Yvonne Li: "Work hard and work smart"
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Yvonne Li is MBA director at Ceibs in China, where she also studied for her executive MBA. Before joining Ceibs, she worked at Qufu Teachers University for 12 years and Lucent Technologies, the telecommunications equipment company, for 10 years, focusing on office operations, sales support, PR and product marketing.

Ms Li has a masters in applied linguistics from Shandong University. In her spare, she enjoys playing ping pong, swimming and shopping.

1. What is an average day at work like?

A large part of my day consists of visiting or meeting recruiters. I really enjoy this experience, getting to learn about their business strategy, talent development goals and staffing needs. I also spend a lot of time meeting and interviewing potential MBA candidates. With the growth and development of the school, there is a change in the profile of MBA candidates: they have more international exposure and are more internationally oriented.

2. What do you enjoy most about your job?

[My] current job gives me the opportunity to add value to our students by developing their career skills and helping them to realise their career dreams. It also gives me the chance to meet and collaborate with colleagues from the best business schools in the world, learn their best practices and further develop our programme here at Ceibs.

3. What academic achievement are you most proud of?

My EMBA. All the courses addressed the business issues I encountered while working for the company I was with at the time. The experience enriched my business and management knowledge and gave me the chance to know my classmates and alumni. The programme also gave me a great network where I can always seek advice and support, as well as benefit both spiritually and mentally.

4. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?

“Always be well prepared and ready to grasp the opportunity in front of you.” I still remember it clearly; advice given by the dean when I was a second year student at Qufu Teachers University. He said that there will be many golden opportunities ‘flying’ in front of you like meteors. But if you are not ready to immediately grab an opportunity, it flies away, it disappears. He advised us to study hard and be proactive, so that we are well prepared for any opportunities that arise. He passed away many years ago, but that advice is always at the back of my mind and still helps me today.

5. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

When working as a product marketing director of Lucent’s handset business, my responsibilities were so wide ranging that I was virtually the “owner” of the product. In trying to improve product quality, one decision that I made led to a halt in production which eventually impacted our sales and market share. This experience taught me that, as a business owner, one should think carefully and at a strategic level before making a decision. You have to balance the pros and cons and potential impact on the overall business and, at the same time, maintain effective communication with customers and internal partners while managing expectations from top executives.

6. What advice would you give to women in business?

Work hard and work smart. Always be willing to learn more, to do more, to take on new responsibilities. This will bring you even more opportunities to showcase your abilities and grow your career. But remember that family is an important part of your life, a safe harbour where you can always relax and refresh yourself emotionally.

7. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?

That does not make much difference to me. You do what you have to do: perform and achieve, that’s how you earn respect from your peers, whether they are male or female. However I do feel that women have the advantage of comparatively strong communication skills and other soft skills that their male colleagues may not have.

8. What is your earliest memory of school?

I still remember all the extra-curricular activities in which I participated when I was in primary school. I had a highly-coveted spot with the dancing team, presenting annually to parents and members of the local community. The experience left me with so many wonderful memories and really helped enhance my posture and poise.

I was also on the story telling team, visiting neighbourhood schools, telling the story of Confucius, the Chinese philosopher. I still remember clearly that one of my parts was to tell the story about the reforms of Shangyang, which happened during the Confucius era.

9. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?

I would still follow the same route of switching careers from academia to the business world. But maybe I would do my MBA at an earlier age and try something even more challenging, maybe jobs in a totally different industry, say finance or consulting.

10. What is your plan B?

I have already switched my career from being a university teacher to a businesswoman, two very different but exciting experiences. It’s interesting that I began in the field of education at Qufu and I have now returned to it at Ceibs, but from an entirely new perspective. I still have many other interests that I would consider exploring in the future: running a kindergarten, working for the luxury industry or running my own boutique consulting firm.

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