Women in Business – ShaoLan Hsueh, MBA graduate

The entrepreneur is the founder of Chineasy, a way of reading and interpreting Chinese characters

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ShaoLan Hsueh is an MBA graduate of National Chenghi University in Taiwan and founder of Chineasy, a social project for reading and interpreting Chinese characters for westerners that she is offering for free on her website and via her Facebook page.

While at business school in the 90s, Ms Hsueh wrote four non-fiction books on software and co-founded an early internet company called pAsia. After graduating, she moved to London where she studied for an MPhil in international studies at the University of Cambridge and set up a venture capital investment firm.

In her spare time, Ms Hsueh enjoys skiing, rock climbing, weightlifting and yoga. She is also a member of the management and advisory board at Oxford university Saïd Business School. Her first Chineasy book published in March 2014.

1. What academic achievement are you most proud of?

Although I have a nice collection of degrees, I am most proud of being a lifetime learner. I always take on new subjects to learn, not only academically but also in different types of skills. It has to be a lifetime quest. The science subjects I studied 20 years ago at university are totally dated – even the technologies we used in e-commerce and mobile phones have leapt multiple times in the past 10 years.

2. Where is your favourite place to study?

My living room. I love my home and make my living room a comfortable space. I spend more time sitting on the carpet than in front of my writing desk. With legs crossed and a pile of books, A2 size drawing pad, a cup of green tea and a laptop by my side, I am in paradise.

3. Why did you choose to do an MBA?

I was lucky to get through severe competition to get into the MBA programme at National Chengchi University. I chose the MBA because I wanted to learn the theoretical framework of leadership, management, marketing, innovation and strategy as the validation of my experience running a large students’ club. A few months into my MBA study, I published my first book, which became a best-seller. I used the royalties to start my first company pAsia, one of the earliest internet companies in Asia.

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

I would probably do the MBA in a different country. I would have loved to have had a more international experience. Also, I would have loved to do a dual programme, such as MBA plus innovation, MBA plus technology or MBA plus engineering. I would have focused more on what I am truly interested in, such as creativity, technology, design, rather than trying to improve my weak subjects such as accounting. I passed the [accounting] exam and got an investment manager certificate [but] half way through my CFA exams, I realised it was a waste of time. I don’t love accounting or finance and I would never practise either as a profession. I should have just focused on my true passion.

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

Love yourself. My dear friend Myron Scholes, Nobel laureate and professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, told me these two words more than 50 times during the years I went through a rollercoaster ride in my life and now I am a true believer of this motto. One can only be truly peaceful and contented when you know who you are and what you are. Everything else, from career to life goals, can only be defined when you know [this].

6. What is the worst job you have ever had?

The only employment in my life was two months working for a large international bank in Taipei, between my bachelor degree and MBA. The bank was recruiting ‘young talent’ in Taipei city and I was selected from several hundred applicants. My entire family was so proud of me because it was an accredited bank and a stable job [but] I quit two months into the job, which brought them huge disappointment. They could not understand why I did not love the fat salary, stability and security. Since then, I have never been employed. I always [launch] my own ventures.

7. What advice would you give to women graduating this year from business school, including those entering a male-dominated environment?

Know who you are and follow your passion. Make a career and don’t just get a job. Good judgments come with experience. You could accelerate this learning curve by being strategic. Be a thinker, not a worrier. Win respect from doing an outstanding job. Be aware of politics but don’t be political. Stand firm on fundamental principles and values. Be flexible with trivial matters. Don’t be afraid of having your own personal style. Don’t try to behave like a man or a woman. You are a professional. A professional doesn’t have a gender.

8. What is your favourite business book?

I don’t have one. I read broadly and pick up the best ideas from each book. I prefer ideas, concepts and theories which are timeless and universal. The world is constantly changing. It is dynamic, complex and fast-moving. The only way to stay on top of the waves is to be observant, strategic and courageous. Dare to be different and dare to be original.

If I had to recommend one, I would say Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. For more than two thousand years, it remained the most important military treatise in Asia. One could easily apply all the tactics and principles to the business world.

9. How do you deal with pressure?

Weight training, steaming and copying the Heart Sutra, a Buddhist scripture used in meditation. I blend these three things into my daily routine. I lift heavy weights, which is the quickest way to get into meditating mode – when you have 100kg to lift, you have no choice other than staying focused. I always spend 10 minutes in the steam room post-work-out. I allow my mind to wander. These precious 10 minutes are the source of creativity and problem solving. Some of my best ideas are generated from steaming. It takes me 15 minutes to complete the entire Heart Sutra. I acquire clarity and peace by copying the poem. Before I go into a tough meeting or negotiation, instead of trying to plan out the strategy or tactics, I concentrate on copying the poem. It works like magic.

10. What are your top tips for networking?

Be yourself and don’t try too hard to impress. I use all popular social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and LinkedIn, and I go to a few events regularly, such as Ted, the Founders Forum and the World Economic Forum. They are great opportunities for me to stay in touch with like-minded people. I do make new business contacts via these conferences, but for me, these networks are more profound as being an inspiring and convenient environment to catch up with my old friends and business acquaintances.

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