Tag: Executive Education

Debbie Sterling graduated from Stanford in 2005, the year that Steve Jobs delivered his now famous commencement address, emphasizing the importance of following one’s passion. Jobs’ message combined with the encouragement of a high school teacher to study engineering, and a self described “itch” to change the world, sent Sterling on a mission to create toys to “get girls building.”

Sterling launched her award winning toy company GoldiBlox in 2013. She spoke at the Leadership Perspective Series: The Female Entrepreneur’s Guide to Raising Startup Capital, sponsored by Olin’s Executive MBA program and held at the Knight Center March 26. Sterling described her entrepreneurial journey and how she went about raising startup capital.

Sterling began raising funds first by saving up enough money to quit her job as a brand manager for a jewelry company. Next, she submitted an application for an elite capital accelerator program that rejected her idea. Then she tried friends and family, and finally Kickstarter, an online threshold pledge system for funding creative projects.

She said that in the beginning, she had absolutely no interest in asking family and friends for money. “But once I asked, I believed that GoldiBlox was a great investment, and anyone who got involved would be lucky to be a part of it.”

The accolades for Sterling and Sterling’s company have rolled in steadily since she got funded. For Sterling, Time’s “Person of the Moment” and Business Insider’s “30 Women Who Are Changing the World”.

Honors for GoldiBlox include:

  • Most Audacious Companies of 2014, Inc. Magazine
  • World’s Most Innovative Companies of 2014, Fast Company
  • Educational Toy of the Year 2014, Toy Industry Association
  • People’s Choice Toy of the Year 2014, Toy Industry Association

The session with Sterling also included a panel discussion on the topic of raising startup capital facilitated by Michelle Duguid, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at Olin, Maxine Clark, Founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop and Mary Jo Gorman, Lead Managing Partner of Prosper Capital.




I don’t know what I was expecting. We got so many warnings about not using the tap water in the hotel (even to brush your teeth), and had to get so many shots before going to China. I envisioned a third world experience. Perhaps a hut without any running water at all.

Complimentary breakfast includes Asian noodle and bun options.

Complimentary breakfast includes Asian noodle and bun options.

But I was surprised by how well we lived at the Shanghai Marriott City Centre for the EMBA International Residency. It was way better than home. Here are a few things I did that I would definitely do again:

1.  Brought effervescent vitamin tablets to stave off any infection, mostly from the long flight. I made a point to drop one in a bottle of water to drink every morning, which was another good way to stay hydrated. I did not get sick while I was there. The hotel provides plenty of complimentary bottled water.

2. Had a good camera phone.

3. Brought a variety of weights of clothes and layers. It was much colder there than we expected, and a few people froze their toes waiting on train platforms and the like.  We had rain, also. I had a water resistant coat I was grateful to have.

Watson's convenience store, adjacent to Shanghai Marriott City Center.

Watson’s convenience store, adjacent to Shanghai Marriott City Center.

4. Found a Watson’s in the mall attached to the hotel for forgotten toiletry items and Chinese candy to bring home for the kids.

5. Kept myself caffeinated. You can get Starbuck’s around the corner from the hotel, but there is also a coffee shop in the hotel. Both are pricey, so it depends on your coffee needs. The hotel coffee shop Tall latte was 35 RMB ( $5.64 today), though–slightly more expensive than the Starbucks (31 RMB for a Grande, $5.00 today).  The coffee served at the daily complimentary breakfast (which was amazing in its variety), was too weak for my taste. There is also a cappuccino maker at guests’ disposal in the breakfast area, but I never had the patience to try it.

Starbucks, at right, is around the corner from the hotel.

Starbucks, at right, is around the corner from the hotel.

6. Found inexpensive, delicious food in walking distance of the hotel:

Yang’s Fry Dumplings, essentially Chinese fast food, was very popular with our class. Very inexpensive and delicious. It’s an easy walk from the hotel. Check the Google map linked above, but do that before you go! The concierge can help as well.

Simply Thai was also really good. Dinner with a drink cost less than a single cocktail in the hotel bar, and another easy walk from the hotel.

7. Invested in a pocket guide to Shanghai. I got Frommer’s Pocket Shanghai Day by Day because I was interested in walking tours (I got it used because it’s out of print), but any pocket guide with an inserted map should work. I know this is pretty old school, but it came in handy when we all needed to look at a map as a group, or when I didn’t have internet access (which was often). It also helped me plan the outings I did take on my own, and help me get oriented in the city.

Shanghai Marriott 6th floor fitness center has numerous cardiovascular machines, weights, and fitness balls.

Shanghai Marriott 6th floor fitness center has numerous cardiovascular machines, weights, and fitness balls.

8. Worked out almost daily. If you like to work out, it helps with the jet lag to keep up the routine and the fitness center in the hotel is fantastic. There is also a pool–bring a suit if you like to swim. Good for jet lag as well.

I have a few “don’t”s as well:

1. Don’t run out of effervescent vitamins a day before it’s time to go home.  And don’t leave the disinfectant wipes at home. I got sick as soon as I got home.

2. Don’t forget to learn about your new camera phone and how much capacity it has for video and photos before you go. I filled up my cloud storage by about day 6 and wasn’t sure how to remedy that.

