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Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Zhu Shang, IESE Business School

Zhu Shang

IESE Business School

A different way to measure, an open mindset to embrace, a calm altitude to examine.”

Hometown: Hefei, Anhui Province, People’s Republic of China

Fun Fact About Yourself:  I tend to describe myself as a culture chameleon. No matter where I go, domestic or overseas, I always find a way to mingle. I enjoy the feeling of disappearing in different culture backgrounds. I know many of my peers went to so many more countries than I did. They are real masters of it and I just happen to share the same mindset with them. I can’t wait to hear their stories and learn from them.

Undergraduate School and Major: Communication University of China, Theatre, Film and TV Literature

Most Recent Employer and Job Title:  China Film Group Corporation, Senior Screenwriter

What makes the case method so attractive as a means to learn and become a better manager? The case method gives students a platform to think further than the frame. It is true that every group meeting has an agenda, but it doesn’t stop students from having a discussion based on the cases. Outside the agenda, a healthy way leads to a collision of ideas and cultures.

Secondly, working with the whole team on cases is like working in a real-world company. We will face the same problems as real companies would and try to solve them to the best of our knowledge, imitating what professionals would do. Less experienced students could study from industry veterans in the team and improve faster; experienced students also could take in new ideas to modify their strategy.

Thirdly, to be honest, this method could be an “academic shock” to newcomers of business world. As a candidate with an a-typical background, I can’t help thinking of all the obstacles I will face in the process. It’s like giving a civilian a gun then straightly kicking him out to the battlefield. Candidates have to learn to adapt quickly and be able to hold their ground after a few drills. There’s no better way to get a person trained. From what I hear, it’s definitely something that is worth feeling proud of.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? For me, the key part which attracts me is not embedded in the MBA programming, but in the thinking of how IESE thrived to be one of the best business schools in the world. Putting aside its traditional consulting genes, IESE seems to have been trying to blur her first impression tags of different business areas. It’s not a “finance school” or “consulting school”, but rather a school which excels in many areas and a platform with a lot of interfaces.

Along with that, IESE really puts a lot of effort into its global construction, especially in emerging markets like Africa, East Asia (where I come from) and ASEAN. Although IESE was already considered an EU giant and the most successful business school in the Spanish-speaking cultural ring, she never stops trying to be more diversified and internationalized to adapt to the rapid changes of global business.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? The Sailing Club is the most intriguing one for me.  I am a sea person who unfortunately never had the chance to do real sailing. I am so looking forward to it. Also, I would like to join the Greater China Business Club. We live in a tricky era for global business. After years of rapid growth and the global halting of 2020, China is suddenly facing an obviously new international environment so it may need to rethink its role in it. I would like to join the club with some questions and humbly hear what they have to say.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: As a storyteller who chose the hard way by diving into the featured-film business, I already have two films under my name. But the biggest accomplishment lies in the process, not the result. I’ve been lucky enough to constantly work with the most influential firm, China Film Group Corporation, and some of the most talented and experienced professionals in the business.  I learned directly from Mr Zhao Haicheng, the Tsar of Chinese movie industry for decades and a truly revolutionary producer, among many other outstanding people. For them, creation and management became an art form instead of skills.

Also, the experience helped me reconcile with my unguided passion and my inner self. Storytelling is like riding a bicycle. Once you really learned how to do it you won’t forget it. I hope I can somehow combine what I know and what I am about to learn in the future to play my role in the industrial upgrade process.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? At a certain point of my career, I realized that if I continue to do what I was doing, I may eventually meet my ceiling in my 40s. I could keep on and become a more promising and money-making storyteller, but this kind of role wouldn’t fulfill my wish to really have an impact on the foundation of the industry. When I pulled myself out and observed the whole business with a more objective view, I found that there is so much more we could do to improve the industry. An MBA may provide some solid answers to my questions, while opening doors to new tech, new industry ecosystems, and new ideas for entrepreneurship.

There’s another reason why. We now live in a turbulent world. The uncertainties of a post-epidemic era, along with a trade war going on between superpowers, are like elephants in the living room. I thought about it for a long time and interpreted what we have been through as a war between globalization and anti-globalization. War needs soldiers. I just chose to join this one and picked my side.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? HEC Paris, USC Marshall and Schulich School of Business.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? I was interviewed by Dr Luis Go of IESE, a very experienced Admissions Officer who knows how to extract honest answers out of applicants before they know it. I didn’t feel very challenged during the process, but the classical “why school” question and its follow-ups led me to thinking a lot more about different school’s cultures, program elements and potential gains. I had to think on my feet and try to abstract conclusions out of limited knowledge on different schools I had at that time, for IESE was the first interview I had taken.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I wish to talk about some relatively “casual” factors, temporarily putting hard factors aside.

For me, my most prioritized factor is diversity. I wanted to join a group in which I could meet peers all over the world and understand their highly diversified cultures by making friends with them and gathering their unique stories. Diversity of a group is also good for members to practice their leadership.

Secondly, I consider myself as a city person. I also love the tranquility of countryside but it’s the mega city vibe which turns me on. Schools located in big cities also mean easier commuting and more chances to get to know local businesses. It is a very personal factor, but I decided to be completely honest.

I don’t think I am in any position to give out advice on “fit” or “evaluation”. Those who decide to study at the best business schools in the world know what they are doing. These schools are all respectable. On certain levels of choosing, they are only differentiated by some delicate factors. There’s a quote from MBA application forums, “in the end, the school chosen by God for you IS your best fit”. I personally agree with it.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? Every person has multiple defining moments. I am going to talk about my recent one. It comes from a conversation with my parents. During my career, I had rough times but things were getting better. I had been given the chance to do what I am good at and live a peaceful life. I was so ready to settle down to what I had and put my hidden ambitions aside, maybe also start a family and have children.

I also know that a 2-year MBA career could be very rigorous and demanding. It may keep me from a life in which I could take care my family, work/rest whenever I want, and get paid for doing some simple TV dramas in 3 to 5 years in the future. There was definitely a choice to make. I reached out to my parents and asked for advice. My mother said, “Well, you are still young. It is not yet the time for you to stop and enjoy your life.”

I thought for a while. Then I re-booked my GMAT test to Bangkok, flew there, and got the job done. All these happened during the most severe stage of the COVID-19 pandemic in China when countries were shutting their doors on us.

I still feel lucky that I had that conversation and made the right choice.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? Space X. To analyze it in a case study fashion is hard because of its gigantic size and complex connections with countless related companies. In my opinion, the most significant thing about it is that it actually shows us a brand new way of making growth.

Let’s put concepts like marketing, business model and margin away for a minute and get to the bottom of it. The year is 2020. The internet revolution is already 20 years old. In this period, we experienced fast economic growth boosted by the Internet and saw the growth slowly turned into reserve. What could be expected is that without revolutionary new technologies or advanced business management, this wave of Internet bonus will eventually be consumed, leaving behind a world looking for new growth points. Companies and capitals have to compete with each other in a limited sized pool, desperately waiting for the next revolution to happen.

Space X is not necessarily going to be the revolution, but it sure provides some new points of view. It showed us that technology itself is not about shilling entertainments with algorithm or doing trades with AI, it’s about exploration and invention. In other words, although its space explore program is still in the early stage, it gives people room for imagination: potential space resources drilling, new energy solutions, or even space colonization.  If they would happen, they would be totally outside our traditional Internet economy and inside a new value-creation methodology. It seems too far away from now, but it points out a possibility of humanity´s next step.

Personally, I couldn’t predict anything about where it will go or how much of the imagination could come true. But at least what we can learn from them is: always question the booming economy we already have, and always think outside the box.