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Learning the language: From China to Carolina

Susan Hedglin - MBA - UNC Kenan-Flagler Business SchoolSusan Hedglin (MBA ’17) first became intrigued by international relations in high school government classes. In college, she studied public policy, international affairs and Chinese. She fell in love with the language – so it came as no surprise when she accepted a job with the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), an advocacy and support organization for U.S. businesses, in Shanghai.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity to see what it was like to be an American company operating in China,” she says.

At AmCham, Hedglin worked with U.S. health care companies at the forefront of bringing medical developments and new drugs to market. But these companies weren’t just advancing health care – they were also redefining Chinese expectations for corporate behavior and changing the country’s business culture.

“Consumers were excited about what American companies were doing and started to demand those same things – sustainability, community engagement – from Chinese companies,” says Hedglin. “The American companies were the gold standard, and the Chinese companies were working to catch up.”

Seeing firsthand the impact companies can have on society struck a chord. “That was the first time in my life I really considered having a business career,” she says. But before she could transition careers, she needed to learn another language: business.

When Hedglin and her husband decided to return stateside and pursue graduate degrees, they headed for North Carolina.

“The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area was great for both of us,” she says. “I was able to have plenty of opportunities to work while he was in school.”

The opportunity she’d been searching for came out of left field – literally. While chatting at a Durham Bulls game, Hedglin mentioned she was looking for a job that would help her learn more about business. The person she was speaking with turned towards the downtown Durham skyline and pointed to the Self-Help Credit Union skyscraper. The organization had an opening for a lending associate – a perfect opportunity for Hedglin to put her experience in community engagement to work while learning the ins and outs of finance and what businesses need to grow.

After a few years at Self-Help, Hedglin felt it was time to sharpen her fluency in business and finance. As she explored business schools, she focused on one aspect in particular: faculty.

Hedglin’s professors played a huge role during her undergraduate experience at Ole Miss, where she went from knowing zero Chinese to being pretty much fluent in four years. “I realized how important teachers are to the experience,” she says. “I really wanted to make sure the business school professors were into teaching.”

Susan Hedglin - MBA - UNC Kenan-Flagler Business SchoolA friend – and double Tar Heel alum – from Shanghai suggested Hedglin look into UNC Kenan-Flagler. “I really liked the atmosphere and I really liked the teaching,” she says.

She was also drawn to the School’s emphasis on leadership development. “Academics are important to me, but they’re just part of the MBA experience,” says Hedglin. What sets UNC Kenan-Flagler apart, she says, are the numerous opportunities available to students that allow them to gain hands-on experience and build leadership skills.

Hedglin will have an opportunity for both – and much more – as president of the MBA Student Association (MBASA), the student-run organization that manages the MBA career, activity and social clubs. In addition to leading the cabinet of officers responsible for managing student-run activities, she’ll will work with club presidents on everything from budgeting and event planning to setting goals for the year. Hedglin sees the role as an opportunity to give back.

“I have received so much advice, help and support from second-year students,” she says. “I really wanted to pay it forward.”

Hedglin is also poised to make an impact on another important aspect of the School. As a Dean’s Fellow, she’s working on benchmarking best practices as part of a project aimed at better preparing MBA students to succeed in today’s global economy.

“More and more employers are saying they need students who not only have an understanding of global business practices, but also have the cross-cultural skills critical to navigate diverse and global teams,” she says. “The Global Business Center has asked us to look at peer business schools worldwide to identify best practices for developing these competencies.”

The project has helped Hedglin – who has more experience in Asia than most of her U.S.-born classmates – view her own international experience through a new lens. And she’s not done learning. Hedglin will return to Asia on a Global Immersion Elective, where she and her classmates will visit Taipei, Tokyo and Hong Kong to learn about companies operating “in China’s shadow” – either because they compete or partner with Chinese businesses or are trying to grow in the country itself. It’s an opportunity that fits well with Hedglin’s career aspirations.

“My goal has always been to move into corporate finance with a large company that is doing business in Asia,” she says. “I hope to work in finance with American companies that are looking to expand overseas and help them enter some of the Asian markets that aren’t always the easiest places to be.”

It helps if you already speak the language – and Hedglin does.

4.18.2016