A long way home


In July 2021, with a ridiculously expensive one-way ticket, countless number of nasal swabs and a blood test, I was finally on board a plane heading home to Shanghai from San Francisco. This is a story of how a Shanghainese native who did not spend much of his life in this city, found his way back home.

Leaving home

During my days growing up in Singapore (where I lived since I was three years old), I thought my life would be set on the little red dot island. Never did I think about living elsewhere until my wise dad sent me to study at college in the UK. I was apprehensive at first about leaving the country where I had spent 15 years of childhood and where literally all my friends were. However, looking back, I was extremely glad I left my comfort zone and took the leap of faith. Years of overseas experiences have shaped me into a person who enjoys trying out new things, and sometimes deliberately putting myself into difficult spots. That may be the reason why I chose to join a global IT healthcare company as my first job, something that was completely new to me coming from a mechanical engineering background. In 2016, I came back to Shanghai, a place where I hardly had any memories apart from brief vacation trips, and worked as a product manager overseeing an informatics portfolio involving electronic medical records and business intelligence tools. Learning about clinical procedures, I was on a steep learning curve from day one. Nevertheless, I truly enjoyed the exploration process. I quickly excelled at the job and was the youngest employee to receive three promotions in two years. Then, one fine night two years later, I received a phone call from my boss.

“I know this is sudden, we have a global position in the US that may be suitable for you. Are you interested?”

“Yes, I will take the chance.”

“Well, I’m not expecting a response on spot. Do you need a few days to think about it, or speak with your family?”

“I am pretty certain about this.”

Just like that, two months later, I was on a plane bound for California. I could not say no to sunshine and wine, and of course, the possibility to make a larger impact for the organization.


Far from home

Turns out it was the best decision I have ever made and the next two years were the highlight of my career thus far. I was given a small team to create a mobile clinical workflow management system targeting physicians, working on everything from initial design to eventual product commercialization. The most thrilling and also most daunting aspect was that there was no precedent of related products in our portfolio, and hence I had to lead many of the marketing campaigns and customer trainings, which were functional areas in which I had no experience. The job was demanding. Lots of overtime was put into the product creation process. I had lots of wine (as expected), but rarely with the sunset picturesque views that I was hoping for. Nevertheless, the product was successfully launched in 2020 and quickly became one of the company’s flagship products. Everything was running smoothly until COVID-19 hit.

Like many others, it was during the lockdown period when I started to wonder what would come next. I was getting good at my job and was getting comfortable with the working environment. I could clearly see my career trajectory for the next five years. To some, that would be comforting, but for me, it made me uneasy. I wanted something more.

Coming home

My decision to pursue an MBA was a clear one – I needed a time out. I wanted to grow. My job provided me with valuable practical experiences, but I wanted a structured and consolidated way of learning finance, marketing, management, and operation knowledge. I also wanted to explore industries beyond healthcare and IT.

The next question was, to study in the US or China? I chose the latter. The most obvious reason, undeniably, was to be closer with family, who had moved back from Singapore by then. More importantly, I was drawn to the exciting opportunities and dynamics in China, as things tend to move much more quickly and are more unpredictable at times. CEIBS naturally fit into the picture, and I was truly sold on the idea of “China Depth, Global Breadth”. It could provide me with a bridge back to the Chinese market as well as the lifestyle. It was during Christmas in 2020 that I picked up a GMAT prep-book and went through the arduous process of preparation. I managed to submit my application before the end of the third round and was delighted to be admitted. The whole application process was seamless. Despite the time difference, the admissions team took the effort to constantly stay in contact with me and ensured all my inquiries were addressed.

At the point of writing, I am already near the end of my first term at CEIBS. Time flies when you are on campus. Frankly speaking, I did not expect this level of intensity for an MBA degree. The lessons are challenging especially if you do not have any background in the subject field. Yet, I have the most amazing classmates from vastly different backgrounds to support me through the learning process. Diversity has truly made the lessons much more insightful, especially during case-based lessons such as Organizational Behaviour, where you can hear different perspectives on the same issues due to cultural differences and job experiences.

In addition, what has surprised me more is that I now have a whole new level of appreciation for courses that I had taken in the past. For instance, Microeconomics was taught in a way that drew references from current affairs. Coupled with my work experiences, I had a new revelation to the subject and its application, though the fundamental concepts remain the same.


To be continued…

I truly believe that life is about constant exploration. I hope that the rest of my MBA journey at CEIBS can continue to aid me in the process of looking inward, outward, and forward.

Never settle. Always explore.