After studying mechanical engineering at Yale University, Carissa Sanchez (Class of 2020) worked for Alcoa for several years before starting her Darden MBA. She is currently in Denver interning with Boston Consulting Group over the summer, but, after her classes at Darden wrapped up in May, she went to China with a group of her classmates. Carissa shared both her key business and personal takeaways from the course:
I bid all my points on the Darden Worldwide Course to China because I wanted to evaluate whether I wanted to work abroad in China later in my career. After a week in Shanghai, my answer is a resounding “yes”. This conclusion stemmed from two realizations during the course: 1) the market in China is extremely nuanced and at a unique turning point in history and 2) as the daughter of a Chinese-American mother and an indigenous Mexican father, I am much closer to and familiar with the Chinese culture than I thought I was.
My first realization, that China’s market and growth are far more interesting than I previously thought, was informed through our company visits. Something that struck me, starting on our second day visiting Leap Motors (a local Chinese electric car manufacturing start up), was how small, local Chinese companies asserted that they were outperforming large multinational corporations (MNCs) in China. These startups claimed to be fast and nimble in a way that larger companies could not compete with. I initially took their claims at face value. However, with a small amount of skepticism, I kept my ears open throughout the week, and when we visited General Motor’s factories, their leaders painted the automotive market in a different light. Instead, they suggested that the multinational corporations were thriving because their products had stellar brand awareness, status, and quality in the top tiers of the Chinese market that local manufacturers could not come close to. This pro-MNC claim was further supported when we visited Thyssen Krupp and learned that this German company produced elite, quality elevators, capturing the highest-end, premium projects (like large skyscrapers, for instance). However, in less premium segments with less premium customer demands (such as for residential apartments or typical office buildings), Thyssen Krupp was unable to compete at all. They were eventually able to compete by acquiring acquire brands in the middle and lower segments, but they certainly did not capture a large portion of those markets. Since both local companies and multinational corporations claimed to have the advantage in China, I found myself confused and in search of an explanation.
Fortunately, towards the end of our course, Darden held an alumni panel for our class. A GM employee explained that MNC’s often dominate the high-end market, but that market is strictly within the Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’An, etc. She then explained that the future growth in China tied more closely to Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities, where local startups are thriving because top quality is not required. Products just need to be functional, affordable, and accessible in high volumes for the rapidly expanding Chinese middle class. The idea that the market segments, income disparity and demand for products of varied quality levels exist so strongly within one country was revolutionary to me.
My second realization, that I am closer to the Chinese culture than I thought and have a relative advantage to work in this part of the world, came about through conversations with my classmates during the DWC. While my maternal grandparents are from Guangdong province, my mother was also born in the U.S. and I never felt particularly close to my Chinese heritage growing up. When I taught English in Taiwan for several months and when I studied Mandarin throughout high school and college, I was always in the company of friends and family who had far closer ties and more exposure to East Asia than I did. I was always “only half Chinese” and could communicate the least effectively in the group. However, traveling with classmates who have no Chinese ancestry shifted my perspective. I was genuinely surprised (and admittedly confused for a few days) to find classmates asking me questions about the culture and me having an answer that actually contributed something novel to their knowledge base.
After a short week in Shanghai, I realized that the growth of Tier 3 and 4 cities in China render the country’s markets far more complex, interesting, and ripe for business opportunity and innovation than I previously thought. Along with that, I was surprised at how much I could understand and feel comfortable within the Chinese culture and how much I was able to use the language to direct taxis, order meals, and help classmates find their phones that they’d dropped on the Great Wall slide. These discoveries motivate me to continue learning about China’s business world and finding ways to contribute to it, ideally through a temporary stint abroad during my full-time career post-Darden!