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Julia Cheng’s Balancing Act

Volume 1, 2013

By June Zhu

With the long list of accomplishments she has racked up during a decade in the finance sector, no one can question Julia Cheng’s abilities. In her first job with a Sino-French joint venture she implemented a comprehensive company-wide set of standard cost accounting methods and a variance analysis system. Four years later in 2004, after passing the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants exam, she joined DuPont where she worked her way up the local and regional ranks of the well-known MNC. During her stint as Operations Manager for the company’s Asia-Pacific Financial Service Centre, she established its Accounts Payable Service Centre which serves 25 subsidiaries in 9 countries and regions. In July 2012, she was appointed Finance Manager for both DuPont Trading (Shanghai) and DuPont (China) Research & Development and Management Co Ltd. DuPont Trading (Shanghai) has US$400 million in assets and annual turnover of more than US$1 billion. DuPont (China) Research & Development and Management, the third largest corporate-level and comprehensive research institution outside the US, is an important component in the company’s sustainable global strategic plan. Cheng is a vital member of both teams.

Last year, she enrolled in CEIBS part-time Finance MBA programme in an effort to complement her years of on-the-job experience with more extensive theoretical knowledge. Read on as she explains what it’s like to juggle her roles as career woman, wife, mother and student. 

TheLINK: Do you find your career fulfilling?

Julia Cheng: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the various stages of my career. At each stage I learned different lessons as my experience grew. While an organisation’s finance department cannot directly generate profits, it is essential to achieving the company’s goal to be profitable. The field of finance is extensive, covering a wide range of services including cost control, risk control, financial analysis, asset appraisal, managing capital, etc. It permeates all aspects of the company’s business activities. In addition to covering basic financial accounting in a general sense, my responsibilities also extend to other functions. I enjoy helping the company discover and solve problems – from a financial analysis and management angle – by providing valuable information to the management team and participating in the decision making process.

TheLINK: What are your expectations for your future career and how can studying at CEIBS help you reach your goals?

Cheng: I know, because of my years of experience in this field, that there will be more and more changes as we move away from the traditional models. Transactions will be increasingly centralized, and there will be a growing preference for countries with lower labour costs, which means financial practitioners will face daunting challenges. Shanghai has a goal of becoming an international financial centre. For that to happen, those in the field of finance cannot limit themselves to merely basic practices and the city needs more top talent involved in the sector. I view my career development within the context of the entire city’s growth. I hope I can play a role in Shanghai’s efforts to become an international financial centre by being excellent at my job, and by helping to cultivate more financial talent for the city. Studying at CEIBS provides me with access to a wider and more professional platform. I’m hoping that this experience will not only help me accumulate knowledge, but also broaden my way of thinking about finance and the wider economy and also enhance my ability to think independently. Only then will I be able to make a difference.

TheLINK: Why did you choose to enrol in CEIBS FMBA Programme?

Cheng: CEIBS, with its excellent reputation, has always been my dream school. Some of my colleagues and friends have attended MBA programmes at other business schools in Shanghai but most of them found these unsatisfactory. On the other hand, one of my friends fulfilled his dream of switching careers after doing a full-time MBA at CEIBS, and my former boss had positive changes in his career path after getting a CEIBS EMBA. But neither of those programmes was suitable for me: I cannot spare time for an MBA and an EMBA is beyond the scope of my career plan. One night last year, I came across information about CEIBS’ FMBA programme. The course was tailor made for me! That same night, with my husband’s support, I decided to enrol. The tuition is relatively expensive but, as my husband said “it must be good value for money”.

TheLINK: What have been some of the best moments during your FMBA studies so far?

Cheng: CEIBS classes are like doing yoga, it makes me sweat but it gives me such pleasure. For example, Prof Henry Moon’s last lesson on Organizational Behaviour really impressed me. He shared his favourite quote from Nobel Peace prize winner Albert Schweitzer. I’ll paraphrase: there are some quiet leaders whose contribution to mankind is much greater than the actions of many who receive wide public recognition. I kept thinking about what he said and it gradually dawned on me that studying at CEIBS is not about getting a promotion at work, it’s about broadening my mind. I also learned a lot from Prof Ding Yuan’s innovative analysis of the financial structural model. This was a completely new topic for me. I applied the model on the job and got very positive results. I’ve been working in this field for many years, but had never had access to this unique analytical method. It’s so innovative and I really marvelled at the professor’s creativity.

TheLINK: How has being a woman affected your career path? 

Cheng: Being female has impacted my career development, both physically and psychologically. When I was pregnant, for example, even though our company provided complete support, I had to make a detailed plan that factored in issues such as maternity leave, weaning my son, etc and the impact these events would have on my career path. These are not issues that men face. In terms of psychological impact, being a woman is a double-edged sword. Sometimes, if I am not tough enough, there will be no progress made and I may get frustrated. On the other hand, being gentle helps sometimes when you are trying to persuade others.

TheLINK: Do you have any advice for other career women?

Cheng: Whether you are male or female, you should not be afraid to show your expertise at work; try not to place too much emphasis on the differences between the genders. At the same time, I do acknowledge that women can learn a lot from men who tend not to get bogged down with details; but women should be careful not to lose their feminine side. In our Organizational Behaviour classes, Prof Moon stressed empathy and the value of perspective. I think women are better at this than men, and we should use these traits during our interaction with clients, subordinates, colleagues and bosses. Women are also more resilient, which is helpful in ensuring the balance between work and life. The most important thing, after all, is maintaining our physical and mental health.