Being a Leader of Consequence…in China

Business school is as much about the journey as it is about the ultimate destination. To that end, over the last 10 months, my classmates and I have all been working hard to balance 4 competing categories of activities: academics, recruiting, social/club events, and our personal lives. The beauty (and frustration during core classes) of Fuqua’s 6-week terms is how little time we have to meet the rigorous demands of all these categories. We all learn (or are forced to learn) disciplined time management and make tradeoffs because overlapping events will inevitably occur. I had to learn what was most important to me: one extra hour of studying, preparing for an interview, or getting ready for “date night” with my wife. As she can attest, I didn’t always pick the right one.

After the summer and two fall terms, we were mostly done with core classes (leaving only Operations in Spring 1), and could focus on pursuing the electives and club leadership opportunities that interested us most while winding down our internship hunts. However, amidst the chaos that was Fall 1, I saw an opportunity for a future role that would best encapsulate why I enrolled in the Fuqua School of Business. Transitioning out of 7 years in the U.S. Army (as an enlisted man, no less), I knew I needed a rigorous foundation for business. I wanted to exit my comfort zone and immerse myself in the necessary elements to effectively implement successful business strategies, which more often than not have become global. The China Global Academic Travel Experience (GATE) seemed like the ideal elective: 6 weeks of classes followed by 2 weeks in the country. Why China? Well, while China’s export and import growth have recently slowed down from their unsustainable double digit increases, it is still the country to study when thinking about global business opportunities. A recent PwC report stated “China is projected to overtake the US as the largest economy by 2017 in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms and by 2027 in market exchange rate terms.”

I knew I wanted to learn as much as I could about the country, both from an academic and personal perspective. But I didn’t just want to learn: I wanted to lead. During my time in the Army, I was blessed enough to deploy multiple times and always return safely with those Soldiers under my care. I worked in a variety of positions and deployed to the countries of Ecuador, Colombia, and twice to Afghanistan. I wanted to complement real world leadership experience with the opportunity to travel to a continent I had not visited, while leading my fellow classmates to better understand and explore the business, economy, culture, and politics of a foreign country.

mba students at the Great Wall of China
Paul’s team at the entrance to the Great Wall of China.

So, I applied to be a GATE Team Leader. As one member of a 5-person Team Leader group (Carson Rockett, Camden Yumori, Jessica Dennis, and Ben Markowitz round out the group), I was excited for Spring II to start. Prior to the trip, most of our duties revolved around preparing for the actual class with our professors (Jeannete Song and Dan Vermeer), and enlisting companies to host our 90+ students during our 2-week visit. It was rewarding work to see how family, friends, and strangers came together to help us in our quest. Now, during the actual visit, our jobs have focused on the logistics of moving and maintaining accountability of 90+ students not just to and from different company and cultural visits, but also 4 different cities (Beijing, Chongqing, Chengdu, and Shanghai). Looking back, GATE truly represents the best opportunity for student leadership combined with academics.

In order to better tailor the visit I designed a survey for the registered students. My fellow team leaders and I were very pleased to see we had great representation from the major career tracks (consulting, finance, marketing, general management, and healthcare), but were actually surprised to learn that the most requested industry to visit was not electronics or energy, but the Chinese government. While we were unable to comply with this request, we were able to schedule a briefing by the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, along with visits to Lenovo, Tsingua University, Coca-Cola, Changan Ford, New Oriental Education Company, the NBA, Wangjiang Industrial Co., P&G, Bloomberg, SanDisk, Wells Fargo, the Panda Breeding Research Center, GSK, and the Chengdu Airport Authority.

Ultimately, what we each desired to obtain from the trip was incredibly personal, but I think it can best be encapsulated by this anonymous respondent’s quote from our survey: “A better understanding of China and its past, as well as its expected future.”