PERSONAL NOTE: I decided to share my book with friends and students in China. It costs too much to order a copy from USA. Enjoy it and share it with people you care and love. Peace, Steve, March 11, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
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Chen Lishuai came from a well to do family, studied a year in TKK College, left environmental science to study economics at Bath in England, now on his way to Wall Street in New York. Despite his wealthy background, he would trim his own hair while studying at Bath. He was so smart that he did not need the financial support of his parents during his four plus years in England but relied wholly on his earnings from various investments in stocks and family business. And here is his incredible story in his own words, a different bonsai kid:
I. My family and the naughty me
Looking at a photo taken twenty years ago, I can see a child who was eager to explore the world. Shortly after China opened its economy to the world, I was born and raised in a typical middle class Chinese family in a small city surrounded by mountains and creeks in Fujian Province. I was expected to follow in the footsteps of my father and grandpa in a career as a government official, making a contribution to China in the future.
Unlike many other children in a one-child-policy system, I proved to be rebellious and independent instead of pampered and spoiled. It was my grandfather, a war veteran and a lawyer, who instilled virtues in me. My grandfather had an ever present smile, a sense of justice and a kind-heart to help others. However, he often regretted not being able to see the outside world after the war and make a difference in modern China. He was the first to mold my thinking and dedication to realize the dream of making a positive impact in the world. He and my father often debated on the political and economic issues at the dinner table where I often joined and argued as well. Even at a younger age, I found it comfortable convincing the elders on some of my ideas with “rigid” arguments.
My father enjoyed mentoring me on how I should behave and act while meeting with his friends and colleagues, particularly building integrity, trust and reputation. There was always a pile of Journal of Chinese Leadership on my father’s desk along with my favourite book — The Art of War. On the other hand, my mother is a successful business woman who dropped out from high school and started up her own company. She always asked me to excel at everything I do and set a higher standard every time I succeeded. Deeply influenced by her passion, decisiveness, toughness and the empowering leadership, I formed the foundation of my interests and curiosity in business and excellence. During a visit to her office room, I was fascinated by the
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coloured line charts displayed on the monitor and learnt that it is called stock trading. Shortly after that, I started using my mom’s account to trade stocks in high school.
What I learned at an early age from my family was to cultivate the right habits early – always striving for excellence and making positive impacts on the things and people around me. And of course, they know I always have interests in making money ever since, uh, 4 years old. Not for the things it can buy, but for the pleasure from the process of making more…..
II. Studying in China vs. UK
Like many other kids in that generation, I was educated under the typical Chinese educational system, attending public schools, having extra lectures and studying 12 hours a day. The priority on studying for the school exams, however, did not prevent me from pursuing other activities like traveling, drawing, playing sports and guitar. After three years of high school, I took the National College Entrance Exam along with other 9 million high school students in China and successfully enrolled in Environmental Science Engineering at Xiamen University TKK College which my family and relatives decided that this degree would promise me a descent career path in the future.
University is the society in miniature and the campus life was surely exciting for me as a freshman. I was the lead waltz dancer at freshmen welcome ceremony, a journalist in my department and also an active member of many student societies.
Living alone far away from home might be difficult for some little “emperors” but for me it was an opportunity to embrace a new life, an independent one. I decided to travel the unknown road—taking a transfer exam and switched to finance and banking. I was soon elected class president and won 1st class scholarship with an above average 90% grade, ranking #1 in the finance department after a semester. I found no difficulty in organizing several events, leading classmates on campus life while scoring good grades. Apart from starting my own stock investing, my mother has decided to let me become an external consultant to three of my mother’s companies, while doing a summer internship. I was then expected to follow a typical finance student career path: completing a distinct degree then pursuing a job at a bank or applying for a master’s degree.
Fortunately someone helped me out of my muddle. Professor Wu Kelong, the Dean of the Management Department who earned a MBA degree in USA, was my lecturer in the Principle of Management and Art of Leadership in which I scored 96% and 99%
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respectively. He showed me what makes a good leader, and excellent businessman and, more importantly, a man who loves his work and lives with a vision. Guiding me through the MBA education, the management experiences in Fortune 500 companies, his teaching experience and the importance of EQ, he believed I have the potential to be an effective leader and encouraged me to explore the world at an early age.
One night, I picked up my guitar and sat by the lake, playing some music and calculating the opportunity cost of dropping out after 2 years and studying abroad. Two days later, I filed a drop-out application after I drafted a 10-year plan—getting an undergraduate degree in Europe for 3 years, working for 2 years, applying for a 2-year full time MBA in USA and finally joining consulting or other business startups for a few years before my own business start-up. At the time, my family disagreed with my decision but pleased with a grown-up child who could make his own calls. So my own adventure of life began.
