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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

How to Make Your MBA Career Goals Sustainable

~ MBA 2016 alum Dmitry Andreev on swapping Moscow for Shanghai in pursuit of a sustainable future

September 4, 2019. Shanghai – Given the unique opportunity to zoom out from one’s career, an MBA offers a truly transformational experience. For many MBAs, as they are exposed to new industries, functions and locations, their post-MBA career goals will often evolve throughout the course of their 18-month journey. CEIBS MBA 2016 alum Dmitry Andreev, however, left Moscow for Shanghai with the desire to make an impact in sustainability… and he hasn’t wavered since. Now working in a leadership role within supply chain sustainability for Fung Group in Shanghai, Dmitry sits down with MBA Admissions to talk about his MBA journey and how CEIBS professors helped him to broaden his vision of what sustainability is really all about.

Why an MBA? Why CEIBS?

Dmitry grew up in the Far East of Russia, in a town, which given its proximity to the Chinese-Russian border, was heavily influenced by Chinese culture. “I was exposed to Chinese culture throughout my childhood, and when I left my home to study and work in Moscow, I really missed that connection,” recalls Dmitry. “After graduating from Moscow University Witte, I worked in finance, but was always at my happiest visiting China. For five years in a row, I travelled across the border and must have visited 30-40 cities on various holidays throughout that period of time.”

Dmitry on the first day of his MBA journey with CEIBS.

It was the combination of pull factors towards China and push factors towards a more fulfilling job that led Dmitry to start exploring business school options. By the time he applied to CEIBS, he had already tasted working in sustainability when a chance assignment put him in charge of a health and safety project for his company. “In finance, you don’t really talk about how workers or the environment are affected, but this project gave me the opportunity to actually make a difference,” says Dmitry. “From the little experience I had in sustainability, I knew that I needed more than a finance perspective. To go further I needed to see the larger picture and understand how different sides of the business are impacted by sustainability. This was ultimately what I wanted to get out of an MBA experience.”

Three hurdles away from a dream career switch

With his sights set on a career in sustainability, Dmitry knew that he needed to grasp every opportunity at CEIBS in order to achieve his career switch. Sustainability knowledge, fluent Mandarin language skills and hands on experience were all eluding him at the start of the programme, and he knew that overcoming these three hurdles would put him in a more favourable place to secure employment in Shanghai.

From an academic perspective, Dmitry was able to take a range of elective courses that would build on his theoretical understanding, including Business Society and Environment, Growth Through Sustainability, Introduction to the Social Enterprise model and Government & Ethics.  “I wouldn’t be where I am today without CEIBS Professor of Marketing Lydia Price and the former Adjunct Professor of Sustainability Richard Brubaker” Dmitry says. “They helped me to frame my vision of sustainability from a business perspective, and helped me understand that sustainability for the sake of sustainability simply won’t work – you really need to sell the benefits to business. Or, as Prof. Brubaker puts it, ‘Sustainability is not about polar bears and the environment – it’s really about business’.”

CEIBS Professor of Marketing Dr. Lydia Price hosting the annual CSR forum at CEIBS.

In terms of hands on experience, MBA students benefit from a range of experiential China Modules and Overseas Electives at CEIBS, not to mention the compulsory Integrated China Strategy Project (ICSP). But for Dmitry, he found global business competitions to be the most valuable outlet for assessing his competitiveness as a sustainability champion on the global stage. “They say business school is a place for formulating lifelong friendships, and I firmly believe many of mine were formed during late night discussions ahead of the two global sustainability challenges we participated in at CUHK and HULT,” Dmitry reflects. “Working late into the night on projects that you really care about, you lose track of time. It isn’t about winning or losing. Instead, what I got from these experiences was a chance to turn my passion into career goals, and a refined sense of how to address these global issues through a business lens.”

CEIBS Professor of Marketing Dr. Lydia Price shares how MBAs benefit from the Integrated China Strategy project.

