2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Ocean Eric Niu, IE Business School

Ocean Eric Niu

IE Business School

“An audacious innovator who aspires to build a future that’s inspiring and appealing.”

Hometown: Dalian, China / Irvine, California

Fun fact about yourself: “Da-Hai” is my Chinese name which means Ocean. My parents named me Ocean because of the famous Chinese Proverb: “海纳百川; 有容乃大.” – “All rivers run into the ocean; tolerance is a virtue”.

I named myself Eric in middle school when I immigrated to the U.S. because I was afraid of being bullied with a unique name like Ocean. In adult life, I have learned to embrace my Chinese name!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Cal State Fullerton, BA in Economics, BA in International Business

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Niu & More Consulting, Founder & CEO

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? TBD for Summer 2021 Internship (possible options Amazon Launch Program/Nike)

Where will you be working after graduation? I plan to start my own business post-graduation.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: IE High Achievers Scholarship, IMBA JAN 2021 Class Rep

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?It seemed unimaginable to pursue an MBA during a global pandemic, yet I’ve always believed that crisis leads to opportunity. I’m proud to be working on a new idea that was inspired by my experience of moving to a new city (a new country) during COVID.

Working out in a traditional gym with others around is risky during or even after COVID. Even for the fearless gym-goers, it is not a comfortable fitness experience wearing face masks. Besides, why does a gym membership have to feel like marriage? I plan to launch a luxury personal fitness space that can be reserved with no strings attached using a pay-as-you-go model.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? As a Chinese immigrant and the first to graduate college in my family, I am guided by the dreams that have been instilled in me by the many generations behind me. Whether it was working in President Obama’s Administration bringing innovation to the federal government or working at Deloitte Consulting helping clients solving complex human capital challenges, I have always aspired to create positive impact with my work. I continued to reach for that – and perhaps this is why my proudest achievement is Swaggle.

I was a young professional who couldn’t afford designer clothes from retail stores. I noticed how consignment shopping for men was an untapped opportunity. As a solution, my cofounders and I created Swaggle, an online marketplace for men’s consignment. Though it was difficult to leave a 6-digit salary with Deloitte while facing numerous rejections from investors, persistence did eventually prevail. With an investment from Daymond John’s FUBU (Shark Tank), we turned Swaggle from an idea into reality.

Why did you choose this business school? IE Business School is an institution that was founded by entrepreneurs and created for entrepreneurs. IE promotes the development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem, boosts intrapreneurship, and supports its students and graduates in the creation and development of startups around the world.

I came to IE with the goal to learn and create another business that solves a real-world problem. People go to business schools for different reasons; some schools are good for a career change and some are good for soul searching. IE is more than that. IE pushes you to challenge the status quo and to create positive impact in this world. That’s why I chose IE. Besides, Madrid is one of the most charming and vibrant cities in the world.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? We have not had many official events due to COVID restrictions, yet I am thoroughly impressed by how attentive the university is in caring and supporting students during the pandemic. I was touched when our Executive Director Paula Robles and Vice Dean Jose Esteves hosted a Zoom meeting with student leaders to openly brainstorm ways in which IE Business School can support students during such a difficult time due to the pandemic. They were honest, open, and truly concerned of students’ well-being. This is one example that demonstrates the humility of the IE administration and IE as a strong-knit community.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Nothing

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth about IE Business School is that it is only Latin-America or Spanish-Speaking country focused. That is absolutely not true. Diversity at IE is not just a buzzword; it’s a reality that cuts across every aspect of your experience at the business school. Our MBA class consists of 70 nationalities and you can easily tell by the diversity of perspectives shared during group projects and classroom discussions.

What surprised you the most about business school? I am truly surprised by the quality of IE’s education with the hybrid model given the impact of the pandemic. The professors are knowledgeable, passionate, and engaging. I’ve taken almost all of my courses online at least once and I feel just as involved as I was in the classroom.

