“What are my strengths and weaknesses?” “What do I derive satisfaction from?” “Which aspects am I determined to build up?” These are questions that Kelly would often ask herself whenever she was faced with choices, new paths to take, or ways to spend her time, be it in her professional or personal life.
Following nine years working at at the Monetary Authority of Singapore doing policy work, and at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation and Standard Chartered Bank in product development roles, Kelly took a step back to review her career path. Once again, she reflected upon those questions. “Do I want to continue in the track of deal-driven work or do I want to take on managerial or strategic work? I thought the MBA program allowed me to upgrade professionally and reposition myself for new career opportunities,” Kelly recalled.
To her, opting for an MBA degree in China was an unorthodox yet sure choice. “China was undergoing a phase of exciting economic transformation. This is the time to go and understand the way business is done in China and the challenges faced by companies entering China. I wanted to go to China because it was important for me to be there to have a feel for what was happening, know the people there and understand my classmates’ perspectives.”
To fully optimize her time in Tsinghua, Kelly set goals for herself and made it a point to stay focused to fulfill them. In retrospect, Kelly recalled her being intentional in getting out of her comfort zone to interact with locals on a deeper level. “One of my objectives was getting a good feel of the local culture. I did not want to merely get a degree, but also wanted an authentic experience in China.” To Kelly, paper qualifications did not seem all that important, “I spent time building friendships with my classmates, which made the whole experience very enriching.”
Championing Social Causes Within the Local Community
Aside from regular student activities and internships, Kelly wanted more. As someone who was actively involved in community actions back in Singapore, Kelly quickly realized the importance of building awareness and interest in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) within the student body in Tsinghua. After becoming President of Net Impact’s Tsinghua Chapter, Kelly oversaw various projects in which she liaised with faculty, colleagues, professional consultants, and corporate sponsors.
It was also during her time at Net Impact that she spearheaded the inaugural Tsinghua CSR Case Competition. The event required teams from Tsinghua and other universities to put their critical thinking skills to task by proposing socially innovative solutions to real-life problems faced by sponsor companies. Organizing an inaugural event was not an easy task on Kelly’s part, especially since Chinese is not her native language. “It was particularly difficult looking for corporate sponsors. When you are new in a country, you don’t have many contacts or strong connections. I had to put myself out there to convince others of my idea and actively seek help from others. You have to earn sponsors’ confidence and trust that you will be able to execute the project successfully. There was a lot of preparation and discussion with all of the stakeholders involved.”
Nonetheless, Kelly was thankful for the support she received from the school and faculty for the work she was doing. “Professor Qian Xiaojun was the mentoring professor for Net Impact and she definitely gave invaluable guidance throughout.”
Leveraging the Chinese Experience
Following the completion of her MBA program, Kelly chose to return to Singapore despite receiving other job offers in Beijing and Hong Kong. “Prior to the MBA program at Tsinghua, my work throughout my professional life was mainly deal-driven. I wanted to branch out into a new area within the banking industry, and this led me to my present job.” Kelly’s current role is in the Emerging Markets Business Division of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation as First Vice President, in which she is responsible for strategic planning for emerging markets.
Despite being based in a country outside the Greater China region, Kelly credits her experiences in China for equipping her with invaluable skills that help her succeed at work. “My work involves planning projects that support organic growth for the bank. After spending a substantial amount of time in China, I have developed a certain level of cultural sensitivity, one that requires knowing your environment, being able to draw the connections, knowing the implications of one issue on another, and making decisions on how best to execute strategic plans. The lessons and skills gained from the MBA program continue to be built up on the job.”
As an alumna, Kelly is always eager to share her enthusiasm about the Tsinghua MBA Program with potential applicants. “When I was applying for jobs, all my potential employers were appreciative of my two years experience in China, ability to communicate in a business environment, and cultural awareness in being respectful of the local culture. Today, many multi-national companies are in China. Even if they are not there now, they will be thinking of getting into China or tapping growth opportunities in the market. They simply need people who are familiar with China.”