Engineer Executive Accelerates Career in AI after Global EMBA
Xavier Zhu has worked with autonomous vehicles since completing an electrical engineering undergraduate degree in 2008. Since then, the CEIBS Global Executive MBA programme has helped him to expand his career, merge business with engineering and land an AI job with self-driving cars at tech company Nvidia.
He graduated from the 20-month-long programme in July 2020 and credits the Global EMBA with preparing him for his career move. When he joined the programme, he was a senior manager for automated driving systems at Chinese automobile manufacturer NIO. It was a few months into the EMBA that he landed his current job, as a technical product marketing manager.
Xavier has Chinese heritage but grew up in the US. He says he moved to China to further develop his understanding of the autonomous vehicle industry (China, alongside Germany and Silicon Valley, he says, is one of the world’s strongest hubs for self-driving cars).
// How the Global EMBA programme aids career development
The Global EMBA programme enhanced Xavier’s career in two ways. First, it provided him with the academic knowledge he needed to combine his engineering background with business.
As Xavier progressed in his engineering role, he found himself arriving at the confluence of technology, business strategy, and the amalgamation of old and new business.
The Global EMBA programme taught Xavier to successfully navigate the differing mentalities of both the established players and the fresh-faced start-ups in his industry.
“You have the traditional automotive companies – big brands like GM, BMW and Jaguar – then all these start-ups coming together. You have to figure out how to work across different industries, and a lot of business discussions that come as a result of that,” he says.
The degree provides a strong analytical foundation in organisational behaviour, operations management, marketing, financial reporting, managerial accounting, and corporate finance. It also provides a fundamental understanding of how to integrate and successfully tie together multiple business functions. That prepared Xavier to excel in his new role.
The knowledge acquisition of the Global Executive MBA programme extends to teaching students the unique challenges of operating in China’s business environment as an integrated part of the global economy — one of the key learning objectives of the course.
And, as Xavier says, it is not possible to expand in the kind of role he has without that understanding.
“As you expand in your technical role you have to gain additional tools that business school will give you. Understanding about finance, how to read the trends in the industry, leadership —these are tools that you don’t get coming out of electrical engineering.”
The second way the degree enhanced Xavier’s career was by exposing him to China’s expansive market.
In his role with Nvidia he is essentially the person who decides on product strategy and presents the firm’s product line-up to potential customers.
“If I performed the same role in the US, I’d probably be talking to four or five major customers – big car makers like GM, Ford, Chrysler, Tesla, and maybe a few others.
“But in China that number is in the dozens, so I need more of a network, and coming to CEIBS allowed me to build those connections and build that network.”
// The benefits of the CEIBS Global EMBA network
Participants in the Global EMBA cohort have 15 years of work experience on average and hail from 20 different countries. They also come from the professional services industry, energy, manufacturing, real estate, technology, automobile, and healthcare, amongst others.
Xavier met classmates who worked for his suppliers and direct customers. But more interestingly, he says, the network he gained has had a direct impact on the way he thinks professionally.
“When you’re talking to friends or classmates who are outside your immediate sphere, you see how different industries approach similar problems.
“You realise which issues are cross industry and which are industry specific, and it makes you think about why your industry does things a certain way. You understand your own industry better.”
Xavier’s industry is changing rapidly. Learning from his classmates expanded his ability to look at traditional business methods and question them, to adapt to the new demands of technological advancement.
“Besides the more direct business connections you get that everyone comes to an EMBA looking for, there are also a lot of indirect benefits that you get from exploring different perspectives and people working in different industries that don’t tie into what you do directly.”
Xavier Zhu (first one on the left) engaging with other Global EMBA alumni
// Why China is the place to be for the emerging technology
As Xavier says, China is one of the key markets for autonomous vehicles. The approach to technology in China means the industry is set for quick expansion. The market is big, he explains, but there’s also less inertia. There is also an openness to technological experimentation, and that breeds innovation.
“There’s more government support. They pour money directly or indirectly to supporting this area and it shows,” he says.
There is direct funding available, strong research and development, and regulations that allow for rigorous road testing.
“These are things that make the adoption and application of technology a little faster and more varied in China,” Xavier says, adding the importance the Global Executive MBA programme had in immersing him in this environment.
“I think CEIBS for me has been a really good gateway for coming from a tech background to more of a business environment, and also as a way for me to move from the US to China. It does a very good job of that.”