Student Stories

08.08.2018

IBM CFO Shanna: Don’t choose Comfort over Adventure during Your Best Years

Class of 2009 (Taiwan)
Pre-MBA: Internal Auditor, IBM (United States)

Living on a Plane

After graduating in 2004, Shanna joined IBM US as an internal auditor. Even though she was based in New York, she was constantly on the road traveling around the world. As time went by, she started asking herself “why and what”. Why this job? What is my next step?

“The IBM halo was great, and auditing brought me to so many places, life with the company started out very exciting and colorful,” said Shanna. “But as time went by, it started becoming a bit stifling, work itself was more of a routine and no longer very challenging.” It so happened that during that time, two of her seniors at IBM were studying at HKUST, and after thinking it through, Shanna felt that even though she had a very busy schedule, perhaps she could try a part-time MBA program.

“I had no idea that the toughest part was after being accepted and enrolling into the program! I had just been transferred to Beijing, so I was flying to Hong Kong every Friday evening for classes over the weekend, and back to Beijing on Sunday,” shared Shanna. “Work was so busy that I graduated six months later than my class, but I’m so grateful that I persisted and pushed through. Looking back now, it was all worth it!”

IBM auditor, HKUST student and frequent flier – without persistence and resilience, it would have been so difficult to juggle all three roles. Luckily, Shanna’s boss at IBM was very supportive towards her, allowing her to leave work earlier on Fridays so should could catch her flight to Hong Kong. Shanna smiled, “Even though I had special approval to leave work earlier, I was still always 14 hours behind my classmates. I was constantly working on assignments on the plane. It was an extremely busy two years, but I was so happy. In fact, I think those were some of my best and happiest years!”

Great People with Great Advice

At HKUST, Shanna met classmates from all types of industries and background. For someone who only had auditing knowledge from the IT sector, it was definitely her biggest takeaway. In her intake, she had more than 120 classmates and Shanna happened to be the second youngest in class. Even though she was perhaps not as experienced as some other classmates, but because of her age they were very willing to share with her their experiences. Shanna learned a lot during class discussions, brainstorming sessions, learning from each and every classmate while also establishing her network, who went on to support her even after graduating.

When Shanna first graduated from HKUST, she hit a bottleneck at work and felt that her job had become very mundane and repetitive. After a few months of persistence, she was determined to resign from her job. It was then that the wife of one of her classmates gave her a great piece of advice. “She encouraged me to stay. She told me that if I wanted to leave I shouldn’t be leaving at the lowest point of my career, because down the road I would start having doubts about my own ability.” Shanna gave it some thought and decided that it made perfect sense. Pushing through for another few months, she then realized even the most mundane of tasks were helping her accumulate work experience.

“I feel very fortunate to have had this chance of returning to Taiwan to take up the role of CFO. I know a lot of people have wanted the opportunity to return to Taiwan but only managed to move to mainland China or Hong Kong,” shared Shanna. It’s obvious that Shanna has a deep sense of love and loyalty towards Taiwan. When she migrated to the US with her family at the age of seven, she made a silent promise to herself that one day she would return to her home town.

It was because of this promise she made to herself that she tried looking tirelessly for opportunities to return to Asia for work. She realized, “Almost everything I knew growing up was in the US, in order to return to Asia, I needed to network.” This explains why Shanna chose HKUST MBA instead of a business school in the US. HKUST’s proximity to Taiwan and mainland China could help her get up to speed about the Asia market, the needs of this region, while establishing her network and laying the grounds to work here.

“Oh Taiwanese! You’ve been too comfortable”

Having spent almost seven years in mainland China, Shanna shared about her understanding of this vast nation, “People here are very hardworking, they can take on immense pressure and do not take things for granted. The younger generation in Taiwan have had it very well, but because of this they also haven’t experienced as much adversity, which to a certain extent has made them complacent.”

Since returning to Taiwan, Shanna has been invited to different universities for multiple speaking opportunities, using this opportunity to encourage young people to experience mainland China, look at the world from their eyes, and see how hard they are fighting for a place in this world. Shanna has even encouraged her own staff to rotate to other IBM offices, hoping that it brings them new stimulation for development. In IBM Beijing, there would be frequent visits from overseas clients, abundant cross-cultural interaction, everyone is always speaking English in the office thus their language skills were able to improve easily. The rapid speed of corporate development in China is a contrast to Taiwan, putting the latter in a disadvantaged position.

“I think it’s important that young people join the workforce after their first degree. Spend some time working and practicing what they’ve learned before deciding if they want to return to school. Work allows you to find out what your gaps are, and if an MBA is indeed what you need, then it can help to elevate you to even higher heights.”

Nothing Beats Actual Work Experience

Each year when interviewing summer interns, Shanna will always filter out all resumes with master’s accreditation, and encourage undergraduates to apply. Taiwan companies have always preferred hiring master’s graduates, which is why it has pushed a lot of people to get a second degree. “Not only do students need to change their perspective, I hope that one day companies in Taiwan will no longer view degrees as the key to making hiring decisions,” said Shanna. “I truly love Taiwan, this is my home, and that’s why I hope to see more and more young people in Taiwan who have the courage to make the world their stage!”