#Why Guanghua# is a special feature on our MBA students' stories with Guanghua School of Management. As a professional in the IT industry, what drew him from Silicon Valley to China? In Clifford's eyes, what unique advantages and great development opportunities does the Chinese market contain? As a standard Western-educated student, how will Clifford play to his advantage in the business world of the East? Let's read his story.
Fun Fact About Yourself: I once tied 1st place in a voice impersonation contest, taking home a prize laptop.
Previous School and Major: University of California, San Diego – M.Sc. Computer Science； University of California, Los Angeles – B.Sc. Mathematics
Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Product Director, AR/VR Platform； zSpace, Inc., San Jose, CA, USA
Q: A brief introduction of your experience:
I have worked in technology and software R&D for over a decade, including in video games, cloud applications, computer vision and AI, and most recently AR/VR devices and content in Silicon Valley.
Q: What's your biggest accomplishment in your career so far？
During my time working in VR, I led the 3D production teams that produced award-winning STEM Education experiences, used in thousands of schools around the world.
Q: What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career?
Having started in software engineering and spent most of my career in this space, I came to realize that it is relatively rare to make a “large” impact in the world as a single individual. Instead, it is teams, organizations, and people collectively that make big things happen. I grew to appreciate this and to “know what I don’t know” a bit more as it relates to leadership and strategy. Thus, I saw the MBA as a great next step to complement my domain knowledge, and to prepare me to lead organizations. Secondly, choosing an MBA as a vehicle to prepare myself for business in China was the perfect choice (more on this later).
Q: Why China (at both macro and personal level)?
Globally, China is more relevant than ever. Having grown up in the west and already with an understanding of the culture and business here, to broaden my horizons I began looking east. China’s economic strength and cultural influence is obviously very high and still growing.
On a personal level, since first traveling to China four years ago, I have grown increasingly fond of the language and fascinated by the history. I recommend everyone, especially those from the west, learn Chinese; not just for practical reasons but for a different way of thinking and understanding ideas on the page. Chinese calligraphy is also very beautiful and another way to tell a story through writing.
Q: As a tech professional, how do you think about Chinese technology industry? Could you compare the tech industry in Chinese and in the U.S.?
There is an old comparison in the technology industry attributing innovation and imitation to U.S. and China respectively. To the extent this may have been true a decade or two ago, today, China’s technology industry has flourished well beyond that. You can look to many examples of “first in China”, such as in mobile payments, recommendation systems, online-to-offline platforms, and virtual reality. As for differences in the technology industries, I think in the U.S. there is sometimes more focus on process and design, sometimes to a fault, while in China there is more focus on moving quickly and solving problems practically i.e. more startup-like. Both methods have their strengths, and I feel I have an advantage as I continue to gain experience in both ways of working.
Q: What was the key factors that led you to determine on Guanghua instead of other schools, and why was it so important to you?
This was decision I did not want to take lightly, so I spent multiple months researching universities and MBA programs in China, visiting seven different schools across Beijing and Shanghai. At the start of my search, the key factors for me were (i) overall quality (ranking, faculty, etc.), (ii) design of the program curriculum, (iii) opportunity to learn the most about China, whether through courses or classmates, and (iv) student body diversity (industries, countries, etc.). In the end I narrowed my search to two schools in Beijing, and ultimately chose Guanghua for the above four reasons.
Q: What was the most challenging part of the admissions process?
This would probably be preparing to apply while still working full-time. I recommend giving yourself enough time to prepare well, whether that is for a higher test score or for a more impressive essay. Don’t procrastinate either. Carpe diem.
Q: Which course/event/activity impressed you the most in your MBA Studies?
Thus far I would say our Organizational Behavior course. Coming from a Math and Computer Science background, this course is the opposite of anything I would have studied in the past, yet was incredibly insightful and eye-opening. It has already changed how I think about teams and organizations.
Q: Do you think Guanghua will help with your career? If so, why?
This is an easy ‘Yes’. A strong grasp of management is valuable anywhere, a deep understanding of China is valuable globally, and the classmates and network is what opens the next door.
Q: What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why?
Motivated. My classmates all work hard to make the most of the opportunity and to support each other.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
This varies year to year, but lately I’ve been enjoying learning the history of mathematics, which is richer and more contentious than one might imagine. I also play strategy games like Chess or Civilization, and playing piano is also a great joy of mine.
Q: Why are you interested in learning Chinese?
I’m a native English speaker and bit of a linguaphile. I first deeply studied Latin and Spanish, and later dabbled in German and Russian. They are all highly inflected languages with phonetic writing systems, so I welcomed for a change the idea of studying Chinese. Once you get past the early learning curve, it actually becomes easier and you grow to appreciate on a deeper level the writing system – like none of the western languages. Also, with about one billion Mandarin speakers world-wide, it has its practical use.
Q: You mentioned that you like music writing. Which type of music do you write (classical, R&B, jazz, hip-pop, etc.)? Do you have any published songs?
I most enjoy writing jazzy tunes, and aspire to be a great improv player but still have a long way to go. Somewhere in a production archive are some songs I wrote for a children’s television show in China, but I don’t know if they were ever used for broadcast.
Q: Can you introduce your favorite movie to us?
Whiplash (2014; Damien Chazelle) is quite good, certainly in my top five. The philosophical questions the audience is presented with are relevant to us every day, and the acting, directing, and production are great.
Q: What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are?
Relatively early in my career I applied for Google but was turned down. Rather than accept this as a statement about myself, I took this as a challenge to overcome, that ultimately motivated me to return to school for my M.Sc. in Computer Science. That moment of rejection led to a new trajectory I couldn’t imagine.
Q: What’s the plan after graduation, and where do you see yourself in ten years?
After graduating, I’d like to remain in China, either leading a business expansion into China or finding a co-founder (from Guanghua) to start a new business here. In ten years, I’d like to be helping other entrepreneurs on their journey. I love seeing innovation.