For many students at Columbia University Business School, the campus means more than a classroom. It is the perfect stage to demonstrate their professional ambition and readiness.
On one typical Friday afternoon, the stage belonged to over 50 students who helped organize the China Business Conference 2015. Victor Xin is one of them.
Born in China and relocated to Canada at age 14, Xin is currently an MBA candidate at Columbia Business School. His other titles include president of the Greater China Society, host of the conference and a student organization dedicated to helping Chinese students better pursue their professional life. As he spoke on stage, Xin exhibited great confidence, eloquence and energy—all qualities the school aspires to equip its students with. But he is rather humble about himself, stressing the diversity of his team, and how great teamwork has lent the success of the conference.
“This is definitely a team effort,” said Xin. “Like a startup, there are no set job descriptions for anyone. Each of our team members has their own strength and we compliment each other in the process.”
The conference has attracted over 50 students across Columbia campus to help with marketing, operation and logistics. Preparation started as early as September 2014. Most of the students are MBA candidates at Columbia Business School, and have close connections to China—either they grew up in China or aspire to work in China in the future.
As co-president of the Greater China Society, Xin’s main job responsibilities at the conference include inviting panelists, seeking sponsorship, communicating and coordinating with the school about program objectives. Joining him are Katrina Wang, Gina Wu and Angelo Wang, who form the executive team of the conference.
“I think it is really the diverse personality and background that makes great teamwork,” said Xin of his co-workers.
Before embarking on his Columbia journey, Xin has worked three years and a half with two companies in Canada as a financial analyst. He received his bachelor’s degree in engineering science from the University of Toronto.
“In terms of how my past working experience helped me become who I am today, I think it’s really about the people who I met and worked with. We are all go-getters and we are extremely dedicated people,” Xin said. “I’m fortunate to have worked with so many educated and hardworking people.”
But dedication alone doesn’t guarantee the success of an event like the China Business Conference 2015, which attracted over 500 attendees including corporate executives, professionals, academics and advanced degree students at Columbia University. It is the complimentary skillset of the organizers that really paid off.
All of the four executive team members have prior working experience in different sections of the business. Katrina Wang, who came from a private banking background, had rich experience dealing with external client relations, and was therefore in charge of sponsorship. Gina Wu worked in marketing, and Angelo Wang has three years of experience with corporate consulting, which all give them a strength working at the conference.
“Every student at the MBA program at Columbia has three to four years of working experience before applying,” Wu said. “People have the impression that Columbia is a finance school. The truth is the school is trying very hard to diversify the background of the students. I came from a retail background and specialized in marketing. Not many students have that edge, and that gives me a special advantage.”
There were challenges, however.
Because team members all had working experience before and were leaders in their previous professional roles, they had developed very different working styles, and often had very different ideas when working together.
“That could be a big challenge when we work together,” Wu said. “And to conquer the challenge, we really have to just focus on our mutual goal.”
In addition to working closely with the executive team to map out the direction and oversea implementation of the conference, Wu was also responsible for recruiting student team members and volunteers.
The recruiting process, according to her, consisted of a written statement and a 15-minute-long one-on-one interview. One of the selection criteria was that applicants must be passionate about the conference and understand clearly the purpose of the conference, which is to elevate the understanding of China’s rapidly evolving business landscape, while bringing together business students to build a stronger network through working and attending the events.
“We read the applications very carefully, and we value their vision and skillset,” Wu said. “At the end, I think passion and the willingness to contribute is really the most factor thing we were looking for in each candidate.”
Wu said that she hoped opportunities like this would offer students a chance to know about their strengths, accumulate experience and learn from working with each other.
“Putting on events like this on campus really is no different than working on a similar project in the real business world,” she said. “The only difference, if any, would be resources. When working on campus, you have very limited budget and you have learn working under a tight budget.”
Wu encouraged students to participate as often as possible in those events. “Make sure you know your goal and then go with your passion,” she said.
Take the chance to also learn about yourself, said Xin, who offered two tips for aspiring student leaders: be yourself, and be entrepreneurial.
“Make sure you are comfortable with who you are in terms of your weaknesses and strengths,” he said. “I don’t think coming to schools overseas is about trying to become someone else. It’s about being comfortable with who you are and who you want to be in the future, and leverage your strength to achieve that.”
For international students who aspire to be more active on campus, he said it’s worth pointing out that, “In North America, it’s all about you knowing what you want and then go get it, and make a contribution to the community. You have to go out there, take risks and then do your best.”