The five step run-up to landing my MBA triple jump in China
The fabled MBA triple jump. Changing location, industry and function after graduation is an achievement long held up as an example of the transformational impact of the programme. For international students coming to China, sometimes for the very first time, what can they do to maximise their chances of landing such an ambitious life change? MBA Admissions sits down with MBA 2019 grad Matthew Seresin to find out.
We to dig into his journey, from human resources in the US to public relations in Shanghai. Read on to see Matthew’s tips for young professionals who are looking to jump just as far as he did.
- Learn Chinese, and learn why Chinese is important
Matthew’s China story starts on the leafy campus of George Washington University in Washington, DC. Studying for his BA in International Affairs, Matthew was required to learn a foreign language and he opted for Chinese. Knowing little about such an important country from an international relations perspective cemented Matthew’s decision to learn more about China. He went on to study at two of Beijing’s most prestigious institutions – Beijing Foreign Studies University and Renmin University – in order to improve his fluency.
“Like a lot of people coming to China, I found the country and culture had a certain magnetic charm,” Matthew says. “I knew I wanted to work here, but was aware that if I came with both solid work experience in the US and an MBA degree under my belt, I would be more competitive in the market.”
After starting his career in human resources for Xerox, Matthew identified an MBA at CEIBS as the platform to help him to realise his career switch to China. Now that he has graduated and can reflect on his job seeking experience, was his prior immersion in Chinese culture and language essential to help him find an MBA level position here? Matthew shares the two sides of the argument.
“It’s a difficult question to answer as everyone’s situation is different. I would say your success has a lot to do with the type of job you are looking for,” Matthew reflects. “CEIBS does a great job of doing everything on campus in English, but the reality of the job market is that the more Chinese you know, the easier it is going to be for you to find opportunities. Some functions have a higher demand for fluency than others. Chance and how to stand out amongst native level speakers also can’t be ignored, of course. In my year for example, some international students with only basic Chinese found jobs here before me, and one of the most talented international students, in terms of his Chinese, took longer to settle down. One lesson I can share from my current experience is that even though I focus on English language activities, Chinese is still incredibly important. Taking the attitude that ‘I don’t really need to learn,’ is going to limit you professionally and socially.”
- Target job opportunities with accuracy but flexibility
Matthew works for WuXi AppTec in Shanghai, an international enterprise that provides a broad portfolio of R&D and manufacturing services for companies in the pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device industries worldwide.
“Everyone has different career goals post-MBA. For me I wanted to join an organisation that was really making a strong positive impact on people’s lives. So what really attracted me to WuXi AppTec was its inspiring vision of ‘every drug can be made, and every disease can be treated’,” Matthews recalls. “It’s an incredible honour to be able to contribute to an organisation that enables 3,900 partners around the world to develop life-saving medicines for patients.”
Matthew joined the company’s Content Division, and after a number of trial projects settled into his current, full-time team. It could however have all been very different though as he originally thought the healthcare industry in China was going to be beyond his reach.
“Healthcare was one of my target industries going into the MBA, but I was also under the impression that it was going to be one of the more localised industries. For a lot of functions, you need to have a lot of local knowledge. I thought it was going to be a bit difficult, but the lesson to me was never to make assumptions or rule anything out,” Matthew says. “This is where the Career Development Centre (CDC) comes into play. They’re able to talk through how realistic your aspirations are as a non-native Chinese speaker. For example, if you want to go into private equity in China, unless you have native fluency, then it’s going to be extremely difficult because they want someone to do intensive research and make deals in Chinese. That’s how it works and it’s just an industry reality. My takeaway is that CEIBS is a great platform. The breadth of the courses and their expertise, also the clubs and alumni, all this means, there are tons of opportunities. Whatever company you are interested in, if they’re in China, then somehow there will be a connection to CEIBS – but it’s on you to capitalise on this that is important.”
- Be persistent
Amongst the many opportunities to practice leadership on the MBA programme, Matthew held a senior position on the Student Committee. This elected body represents the students’ voice to the school and forms a key bridge between both parties. Being an enabler to support the myriad of club events on campus was a role that came naturally to him given his background in human resources. Nevertheless, from Matthew’s perspective, even if leadership doesn’t come naturally to incoming MBAs, they should still force themselves outside of their comfort zone.
“In the work force, yes, your boss may hand you a job, but you need to anticipate projects. Don't assume I just need to do my little part and everything will be fine,” he says. “At WuXi AppTec, we emphasize WuXi Grit. Know your goal and keep striving to reach it. Always keep improving. Persevere and don’t give up. That’s WuXi Grit. And it’s these qualities, not a position or job title, that makes you a true leader. It’s only thanks to this kind of attitude that I am where I am today. If you don’t have this type of mentality, you won’t achieve your dreams.”
- Keep the big picture in mind
The penultimate step on Matthew’s approach to the MBA triple jump is the importance of seeing the big picture. MBA students coming to CEIBS are required to take a core module in macroeconomics with CEIBS Associate Dean (Research) and Professor of Economics and Finance Xu Bin, a class that has had a lasting impression on Matthew’s day to day work.
“When he is talking about macroeconomics, he would always relate it back to China and help us to understand how these big theories apply to our daily realities,” Matthew says. “The other top faculty for this was CEIBS Assistant Professor of Strategy Richard Carney. Professor Carney taught us about China’s place in the world from a geopolitical and corporate governance perspective. What was interesting for me was learning about the differences between the traditional shareholder model and other corporate structures. As I said, it is big picture thinking, but it has guided me personally in my career and also on a daily basis in public relations.”
- Embrace flexibility
The fifth and final step for Matthew that should be kept in mind by young professionals before launching a career switch is one that is deeply rooted in both China and the global pandemic.
“To succeed you have to be flexible. If you are unwilling to be open to new ways of doing things, if you can’t adapt quickly, then maybe an MBA and a career in China isn’t for you. It’s the same when you are looking for a potential employer: look for organisations that are resilient and that embrace change. The extreme level of disruption around the world caused by COVID-19 is a case in point,” he says. “Take my experience at WuXi AppTec as an example. Our department pivoted rapidly from our original plan to host our big annual WuXi Healthcare Forum in February to instead running a series of online webinars on how the industry is coming together to address COVID-19. Hosting these webinars allows us to contribute to the fight against COVID-19 as we quickly mobilise our global platform and resources to educate the general public, and foster collaborations in the development of vaccines and treatment against COVID-19. It’s not just a great example of pivoting, it’s a great reminder of why I was decided to join WuXi AppTec in the first place.”
In closing, Matthew also has a few words of wisdom to share: “Work hard to pursue your goals. Ultimately, if you have the right skills and the right attitude you will succeed.”