After I received the offer for an economics degree at the University of Bath in UK, I had to finish my 2nd year of studies in China. In that semester, I noticed many students, who are keen on studying abroad, encountered great difficulty studying English and how to apply to study abroad. Taking advantage of the opportunity, I drafted a business start-up plan for a non-profit organization and recruited 6 students from different departments, including students from accounting, finance, English, economics and computer science. We set up an online forum, did some on-campus marketing, reached out for sponsors, and invited lecturers to be advisors. The website served as the information exchange center for students in China. More than a thousand registered at the time and I had the opportunity to know the students who were eager to expand their horizon abroad and had a big dream for the future. Unfortunately it was hard to manage the organization every day while studying full-time in UK. I had to shut down the website but switched it to a Chinese social network where my teammates and I could easily access and manage on a daily basis. What matters at most is that my team members were inspired by my visions and ideas as we learnt and grew together along the way. This was different from the way their parents had always told them and they decided to discover the future themselves, going to UK or USA for master’s degrees, becoming a teacher or hotel management trainee, doing things they actually love and thriving along the way. For me, I realized that I can motivate my peers and inspire them to excel their potential in a positive way.
In 2011, with all the excitement and hope, I landed in London. While studying economics helps me to understand the world in which I live and work, living in a real world, unlike the one I came from, is a very different story. Unlike the typical Chinese education system, whether or not you can succeed in UK requires you to be
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disciplined and take initiative to study yourself. For instance, attendances at the lectures are not compulsory and you might have several optional modules to choose from. One might end up attending zero lectures a year but scoring unexpectedly high in the exams based on talents and diligence in the library. Others might simply fail the courses and waste one more year retaking the courses. The situation varies from student to student. For international students, language ability is a prerequisite if one wants to excel in an English speaking environment. One need not to master English to complete a degree but proficiency in it would boost the study efficiency and productivity.
It’s common to see Chinese students “herding” in lecture halls and they would never go out for party or pub whatsoever. This is totally “fine” if they are aiming solely at a degree or a diploma. I would ask a simple question: Why are we in the university in the first place? Is it worth our sacrifices for a piece of paper? Will a diploma become the sole factor in determining my future career pursuit? The answers will vary from person to person. Personally speaking, the biggest challenge for me is whether I am ready to make necessary adjustments to a new culture, before I left China. Some things come naturally, some don’t. When things go wrong, all of us naturally feel disappointed and frustrated. I might get stunned and deeply upset. Some experiences might have negative impact on me especially when I am alone in a new culture. Mental preparation might not be enough. At times it might be better to go with the flow!
During term breaks, I traveled to some European countries, starting with Barcelona, when Spain was experiencing economic downturns and strikes. Despite the “chaos”, I met an ordinary coffee shop owner and we discussed world politics, economy and inequality. He taught me that actions are worth more than a thousand words. I was impressed by this knowledgeable man and even learnt some basic Spanish from him. Apart from studying and travelling, I led teams to represent University of Bath for business challenge competitions in UK. It was an honour for me to work with students from diverse backgrounds but I did learn a great deal from their cultures and personalities.
In the meantime, I enjoy sharing my knowledge to my British, European, Japanese… friends and discuss the economy, investments and business opportunities in the world nowadays. How did I manage to do that? MASTER THE ENGLISH. I studied Economics but I am also a part-time translator. Mandarin is gaining its momentum, but mastering English would give you the unparalleled advantage over others though the bottom line is that you have to be proactive and open-minded when interacting with people from various backgrounds.
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III. Life as a Londoner
In my 2nd year at University of Bath, my gut feelings told me that I have to test myself in the real business world. I then started to look for a job in central London, the centre of economic powerhouse and the best place for me to work in a truly international and competitive business environment. After receiving a few offers, I went to work for a top market research consultancy near the famous City Hall and Tower Bridge in central London.
To my great surprise and pleasure, I received an email from a consultant several months after my one-year internship at TNS Global in London. He told me that using an automation I created had significantly reduced his workload on a key project and he thanked me for it. Not until then did I realize the real impact I had made. Great things always start small. As an intern, I worked hard on the tasks at hand, learned to design programs that benefit those tasks, and offered help to colleagues whenever I could. With those initiatives, I started gaining credibility and recognition within the team. As I frequently produced results beyond expectations, I began to receive invitations to work on bigger accounts, create more effective tools, and manage ad-hoc projects. Consequently, I was often invited by colleagues to discuss how we can improve project’s efficiency and profitability. It was this kind of momentum that ultimately led me to make an impact on the company.
After being introduced to the entire UK branch by the head of training department, I started to create an Excel manual which is tailored for our day-to-day tasks. To ensure that everyone can use and update the manual in the future without my presence, I added detailed instructions and we set up a few training sessions for me to mentor fellow interns, graduates, project managers and even directors. More importantly, those who attended the training sessions are also committed to train their colleagues. I will never forget the smile on a manager’s face when he told me that an Excel trick I taught him has forever changed a task he had been doing for years. When I received the most nominations and votes for the employee success award, I finally realized that my colleagues had a great amount of respect for me and they trusted me.
