How did the University of Kentucky MBA program help prepare you for success?
The UK MBA program gave me solid knowledge on economy, accounting, finance, marketing, supply chain management, etc., so I could look at the business via a different, more comprehensive, lens. I was a classically trained PhD chemist when starting my career at Valvoline before the turn of the millennium. I enrolled in the Gatton evening MBA program after six years on the job. The training I received from this program absolutely broadened my horizon and elevated my scope, so I could not only succeed on my job at the task level, but also achieve above and beyond at the strategic level.
What did you enjoy most about your time at Gatton?
The capstone project in Dr. Holbein’s class. We had to interview a CEO of a large company (not our own company). I managed to make an appointment with George Schaffer, then CEO of the Fifth Third Bank. What I learned from him in that one plus hour of interview benefited me until today. Also, I truly enjoyed the group projects we did with classmates with various background – some of whom I am keeping in touch with today.
Take us through a typical day in your life.
I am working out of our Shanghai office on my own (my family are staying in Lexington). Our office opens at 9 a.m., but I usually get there around 8 a.m. – after a 45 minute gym time in the early morning. In the uninterrupted 1 hour (8 to 9 a.m.), I usually close my office door and think through the major events of yesterday and important things to do today – this usually is the most productive 60 minutes for me. During the day, I have internal meetings – small or large group, meetings with customers or suppliers, tele- and/or video-conferences. I have a habit of forcing myself to stop by in the office of each of my functional leaders (sales, marketing, finance, legal, R&D, Supply Chain, and HR) – I am an “INTJ” so if I do not “force” myself, I would retract to my own world of thoughts as the most comfortable state. In the evening (or early morning) I usually catch up with my family via WeChat calls.
Thinking about your role as Senior Director and General Manager of Valvoline China, what have you learned about inspiring teams to be successful?
This is not a direct quote from Warren Buffet, but it is what I learned from reading things about him. I value my team members based on integrity, capability and work ethic. My team is comprised of bright, highly capable, and hard-working individuals, but I always place integrity as the most important characteristic. Also, “lead by example” can be inspiring. Lastly, I constantly remind our employees that there is not an “I” in the word “team”. As a result of good teamwork, we are doing surprisingly well this year despite all the challenges in the industry: trade tension, COVID-19, new plant startup, and other factors.
How do you manage a healthy work/life balance?
We have to remember that no matter how busy we are, the most important things in our lives are our family, our health, our passion and our faith. As I said earlier, I work mostly away from my family – “on the other side of the earth” away, and I try my best to spend time with the family whenever I can (hence racked up a tremendous amount of frequent flier miles). I try to exercise every day, and play competitive badminton whenever I can.
What is something people might not know about being in your line of work?
As a general manager, I am in charge of the P/L (profit and loss) of a significant business. People expect me to be an expert in everything. The truth is, I am not, and I don’t need to be. I need to know enough to be dangerous – that’s where my Gatton MBA training comes in handy, but I absolutely need to hire people better/smarter than me in their respective areas, and then trust and empower them.
What is your memorable travel adventure?
I have traveled to 25 countries – and have enjoyed every one. In November 2014, I stopped over in the Lima Airport (Peru) during a long business trip in South America. I met a group of elderly travelers from Sweden. The oldest gentleman was 99 years old, and he insisted climbing Machu Picchu by foot on his own! During that same trip I stopped by at Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina and Chile. I could never forget the burning, hot, eye-blinding sun right after lunch in Ecuador – which sits on the equator!
Which living person do you most admire?
Elon Musk. His nearly crazy pursuit of his passion truly inspires me. I strongly recommend the book “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.”