Swapping Shanghai for San Francisco’s scooter scene

After graduating in 2017, Jesse Miller worked for Shanghai Media Group and Xinhua News in Beijing in an international development role. A year later, he decided to return to the US, and has been working for the Ford acquired scooter sharing firm Spin in San Francisco ever since. Jesse takes time out of his day to sit down with MBA Admissions to share how he leveraged his experience in China to continue his career in the US.

  1. What specific challenge were you facing in your career that motivated you to join CEIBS MBA? Looking back, do you think the MBA delivered in helping you to overcome this challenge?
  1. Whatever challenges I thought I was facing in my career before CEIBS, the real challenge was that I just fundamentally did not understand how to build a successful career (the strategy, the planning and the execution). At CEIBS I remember one day we had alumni from every sector of the economy come in to talk about their careers, from big tech companies like Tencent and Alibaba, to PE/VC, to consulting, to healthcare, etc. I signed up for every talk, so for eight hours straight I listened to one after another of these highly successful individuals describe how they built their careers. More importantly, this sort of thing was happening throughout the entire programme. I've heard graduates from US MBA programmes say things like, "you don't actually learn anything in an MBA, or it's just about getting it on your resume, or its just about being able to contact the alumni network", and I think to myself, "Wow, I chose the right programme," because my knowledge and understanding of business and career strategy is fundamentally different today thanks to my experience at CEIBS.
  1. Two thirds of the class are Chinese on the programme. Can you highlight one Chinese peer who really helped to shape your understanding of doing business in China?
  1. After CEIBS I got job offers from multiple Chinese companies, and I went on to work in some of China's largest state owned media companies. During that time I regularly consulted with Chinese classmates about everything from resumes, to interviews, to actual day-to-day situations at work. One of my classmates went on to work at a top consulting firm focused on corporate culture, HR, and leadership development, and I would literally send him drafts of emails to my manager in Chinese, and he would give me feedback before I sent it out.

  1. Which framework, takeaway or lesson from a CEIBS professor has had the biggest impact on your approach to business since graduating?
  1. I think it has got to be Professor Wu Jinglian's Chinese economy class combined with Professor Xu Bin's economics class where he first introduced articles by Professor Wu. Reading professor Wu's work is like reading Adam Smith or Karl Marx, it changes your understanding of commerce and the economy. Those classes have influenced my fundamental understanding of business and career strategy.
  1. You left China nearly two years after graduating to continue your career back in the States. How did you position yourself in the job market at that time? Any insights that may be valuable for other graduates looking to leverage their CEIBS MBA to find opportunities in North America?
  1. Honestly, I didn't position myself any differently than I would have if I was applying directly from the US, and I think some friends and relatives I spoke with at the time found that surprising. It worked though, I found my current position quite soon after I started looking, and I would say it was just thanks to clarity of strategy. Just know yourself, know your enemy, and you'll win a hundred battles.
  1. Can you share with us the story of Spin with us? Where you fit into the company? Also, do you ride a scooter to work?
  1. One fun fact I like to tell CEIBS people about Spin is that the company was launched after one of the founders saw Mobike and Ofo in Beijing. A year plus later Spin was acquired by Ford, so it's a great example of someone taking an idea they saw in China, and using it to find success in the US. I joined Spin right after the Ford acquisition, and have been in charge of logistics at the company for the past year plus. Recently I'm doing a lateral move, staying on the supply chain team but moving into a supply and demand planning role. Excited to use all the IoT data generated by our vehicles to solve planning problems. I actually don't ride a scooter to work. I was a huge fan of Mobike and Ofo when I was in China, and have always preferred bikes to be honest, but other Americans seem to prefer scooters. Guess I'm just a little different.

  1. You have lived in two of the major innovation hubs of the world, Shanghai and San Francisco. How do you compare these two locations? 
  1. Shanghai is hungrier. You can feel the pressure, you can feel the pace and people are setting a really high bar. San Francisco is more laid back. Both have their merits. The environment in Shanghai is really exciting and motivating.  San Francisco on the other hand is just one of the most diverse and open-minded places on earth, and I think that is really good for creativity.
  1. You were in China for the start of the bike sharing boom. What are the similarities and differences with Spin from a user perspective?
  1. The biggest difference is probably regulation. Bike sharing was totally unregulated in China, which is kind of funny because China typically runs a pretty tight ship, while the US is a little more about individual freedoms. In this case though regulation has probably been better for the industry. In China you had a flood of bikes at a rock bottom price point, so everyone was using them all the time, but the business wasn't sustainable. In the US, regulation has forced a much slower and more deliberate development of the industry focused on more core use cases.
  1. Do you travel back to China often? What do you miss the most?
  1. Not as often as I'd like! Had one business trip this year. I miss the fast pace. These days when our suppliers in China message me on WeChat at like 9pm my Saturday their 12 noon Sunday, and we are chatting and handling business, I think man that's how you get things done!
  1. If you could speak to North Americans who have never been to China before and are considering moving to Shanghai, what piece of advice would you give them based on your experience?
  1. Don't try to become a "China expert" or "build a bridge between the US and China." I have never seen either of those things on a job description. What I do see job descriptions for is "product manager", "technical programme manager", "growth marketing manager", "global supply chain manager", "senior financial analyst", etc., so my advice to most North Americans considering CEIBS is to focus on your industry, focus on your function, get some relevant experience at a Chinese company or multinational in China, learn a ton, and plan to probably return to North America at some point with an expanded mind. Now, there are definitely exceptions out there, and I welcome everyone to reach out to me on LinkedIn if you interested in discussing your circumstances more in detail, but for the average North American who has not been to China, I would say plan to go to Shanghai just for a fantastic learning experience, and if something beyond that develops then it's just icing on the cake.

  1. CEIBS prides itself on being both deeply rooted in China and globally connected. How was this experience for you? Any highlights from the China and global aspects?
  1. It was the perfect balance. I've seen some international students complain because the programme is in fact deeply rooted in China, but I feel like if you're going to study in a foreign country then you want to be pushed outside your comfort zone, you want to have to adapt. I came into the programming speaking intermediate Chinese and left speaking advanced Chinese. The programme also left me with a really robust network in China that I have continued to tap to help me out with business matters in my current role. On the other side, there are actually a lot of CEIBS alumni in the Bay Area, and it has been super interesting to interact with them and hear perspectives on US-China relations.