What I am most proud of is an idea that I represent – the possibility of achieving the impossible. After the team took my advice on how to improve the internship scheme, they decided to put up a poster of my experience and achievements. In late 2014, I received a LinkedIn message from a graduate who I had never met. He told me that looking at my poster really gave him the courage and motivation to work harder because I was modeling for them the things they want to see and follow. It was one of the important moments in my life because I realized the legacy I left behind is not just
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some tools or manuals, but a culture that fosters the greatness in the people.
Living in London is not just about working hard. Apart from networking with elite bankers in the city, I also made friends with several visiting professors and PhDs in science. While they are impressed by my personality, experience and long-term career plan, I found it very inspiring and fascinating to talk to those future Chinese pioneer scientists and learnt about the science and the way they perceive science, society, government and the world as a whole. Some of them and my classmates in China often tell me that they believe in me and will join my business start-up in the future. Many have great courses and many have the capacity to pull it off.
For me, the trust from my colleagues and friends are simply something money cannot buy. I believe that we still have quite a lot of students in China who “failed” their university entrance exam and believed that it’s the end of their career pursuit. I can confidently tell them that IT’S NOT. After networking with the brightest talents from Oxford/Cambridge students or elite investment bankers or well-rounded consultants, I realized that they’re no smarter than most of us! But they all worked extremely hard and they’re willing to sacrifice their personal leisure in order to thrive in their pursuit. That’s something we called, EQ or emotional intelligence. If this term sounds new to you, then I suggest you do some research on it.
IV. London vs. Wall Street
In June 2015, I accepted a summer internship offer at a hedge fund in central London because I was so eager to see what top financial world really looks like, not the sell-side investment bank, but the famous money making machine – hedge fund. On one hand, I finally got a chance to apply the economic or finance theories that I learnt at school – something like option pricing, arbitrage trading and trading tactics. It’s quite similar to what I did for my own stock portfolios but I notice one thing – the endowment is different! I got a few thousand, and they got a billion…. BUT as you probably know that hedge fund managers tend to be millionaire and they are famous for being cunning, cold-blooded and money driven. They celebrate their success in short selling stocks while Greece was suffering from debt crisis and they simply robbed hundreds of thousands of dollars from others. And the next day, my boss simply texted me and said that he’s on his private jet for a vacation because they’ve “killed” someone in the market and made a fortune. Well, I guess that’s pretty much all I need to talk about hedge funds then. It’s certainly something that I would never pursue in my lifetime, maybe….
In July 2015, I finally received my degree in Economics at University of Bath. It’s
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been 6 years, 6 years! Though I wasn’t studying all the time, but dropping out in China and taking a gap year working in London surely add something to my resume, and more importantly, bring more reflections on myself. Once again, I applied to numerous firms in London and had around 30+ interviews. Despite having multiple offers (and rejections of course) from firms in London, I can’t resist the temptation to accept the one from the largest asset management firm on Wall Street in the US! And I said YES without hesitation! Why? Some people resign themselves to do things they don’t like and figure success or enjoyment is just isn’t in their cards. As for me, I go with my passion and ambition which make study or work easier and success more likely and enjoyable. I keep an ambition to excel, an eagerness for challenges and a flexibility of mind.
Am I impressed by the fact that I’m going to work on Wall Street? Not really, coz I know what I want do with my life, and that is just a great opportunity for me to gain insights into the top financial world and learn about US culture. All those experiences are for my next business adventure – building my own company. So, once again, what exactly do I desire?
V. Some notes on my future plans
I once read a quote from Steve Jobs that goes, “You can only connect the dots looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” If I chose to play it safe in life, I wouldn’t know the depth of life when I commit myself to a dream. If I chose to bury myself in textbooks, I wouldn’t experience the hardships that a job can bring. If I chose to hide inside my comfort zones, I wouldn’t meet the brilliant people who shape the world. Ability is nothing without opportunity. I am never afraid to create my own opportunities, and that is one of the many reasons that going to work on Wall Street will be an enriching and rewarding experience.
If the development of China plays a role in my future, the people there will play a crucial role as well. Last year I began to receive invitations and queries from some Chinese students and professionals through social networks and referrals. They told me that they were inspired by what I had done because I am modelling for them the things they want to see and follow. It was one of the important moments in my life because I finally realized that I can have an impact on people’s lives in many different ways. I am so eager to experience more, learn more, and share more. If I go on to startup my business with my friends in the near future and make a positive impact on others life, that’d be great! Of course, my commitment to create a startup will be once again tested when I start working in New York. Will I be brainwashed by Wall Street culture? I don’t know. But the important thing is that I know where I will end up and I
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am willing to fight for it, period.
My dream is like a seed. The vision plants it and the actions nurture it. When it reaches the top, I want to represent an idea – the possibility of crafting a future in my own way.
This is China.