Interviewed June 2008
Yan Guan (MBA 2009) is now over 7,000 miles (as the crow flies) from the village of Hong Qi Pu in the Liaoning Province of China where he grew up. That's a long way, but represents only a fraction of the miles he has traveled around the globe in pursuit of helping Chinese businesses to become competitive in a global context, while simultaneously doing good for people and the environment.
Yan chose UNC Kenan-Flagler as the best place to pursue an MBA for a few reasons. "First, I wanted to understand the numbers behind business and be able to make decisions based on analyzing numbers. In my previous jobs, I mostly made decisions based on experience. This kind of decision-making, though mainstream in many Chinese companies, is no longer considered competitive. Also, I needed a systematic study of different functions within a business such as marketing, finance, operations and strategy. An MBA will enable me to look at business problems from all perspectives." Yan also wanted to hone his communications skills in business school. "[Communication] is a crucial skill, considering business is increasingly done across borders and I need to have the ability to get messages across in the least dilutive manner to realize success."
With a background in engineering and experience in the technology field with ZTE Corporation, Yan's interest in sustainability was piqued as he traveled to different countries and observed different cultures. "I thought about how businesses could make a difference to people's lives when I saw kids begging in Afghanistan, young boys cleaning cars in Pakistan, children performing acrobatic acts at traffic lights to earn petty cash in India, and children in poor parts of China walking hours to school without wearing shoes." It was when he was charged with integrating Corporate Social Responsibility into ZTE's corporate strategy, that sustainability became a prime consideration for Yan in his future endeavors. "A CSR audit on one of my employer's suppliers by British Telecom ignited my deep interest in sustainable enterprise. During the audit, I saw thousands of young girls (some underage) working in harsh conditions. At that point, I told myself if I could run a company in the future I would never let this happen".
Yan's experience at UNC Kenan-Flagler has allowed him the opportunity to discover why it is important for executives to incorporate social and environmental impact management into business practices. "First, in today's world the only thing constant is change, and the boom-to-bust cycle is becoming shorter. So, executives should think about long-term development in order to stay in the game. Second, governments all over the world are becoming more aware of the consequences of not protecting the environment. Related regulations will have a negative impact on businesses that profit today at tomorrow's environmental and social costs. Third, as socially irresponsible and environment-damaging companies become liabilities for their business customers, executives have to tackle sustainable problems if they want to drive up revenues. Finally, environmental and social awareness of consumers and the broader public will play a role in their purchasing and employment decisions. As a result, executives have to understand social and environmental management if they are to keep their customers and retain their talented employees".
Professor Lisa Jones Christensen's Sustainable Enterprise class made a real difference to Yan's sustainability education. "l learned that sustainable practices can create shareholder value and the value can be quantified. And I learned that the concept of sustainable enterprise is composed of many different topics and covering different areas such as green building, micro-finance, SROI and alternative energies. Also, the way the course was organized added tremendous value to my learning; lectures, student presentations, interactive discussions, debates and speakers provided me with great insights from various sources and made the learning process more relevant, practical and really fun."
Yan's future plans include an internship in investment banking with Morgan Stanley in Hong Kong this summer. While this internship is not sustainability-focused, Yan will be utilizing the knowledge he has gained so far. "I firmly believe the [sustainability] training will be of importance to my job. First, it will help me better identify what companies are sustainable so that I can factor in the sustainable piece when valuing companies. Second, in advising businesses, I will be able to take advantage of my sustainable enterprise training to help business executives to better reform their practices in terms of creating value out of socially responsible behaviors." We look forward to hearing about Yan's future travels in the world of sustainability.
Sustainability Reading Recommendations:
"Pour Your Heart into It" by Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks. I was impressed by how he incorporated employee treatment as part of his business strategy. He describes in the book why he insists on giving every single employee ownership through stock options and why providing opportunities for employees to grow is beneficial to the firm.