On a cold day in October, Tsinghua SEM created a frenzy on the internet across the globe. The school’s newest advisory board member, Mark Zuckerberg, visited the school and had a dialogue with the students. To everyone's surprise, he conducted this dialogue solely in Mandarin. No English. No translation. For the entire 45mins session. It was his first public conversation in this new language that he just picked up not too long ago. The world watched and applauded.
Zuckerberg, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of social media giant Facebook, was received by our school for our annual Tsinghua SEM Advisory Board Meeting. He was in the great company of Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc. and Jack Ma, Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, to headline the event for the school. Together, the trio lead global technology companies that are recognized in China and the world. The combined market value of their companies is over USD 1 trillion. Of course apart from the tech trio, the school also welcomed an impressive list of 35 other star-studded board members this year, all top business leaders in each and every industry.
Zuckerberg held a question and answer session that was attended by the students and guests from Tsinghua x-lab, the university’s innovation and entrepreneurship platform. Tsinghua graduate and Facebook employee Wei Xiaoliang hosted and moderated the event. The questions may not have been a complex discussion on Facebooks business strategy, but for the aspiring x-lab students it was just as interesting. Though Zuckerberg is far from fluent, he iterated that he practices his language abilities every day. This reflected in the kind of diligence he puts forward as an individual. Zuckerberg also spoke of his wife Pricilla, who is of Chinese descent, and how it was his desire to communicate with her grandmother that motivated him to learn Chinese.
One of his best responses to a question was about Facebook entering the Chinese market. Zuckerberg stated that he believes that it is already in the country. He further discussed how Facebook is at present connecting Chinese companies in acquiring customers from abroad. Facebook has been banned in China since 2009, however Zuckerberg joining Tsinghua SEM Advisory Board and making such a bold appearance clearly states his future intentions. The Chinese internet landscape is a lucrative market and it is clear that Zuckerberg wants in.
What happened after the talk was as striking as Zuckerberg’s dialogue. Within an hour of the event there were pictures of Zuckerberg all over social media websites (one that he himself created) with the headlines reflecting both Zuckerberg and Tsinghua University. By the morning news cycle in the United States it was one of the top stories. The video of him conversing in Chinese has since been seen throughout the world’s media outlets.
Tsinghua SEM has proudly built an impressive advisory board, and Mark Zuckerberg was able to exemplify the strength of it with his actions. His representation on the board will be valued for years to come. As a school that focuses on innovation, his revolutionary social media domination is an inspiration to all students with aspirations of starting internet based technology companies. The future of Facebook in China is unknown, but the future of Zuckerberg and Tsinghua University has been solidified.
From Shana Penna, GMBA Class of 2016