2022 MBA To Watch: Xianjin Cai, University of Washington (Foster)

Xianjin Cai

University of Washington, Foster School of Business

“Dedicated professional | Thoughtful teammate and leader.”

Hometown: Shantou, Guangdong, China

Fun fact about yourself: I am a classical music fan. My favorite piece is Mahler Symphony No.5, and I have not missed any live performances of Mahler 5 I know.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Nanyang Technological University, Double Degree in Accountancy and Business (specialized in Banking & Finance)

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I worked as a Senior Financial Analyst at Alpha Advisory Pte Ltd, a boutique investment banking house based in Singapore.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? I interned as a Senior Financial Analyst at Amazon focusing on a project for the middle mile logistics team.

Where will you be working after graduation? I will work as a Strategic Financial Analyst at Google on the Clouds and Technical Infrastructure team.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Executive Vice President, The Finance Society
  • Recruiting Coach, Foster Consulting Society
  • Student Researcher, University of Washington, Foster Business Research Group
  • MBA Student Ambassador
  • 2nd Year MBA Tutor
  • Dean’s Scholar 2020-2021
  • Dean’s List Fall Quarter 2020, Spring Quarter 2021
  • Evert McCabe Endowed Fellowship Recipient 2021-2022
  • J. Pennington Endowed Memorial Scholarship Fund Recipient 2021-2022
  • Dean’s Merit Fellowship 2020-2021
  • Forte Fellow 2020-2021
  • Ace the Case Global Business Challenge First Place
  • AT&T She Counts Finance Case Competition First Place

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of my participation in various mentorship and fellowship programs in which I was able to help people succeed, both academically and professionally.

I have a passion in investing in growth of others, empowered by my professional knowledge and practical experiences. As a tutor and coach in various programs, I contributed significant amount of time and effort helping my peers and first year students with their academics and job search, providing insightful and actionable feedbacks to advance their growth in study and career success.

I also immerse myself in various leadership roles in communities such as The Finance Society and Foster Consulting Society, and as a Student Ambassador. I enjoy helping current and prospective students in adapting their study life by helping them to pursue knowledge, connect and gain friendship, explore new opportunities, learn from setbacks, and work on initiative for their career advancement.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Prior to my MBA experience, as a senior financial and strategic analyst, I advised companies on their restructuring, M&A, fund raising, and other strategic activities. My role involved identifying and making critical decisions in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity, and applying my analytical skills and experiences to determine the best strategies to map to the business goals. I am very proud of my contributions, which made an impact on those businesses and helped those entrepreneurs to fulfil their dreams. Some of the projects even created more job opportunities in developing countries.

Why did you choose this business school? I was attracted to Foster School of Business by its collaborative culture. When I was looking at business schools in 2019, I was able to meet many incredibly smart people from diverse cultural backgrounds and learn about their exciting experience studying in Foster. This view was strengthened by my experiences here in Foster, whereby I met and formed strong friendships with many professors and fellow MBA students.

Another reason for choosing Foster is its fusion with Seattle – a hub for tech and business model innovation. Foster offers a lot of resources to help its students to advance their career. The career management team provides actionable feedback in our career growth as well as identify initiatives which bestow opportunities for us to actively participate in the tech innovation and business model disruption happening at the tech hub of Seattle.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite MBA professor is Professor Jennifer Koski. I admire her enthusiasm in teaching. She is super knowledgeable, and her curriculum covers the whole spectrum of corporate finance. Her effective and interactive teaching style empowers my learning. Through real-life business cases discussions, Professor Koski helps me and my classmates to analyze complicated and ambiguous corporate finance problems and develop a structured framework to arrive to the decision.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite MBA tradition at Foster was its collaborative and supportive culture, which is deeply planted in the memetic DNA of its students. I can still fondly remember the numerous hours my classmates and students from Class of 2021 spent together to prepare for interviews. Through these job interview preparation, business case competitions, and community and charity events, we have formed strong friendships that are going to last long.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Looking back over my MBA experience, one thing that I would do differently would definitely be to enjoy more about the campus life. UW is a very beautiful campus with numerous cultural events happening throughout the year. Our Foster School’s Paccar Hall is the first of two new state-of-the-art buildings that comprise an expanded campus of UW. Due to COVID, a lot of school cultural activities were affected, but we truly enjoyed events such as the Lunar New Year Festival. I have many of fond memories with my close friends around the school campus.

What is the biggest myth about your school? When I joined Foster School, the MBA Program was misunderstood by some to be a “small” program. Some of the misconceptions include that its smaller cohort size diminishes the potential of building connections and a business network at the graduate school level. However, my experiences at Foster rejected such misbelief. Foster has a super collaborative and supportive culture and is very efficient in helping its students to advance their careers. With a closely connected community among classmates, we know each other well, and we won’t hesitate to reach out through teamwork, competitions, and club events.

What surprised you the most about business school? One fact that surprised me the most about the school is our alumni, who are extremely approachable and helpful. Despite their busy schedules, it is always easy to invite them to come back as speaker to share their working experiences and life after the MBA. They are also very humble and helpful when we ask for advice and support and when we need advice on career consulting.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I proactively sought advice from MBA students, whom I knew via networking and through connections. Back in December 2019, when I was actively scheduling coffee chats, I identified a list of challenges and potential blockers, and I sought advice from those mentors who were very kind in helping me overcome them. This also inspired me to take up mentor roles and help my fellow and prospective MBA students.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Jonathan Bannick is one of the many MBA classmates whom I admire, and I have learned a lot from him. As my fall quarter teammate, he was always responsible and ahead of everything. In my view, he is a true leader who is super reliable and is someone whom you can count on. He is also very thoughtful and patient. Jonathan is very competent and is always willing to share his knowledge and experience; at the same time, he is humble and willing to learn. Further, he has been very inclusive and always shows genuine interest in different cultures and perspectives when he interacts with international students.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My close friend Yuan Li has been an inspiring figure that influenced me in many ways, through her own path to success via her MBA as well as her cheerful and insightful advice on my own career growth. She encouraged me many times to go beyond my self-perceived limitations and break through barriers whenever I am in doubt. I am indebted to her. 

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

  • Become a mentor to a minority professional
  • Be a life-long learner who remain curious and passionate about work and life.

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? The pandemic changed many things that I originally planned, such as the way I can interact with my professors and fellow classmates. However, l I felt it did not impeach my personal growth and making strong friendships with many of my classmates. I won’t be surprised if this is the new way of establishing and building professional relationships going forward, and I believe that my classmates and I have mastered the skillset for it.

What made Xianjin such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022?

“XJ served as a student researcher with the Foster Business Research Group, an independent consulting opportunity and partnership between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Foster, managed by Foster’s Global Business Center.

She was impressive on so many dimensions in her client engagement with the Gates Foundation. Due to her initial preparation and attention to detail, she projected a level of confidence and competence that immediately put the client at ease. By deploying a wide range of both technical and soft skills that she developed through her MBA program, she was able to understand the pain points and develop alternative solutions.

What was perhaps most impressive was her ability to convey relatively technical solutions and their tradeoffs in an easily digestible fashion. Through her tenacity, she delivered more than was promised and left the client impressed with her as well as the Foster School. As a faculty member, it was a pleasure to observe one of our students in action and the potential they offer.”

H. Kevin Steensma
Professor of Management
Michael G. Foster Endowed Professor
Faculty Mentor, Foster Business Research Group


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