Tuesday, January 30, 2018

HNC Alumni Profile: Sean Linkletter

Sean Linkletter is a senior analyst at JLL, an American commercial real estate firm, in Shanghai. He graduated with a Certificate from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center in 2015.
Let’s start by having you talk a bit about yourself. 
I spent my youth in Santa Cruz, California and then studied finance and Chinese at the University of South Carolina. I had always had a fascination with the Chinese language and culture, as I grew up in California near large Chinese communities. I decided to study Chinese to satisfy the language requirement in college and did a program at Tsinghua University in Beijing my junior year. After graduating, I wanted to work in finance and real estate in the US – ideally for a REIT (real estate investment trust) but my work experience and limited industry connections did not put me in a strong position after school. Additionally, Chinese investment in the US real estate market was quite limited at the time, so it would have been hard to utilize my language skills.

Instead, I decided to spend a year completing the certificate program at the HNC, which really suited my professional needs and gave me the opportunity to connect with the real estate industry in China. I had heard that Robbie Shields’ career services advising was one of HNC’s biggest assets – and it lived up to the hype! I met with Robbie Shields regularly and participated in the Asia Trek – where we met with senior people and former alumni at top international financial intuitions in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Through the connections I made during my time at the HNC, I was able to land a job at JLL in the summer of 2015.

Can you talk a little about your current role? How much would you say HNC prepared you for this role?
My role at JLL focuses on property market analysis in China. Essentially, I research commercial property trends and provide data forecasts to institutional investors and I have worked in both Tianjin and Shanghai. During my time in Tianjin, I helped draft the AmCham Annual White Paper for the North China Chapter, outlining recommendations for both the American and Chinese governments on how to improve business relations in the real estate sector. I also made legal suggestions to improve investment conditions, such as eliminating zoning restrictions and barriers to foreign investment and improving the consistency of taxation.

The HNC helped me cultivate a macro-economic perspective on China, such as how interest rate rises in the US affect the stability of the RMB or how China’s housing privatization of the late 1990s affects consumption today. It was also interesting that the time in which I took Professor Armstrong-Taylor’s Financial Crises course coincided with the 2015 bubble in Chinese stock market. We were all scratching our heads at the market’s huge run up at the time; a few months later, it collapsed.

What courses did you take at the HNC?
I took a number of economics courses like Comparative Economics, Financial Crises, and Corporate Finance. I also took Comparative Law and Money, Banking, and Financial Institutions. In Professor Kurien’s class, I wrote a paper on deposit insurance in China and gave a presentation on the outlook of China’s housing market. I also took a number of classes in Chinese, including Econometrics, Chinese Investment Law, and Energy and the Environment. The Chinese Econometrics course was particularly useful because I learned how to use R statistical modeling and regression analysis, which directly benefited my job at JLL.

Did you have a Chinese roommate?
Yeah, I did. He was from Lanzhou in Gansu. It was fun having him as my roommate. We had a lot of good discussions, everything from the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement to the Chinese concepts of 面子 and 中庸, to the social pressure of buying a house to court a significant other. We set ground rules about language, alternating days between English and Chinese, which proved valuable for learning colloquial phrases. Having a Chinese roommate was also mutually beneficial when it came to writing papers or preparing presentations in our second languages.

What would you say is your best memory from your time at the HNC?
My best memory was a trip we took over 春节. Three friends from the HNC and another student from 花苑 right next door and I took a month and a half adventure from Hanoi to Rajastan in India. I also look fondly over the memories in the lounge playing Settlers of Catan or Super Smash Bros.

From a more academic perspective, I really enjoyed our frequent debates, in which a professor and students would discuss hot-button issues like territorial claims in the South China Sea and the HK Umbrella Movement. It was refreshing to hear the Chinese and Western perspectives on each issue and to be able to share these open academic discussions.

What would you say was your biggest challenge while at the HNC?
I would say writing in Chinese was definitely a challenge. I didn’t write a thesis but writing some of the essays was really challenging. When I write it generally comes off as 口语. I would have to write 3-to-4 page essays in Chinese, which was difficult. Luckily, I had much support from the professors and my roommate.

What would you say is the best resource available to HNC students?
Everyone says career services, so I’ll say something else. The library was fantastic. There were a lot of books even for my own personal interests. All the software you could want is available. The professors are really invaluable, I still contact them on a regular basis and they are always available for questions related to their expertise or career advice. The new gym equipment was great too, and the lounge with all the games. There are just so many great resources at HNC, but the career counseling and and treks were the best part.

Would you say graduates of the HNC have a certain thing in common aside from their language?

Besides the language skills, HNC students are very articulate and academically inclined. HNC students are really good at looking at issues from a wide perspective, taking time to consider the cultural, political, and economic factors.

What piece of advice would you give current HNC students?
Use all the resources that HNC has to offer. Talk to as many of the faculty as you can. Go outside of the neighborhood鼓楼 bubble, and take a trip to the development zone. Go south to 河西新区 and 江宁. Get a feel for China, go out and explore, there’s a lot to gain from seeing what else is out there off of the 上海路 and 北京路intersection. Travel to other cities and meet people in your desired industry. It’s as simple as asking people for coffee and 30 minutes of their time. People are generally willing to help since everyone’s been in a university grad’s shoes at some point.

Written by Benjamin Miles, MAIS '19