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EasyFinance CEO Marshall Ma: Investing in CEIBS after Entrepreneurial Success

Volume 3, 2013

By Kelly Chen & Stella Hou

Determined to pursue his dream of running his own business, Marshall Ma (MBA 2001) quit his job in a large state-owned aviation company and signed up for the CEIBS MBA programme in 2001. While doing his MBA, however, he gave up on his first business plan because of restrictions in market access. After graduating, Ma joined a multinational corporation where he continued to broaden his vision, hone his skills and keep an eye out for opportunities to realise his dream of being an entrepreneur. As his career moves took him from the state-owned to the foreign-invested sector, Ma began to see the market potential of private businesses and formulated a clearer view of his dream. In 2005, he and two partners co-founded EasyFinance Management Consulting Company Limited in Shanghai. Since then, he has led EasyFinance’s efforts to be the first company in China to specialise in corporate financial management training.

Now, after nine years of steady growth, EasyFinance is a market leader. At the end of 2012, Ma facilitated EasyFinance’s investment of RMB 600,000 in a CEIBS scholarship. It was his way of expressing gratitude to his alma mater, which had provided him with varied degrees of support at every stage of his company’s development. The recipients of the first EasyFinance scholarship were selected in May 2013 and will be announced during the MBA 2013 class opening ceremony.

 

Entrepreneur or Bust

Ma’s career – whether he was working in a state-owned company, a multinational corporation or starting his own company – required a lot of skills and wide experience.

At the state-owned aviation company, he worked his way up from a pilot to the roles of deputy director of the aviation technical management office and operations manager. Although his future with the company looked promising, he was acutely aware of the big gap between China’s aviation sector and the global industry. It was clear to him that domestic aviation companies would face serious challenges with the impending globalisation of flight transportation and China’s entry into the WTO. Ma wanted to be ready for whatever the future brought and decided to improve his professional competitiveness by doing a CEIBS MBA.

While studying at CEIBS, he and five classmates created a plan to launch a small aviation company with the hope of ferrying passengers across short distances in Shanghai, Zhejiang and Jiangsu using planes rented from large state-owned aviation companies. However, the plan required official endorsement from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) as well as large state-owned aviation companies. Ma and his team worked hard but failed to garner the necessary support, so they had to scrap the plan.

That setback didn’t stop Ma. Focused on his long-term goal, he did a number of internships at MNCs in an effort to broaden his knowledge. After graduating from CEIBS in 2002, he joined Bertelsmann, one of the companies at which he had interned. Later, he took the post of Strategic Planning Manager at Honeywell and garnered even more experience. These various jobs taught him a valuable lesson: the decision-making mechanisms of multinational corporations couldn’t always cope with the rapidly changing Chinese market. As a result, a lot of seemingly trivial but potentially lucrative opportunities might be neglected or even missed entirely. In June 2005, confident in his own judgment about market opportunities, Ma made his second attempt at being an entrepreneur. He and his two Easyfinance co-founders shared a common goal to create a company that specialised in financial management training.

Meeting Market Needs

Each of the company’s three co-founders brings his own set of skills to the collaboration: Ma is an expert in management planning, while his team members are good at management training and consulting. EasyFinance established a strong foothold in its early years by leveraging its front-runner advantage, sticking to its principles of hiring full-time teachers and independently developing standardised programmes.

However the financial crisis of 2008 posed a great challenge for the company. Multinational corporations operating in China dramatically slashed their budgets for training and consulting, making Chinese state-owned and private companies the bulk of EasyFinance’s clientele. The company had to adapt to this change. Wooing domestic clients was entirely different from attracting MNCs.

Multinational corporations typically have clearly defined needs and clear-cut budgets for financial training. Many Chinese companies had no prior exposure to such training schemes and therefore doubted its quality and effectiveness. In addition, the state-owned and private sectors differ widely in terms of their managerial structures and this impacted the way Easyfinance interacted with them both. Faced with a complicated market and highly diverse client demands, EasyFinance began to provide customised training programmes for its clients based on their individual needs (corporate culture, history, staff and specialisation of each company). This was the only way to satisfy its clients and meet market demands.

Easyfinance’s ability to meet its clients’ needs in China’s fast-paced, ever-evolving market has been one of its core strengths. In recent years Chinese companies have been plagued by a series of new challenges such as high costs and low profits, fierce scrambles for market share, and competition from the internet. In order to help its clients cope with these challenges and changes, EasyFinance has stepped up its research efforts in financial management practices by cooperating with relevant companies and research institutes. For example, last September, EasyFinance and Haier jointly launched the Haier Financial Management Series Programme, which shared Haier’s experience in reforming its financial management structure over the last six years

As it grows with its clients, EasyFinance has shifted its focus. In the early years, its aim was to “focus on financial management training”. Now, its goal is to “focus on researching and sharing the best practices in financial management”. As a result, it now enjoys a leading position in the industry. 

With his company’s success, Ma now has the time and resources to say thanks to his alma mater. He is quick to point out that what he learned at CEIBS, whether in or outside the classroom, helped him understand the domestic market from a global perspective. He continues to benefit from the support of the CEIBS community. For example, the school frequently hosts events that provide opportunities for continuous learning and networking, and over the years these initiatives have been a tremendous help for Ma as he learnt how to run his company. “We owe a lifetime of growth to CEIBS,” he said.
  
As he put it, the Easyfinance MBA scholarship represents not only financial support but also encouragement for MBA students and alumni. They will be infused with a sense of honour and encouragement when they hear about the success of outstanding alumni, he explained. Encouraging others and being encouraged by others’ success is a positive cycle, Ma added, one that he is happy to join.