Moreover, the diversity of my MBA class is the secret sauce of IE. Everyone is not only bright, but also unique in their perspectives. Everyone has something new to bring to the classroom discussions and I have learned tremendously from people’s diverse set of experiences and cultural backgrounds.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Authenticity. One thing I that really enjoyed about IE’s application process was how it embraced creativity and innovation. IE allows you to customize your online application by choosing among submitting an essay (like most business schools), creating a 5-minute presentation, or showcasing a video.

I created a presentation to show who I am as a person, my entrepreneurial drive and my vision of creating an appealing and inspiring future through my imagination, audacity and resilience.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? “Life is not about you; your life is about everyone else whose life you touch. And the way in which you touch it.” This is what I have learned from my MBA classmate María Francisca Paz y Miño Maya.

María is a United Nations human rights analyst and researcher, a former city representative of youth and a life-long activist. She believes in an integrated strategy towards poverty eradication that necessitates implementing policies geared to more equitable distribution of wealth and income and social protection coverage.

COVID-19 had a huge impact on the global population, especially those who lack access to health and financial services. María launched a financial education initiative that helped Latin American families in the New York area to cope with financial burdens as a result of the pandemic.

María offers a unique perspective in social justice and human rights during classroom discussion and her passion in contagious. As an innovation strategist and a serial entrepreneur, María had reminded me that in life, it’s not only about solving problems but also leaving a positive impact to this world. Metrics like the GDP had pushed our economic system to blindly chase growth, yet we need to be prudent on the impact of the so-called growth and progress. People María reminds us to be humbler and loving.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? The hybrid environment does not only apply to education, but it has also become the new norm for work life. On that note, I feel lucky in how IE is helping the MBA class adjust to this new norm. We have had a plethora of sessions to understand virtual meeting etiquettes and how to stay engaged during the hybrid learning environment.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? Though I am well-read in biographies of business icons such as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, my mother is the leader and an entrepreneur that I mostly admire. She is the reason why I have decided to pursue an MBA.

She is a single mother who immigrated to the United States at the age of 35. She had worked assiduously on countless jobs from a waitress to a mover and ultimately a restaurant owner. In 2001, she saved $100,000 to start a restaurant in California, hoping that I’d join her in 2002 in pursuit of the American dream. Unfortunately, her business partner took the money and disappeared. When I arrived to America at the age of 13, my mother had practically lost everything. But, what she never lost was hope. Despite how tough life is, she always smiles and told me, “Aon, life is too beautiful to give up!”

When I started my first business, despite rejections from more than 70 different investment groups, we finally had the seed round to launch our platform to the market. Every time I was rejected by a potential investor and thought about giving up, I remembered what my mother told me. She would never quit, therefore, I will not either.

No one can destroy iron, but its own rust can. Likewise, no one can destroy a person, but his/her own mindset can.

Pursuing an MBA at IE enables me to expand my horizon in Europe and understand the European market, immersive myself in the Spanish language and culture in combination with my Chinese and English background and network with a diverse class to work together on big ideas that will change the world.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  • Team up with Elon Musk and take humanity to Mars
  • Run for the Governor of California

What made Ocean such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“Mr. Ocean Niu exemplifies the characteristic of a student you will never forget: motivated, enthusiastic, and different. The first time Ocean and I interacted in my MBA “Leading People and Change Class” was about and exercise called “Who am I” where students had to write about themselves. He was the first one to share his views with the rest of his classmates and, in one sentence, he managed to make a thought-provoking argument while, critically, thinking about the exercise. In essence, he portrays the attributes any professor wishes from a student; hard worker, prepared, eager to learn and unique.

If I had to depict a quality that clearly stands out in Ocean will be his authenticity. When he participates in class, he always stays true to himself accepting the mistakes and acknowledging the achievements. Is he a leader? I certainly think so. We will hear more of Mr. Ocean Niu in the years to come. Mark my words.”

Laura Maguire
Professor of Leading People and Change



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