Monday, January 28, 2013

Insights from the Asia Career Trek

HNC's Career Counselor Robbie Shields reports back from the Asia Career Trek earlier this month:

"What a week!  From January 13-18, ten HNC students and ten SAIS students joined SAIS Director of Career Services Ron Lambert and I on the 6th annual Asia Trek.  On the trek, students visited various employers in Shanghai and Hong Kong, meeting with everyone from recent graduates to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.  While all the representatives offered unique experiences and backgrounds, one thing they all had in common was a commitment to helping students in their career development. 

The trek began in Shanghai with a visit to Wells Fargo to meet SAIS alumnus Han Lin.  Han is a Senior Vice President and the Deputy General Manager of Wells Fargo’s Shanghai Office and has been in Shanghai for nearly a decade.  His career experience is remarkably diverse, having served both the United States Marine Corps and the Peace Corps prior to joining Wells Fargo.  Among the career insights he shared with our students were balancing work and family and tackling leadership at a young age.  I was most impressed with Han’s ability to explain complex financial knowledge into simple terms, something that even the most gifted communicators can find challenging. 

Following our visit to Wells Fargo, we visited APCO’s Shanghai office and met their Chairman for APCO China, Ken Jarrett (HNC ’89).  APCO is a communications firm that specializes in public safety pr.  In addition to providing insights into the challenges of working in this industry in China, Mr. Jarrett discussed his extensive experience in the US Department of State.  As the former U.S. Consul General in Shanghai, Mr. Jarrett was well equipped to discuss the differences between government service and the private sector, highlighting the challenges and attributes of each.

Following Tuesday’s visits it was off to Hong Kong, where we had meetings with eleven employers in three days, as well as an alumni networking event to welcome SAIS Dean Vali Nasar to Hong Kong.  We began Wednesday morning by meeting many distinguished members of the Noble Group, including the CEO Yusuf Alireza.  Mr. Alireza provided us with an overview of Noble’s business and then offered advice that has proved valuable in his career.  Most significantly, he encouraged students not to shy away from a challenge.  When he first came to Noble from Goldman Sachs, Mr. Alireza admittedly didn’t have significant experience in commodities.  Nevertheless, he took it upon himself to put in the time necessary to learn the industry so he could leverage the skills and experiences he developed throughout his career for Noble.  I was particularly impressed when he stated confidently 'I welcome a steep learning curve.'

Our meeting with Morgan Stanley proved equally insightful, featuring a candid discussion with three members of the SAIS community: Kelly Morris (HNC '98), Andrew Fennell (SAIS ‘11), Will Godel (SAIS ‘12).  While there were many useful pieces of advice offered, the point that I hoped students focused on was identifying their career priority.  For Kelly, staying in Asia was more important than pursuing any specific job function.  As a result, he has had a variety of positions, stemming from selling paintings door-to-door in Australia to bartending in Yunan.  While some may look at these jobs on a resume and wonder how he became an Executive Director with Morgan Stanley, Kelly identified the skills learned in these positions that continue to serve him today and why he has proven successful in finance.  

While all employer visits offered students unique insights, I believe the most valuable event of the trek was the SAIS alumni reception at the Foreign Correspondents Club welcoming SAIS Dean Vali Nasr.  At this reception, roughly 75 member of the SAIS community came to meet the dean, catch-up with old friends, and meet other SAIS professionals working in Hong Kong.  This proved a brilliant opportunity for our current students to see first-hand how our graduates apply skills honed at the HNC to working in Hong Kong. 

Prior to departing Hong Kong, all twenty students joined Ron and I for a farewell dinner.  This gave students an opportunity to share what they had learned on the trek.  It was interesting to hear how each student had a different takeaway from the trek and found different employers to be of greatest interest.  One theme I heard from many was that they were less stressed about their career prospects after hearing how many different paths there were to success.  As a Career Counselor, this was something that I was delighted to see."