew up in Santiago, Chile where he studied law before moving to China in 2009 to work as an expat for Chile’s largest law firm. He led the firm’s expansion in the region, facilitating cross-border transactions between China and Latin America.
“I was living in Shanghai practicing law and although I was doing a lot of business-related work, I didn’t have the technical knowledge in terms of finance, business strategy and marketing,” explains Tornero. “Those subjects weren’t taught at law school.”
Tornero began thinking about becoming a business consultant, leveraging his expertise in the Latin American and Chinese legal environments. But to make this move, he needed stronger business credentials.
“I chose the UBC IMBA in Shanghai because it’s very well respected internationally. I also liked the fact that I would be studying with Chinese business professionals who were also looking for a diverse and international learning experience.”
The investment paid off and Tornero built a business foundation for the next stage of his career.
“I really enjoyed all my courses, but three courses that were very important for my career development were ‘Business Strategy’ with Associate Professor Jen Brown, ‘Managing Change’ with Adjunct Professor Rob Prowse and ‘Managing E-Business’ with Adjunct Professor Blake Hanna. Those classes allowed me to write my business plan for my new company.”
Offering clients versatility and adaptability
Tornero returned to Santiago and founded his firm, East Consulting in 2021. He and his two associates in Asia work with private companies as well as state-run enterprises in industries as varied as tech, finance, education, food and beverage, mining, energy, infrastructure, insurance, asset management, real estate, trade, forestry and shipping.
“In terms of products, so far it’s been very diverse – from raising financing from Chinese investors to offering Chilean insurance products to Chinese companies operating in Latin America to trademark registration, dispute resolutions and so on. It’s been very challenging, but I love it.”
Tornero and his team have a unique business model; they offer both business and legal advisory services in Spanish, English or Mandarin. This winning combination has given East Consulting a competitive advantage in the marketplace and their client list is steadily growing.
A love of travel, a talent for languages
Tornero’s fluency in Mandarin is the result of years of painstaking study. During law school, he won a scholarship to study the language at Nanjing University. The international experience was life-changing and he couldn’t wait to return. Spending the next 10 years immersed in Chinese society solidified his language and cultural competency – talents he uses every day as a consultant.
“Culture doesn’t just relate to communication; it also impacts things like decision-making and timing. Latin America, North American and European companies are more transactional, but in China, you have to build relationships before doing business together. So, we create strategies to help our clients build those relationships,” says Tornero.
Forming a global social network
When Tornero entered the UBC IMBA program, one of his goals was to expand his professional network. He achieved this by participating in the Global Network for Advanced Management (GNAM). UBC Sauder is the only Canadian school in a membership of 30 top international schools that offer graduate students the opportunity to take classes together.
Tornero attended two GNAM experiences; at Koc University in Istanbul and at Fudan University in Shanghai. Through these classes, he made friends with MBA students from around the world.
“The MBA is really a platform for meeting people and when you create bonds with people with common interests, business opportunities arise from that as well,” says Tornero.
Investing in yourself
Tornero’s advice to people seeking an international career is to think beyond the next couple of years and then start making the investments necessary to turn dreams into action.
“Create a five, 10 and 15-year vision of your life. Going to MBA school is a major investment, but the return on investment will continue long after graduation. It’s the same with languages. If you put in the effort to learn a second or third language, that skill will last a lifetime.”
According to Tornero, it all starts with stepping outside one’s comfort zone. That is where, he says, the learning occurs and where career opportunities present themselves.