The final hurdle, Mandarin language competency, is a challenge faced by many if not all international MBAs at CEIBS who are looking to work in Shanghai or other mainland Chinese cities after graduation. Enrolling in CEIBS’ pre-MBA Mandarin course, together with Dmitry’s pre-existing level of Chinese, however, gave him a good head start. Nevertheless, exactly how much effort to expend on this during the 18 months of study is a common dilemma. “If you don’t speak Mandarin, still apply for the MBA. Why? The element of luck is still a big factor. I didn’t have a stellar background and I wasn’t fluent Chinese, but I got into CEIBS. I applied for roles in sustainability despite not having a super strong background – and I got in! Basically, if it is your dream to work here but you don’t speak the language, still come. I know many people without the language who have managed to land amazing jobs in China,” says Dmitry. “More than being able to communicate with colleagues daily, it is worth spending time on your Mandarin language skills, otherwise your vision of China will only consist of what you see from inside an expat bubble. To engage fully with the local community, the tech community, or whatever industry you are interested in, you will get a whole lot more out of it by being able to explore in Mandarin.”

Creating supply chains of the future at Fung Group

Faced with a shortage of sustainability related jobs for non-native Mandarin speakers, Dmitry overcame his three hurdles and joined Fung Group in November 2016. Even though his career switch was achieved a good six months after graduation, he was never tempted to stray from his intended path.

Dmitry celebrates on his graduation day.

At Fung Group, the question facing Dmitry and his colleagues is how exactly to leverage digitisation and sustainability to improve the lives of one billion people in supply chain. “For many companies, words like digital and sustainable are just buzz words. We practice it and our customers practice it. They ask for sustainability because consumers are demanding it. The apparel sector for example has a significant environmental impact and has been known to produce large quantities of unused inventory. How can we improve this? It’s a case of bridging digital and sustainability approaches. You have digital tools to tighten demand forecasting. This in turn improves sustainability because, after all, you have already polluted the planet to create a t-shirt and may as well use it,” says Dmitry. “The current state of the apparel industry is still quite analogue – supply chains have low visibility and many factories are still unfamiliar with enterprise resource planning (ERP). The level of development is still quite immature, so there is a lot of room for improvement and it’s all about using digital tools to optimise efficiency. At the end of the day, if our customers live in a digital world, how can supply chains remain in an analogue one?”

Day to day, Dmitry is working with clients to align their upstream and downstream supply chain goals. “This year, for example we have the target of helping 1000 factories assess their environmental impact – which means that, I find the factories, introduce the right assessment tools and ultimately help them understand their performance, strong sides as well as opportunities for improvement, and help them to grow,” he says. “It’s a big challenge, but three external drivers give me confidence that we can really make a difference. Firstly, you can see how far China has come in terms of grappling with environmental issues. Secondly, there are very low barriers to entry here when it comes to consumers accepting new business models for innovation. And finally, the government is also very supportive at a national level of such initiatives, so we know that if start-ups can develop implementable solutions, they are able to scale up fast.”

CEIBS Alumni Community

As an alum focused on sustainability, Dmitry is an active participant in all CEIBS initiatives to make changes for the betterment of society, supporting the CEIBS Alumni International Chapter’s Sustainability Task Force and welcoming current MBA students to work on live consulting projects as part of the ICSP. One question that he is often asked by his peers is, “What difference can individuals can make to build a more sustainable future?” His answer again comes back to business. “We live in a city – Shanghai – that has amazing food delivery services that are super convenient to access through apps such as eleme. I would love to say it will make a massive difference if a single consumer stops ordering and therefore reduces the need for new plastic containers. But this would be hypocritical, as I also love eleme, and the pollution compared to what big businesses are producing in their supply chains is incomparable,” says Dmitry. “I see some apparel companies priding themselves on the low carbon footprints in their brick and mortar stores for example, but typically 60% of carbon emissions come from supply chains, which are often complex and have low visibility. So what can we do? We need to engage with sustainability professionals to see what can be done as part of a larger community of businesses. The conversation has started, but we need to keep the momentum going.”

Back on campus to mentor two ICSP groups from the MBA Class of 2020.

Writer: 
James Kent
Editor: 
Michael Thede