Lindsay Wagner, EMBA 43, getting RMB from the cash machine outside the hotel lobby.

Lindsay Wagner, EMBA 43, getting RMB from the cash machine outside the hotel lobby.

3. Don’t exchange money in the US airport before you board your flight to China. I got a really bad exchange rate, and there’s an easy to use cash machine that accepts US debit cards in the hotel lobby.

4. Don’t wait until the last day to explore the city in your free time. I wanted to take various walking tours, visit a museum or two, and see a few other things and time ran out. On my last day I noticed the former site of the Shanghai Race Club in People’s Park. Would have loved to go inside, but it was time to go. I think a bus tour would have been fun, too.

5. Don’t skip ordering something custom made at the fabric market. Make a plan in advance. It doesn’t have to be a suit. People in our class got dresses and camelhair coats. I was overwhelmed by the choices and self-consciousness and didn’t choose anything. I left knowing what I should have ordered.

Former Shanghai Race Club People's Park.

Former Shanghai Race Club People’s Park.

6. Don’t skimp on shopping. Think about who you would like to buy gifts for in advance. The shopping is amazing in Shanghai, and you can get many things inexpensively. I would go back for one or two items that I forgot to get, or didn’t know to get. And I’d buy a dozen silk scarves…for anyone I need a gift for in the next 5 years. I did not do this…

7. Don’t stay in all the time. Try to eat and drink outside the hotel (my two outings above were way too few, but both were great, so that’s heartening).  Most people in my class went out all the time, and I stayed in.  You should have plenty of opportunities to go with others. It was tempting for me to stay in, since the hotel was a known quantity and I tend not to be adventurous with dining, but it was much more expensive than other very nice restaurants in the area.

Bus tour map of Shanghai. Tour start on Nanjing Road near Peoples Park.

Bus tour map of Shanghai. Tour start on Nanjing Road near Peoples Park.

8. Don’t expect to use Google and Facebook. Warn everyone who might want to communicate with you while you are in China that you won’t have access to them (including gmail).

Some people in my class had access to these tools, but I didn’t. I had people trying to reach me via these tools and they couldn’t.


One of the things that surprised me in China was witnessing the “Family Planning Policy”–known in the West as the “one-child policy“– first hand.

When the Chinese government instituted the policy in 1980 as a way to get in front of population growth and other problems, couples were discouraged from having more than one child, punishable by a tax so significant that no one could afford it. Different provinces implemented the policy differently: for example, urban areas adhered more strictly to the policy than rural areas. The government began loosening the requirements in the 2000s, and in November 2013 relaxed the policy to the point that if both members of a couple are from one-child families, they can have two children without paying the tax.

What surprised me was how often the topic of the policy came up in our discussions of business in China; how during my short stay in Shanghai I never saw a Chinese family with more than one child; and how it changed my perspective on my own family and on the social liberty I take for granted in the U.S.

Binghou Han, Recruiting Officer, Washington University-Fudan University EMBA Program, far right. From left to right, Garrett Ray, Julie Thiessen, Jim Young, and Tanya Yatzeck, all EMBA 43. Photo by Kathryn Graham.

Binghou Han, Recruiting Officer, Washington University-Fudan University EMBA Program, far right. From left to right, Garrett Ray, Julie Thiessen, Jim Young, and Tanya Yatzeck, all EMBA 43. Photo by Kathryn Graham.

At our dinner with Washington University-Fudan University EMBA students on the opening night of our International Residency in Shanghai, I sat next to Binhou Han, Recruiting Officer for the Washington University-Fudan University EMBA program.

She told me that she has a young daughter, aged 22 months.  The toddler had been living with Binhou Han’s parents outside of Shanghai, but would be moving back to join Binhou Han and her husband that week. Next I asked, “Do you have any siblings?” I immediately felt like an idiot  as she shook her head and said, “No, one-child policy.” This response stayed with me the whole time I was in China, as I could pretty much count on any person I talked to to give this same answer.

The next day, during our briefing with representatives of the U.S. Department of Trade, Seth Patch, Foreign Service Officer, and graduate of Fudan University, made the point that the one-child policy has played a significant role in the booming business of Chinese studying in the United States.

Patch said, “At first the Chinese studying abroad were the elite. Then graduate students. Now it’s almost even with undergraduate and graduate students, and there are some high school students. At some point, when you have 275,000 Chinese students studying in the United States, as we do now, they aren’t all going to get management level jobs back in China. These aren’t Chinese millionaires, they are Chinese middle class. There is one kid, two parents, and their two parents–a total of six adults doting on the child. They will do anything to provide a prosperous fortune for that child. The student knows they are responsible for those adults and has to be able to take care of them.”

Chester Yang, left, Kenneth Chen Middle, and Cindy Su right discussing Bunge's approach in China.

Chester Yang, left, Kenneth Chen Middle, and Cindy Su right discussing Bunge’s approach in China.

Chester Yang, Bunge China CEO, opened his remarks to our class during our Fudan University session with the topic of the one-child policy. For Bunge, the issues of food security and safety relative to population are significant factors in their mission. “There have been 6,000 famines in China in the last 2,000 years,” said Yang. Without population growth, the demand for food doesn’t grow, but neither can one offspring per family  feed all six of their aging parents and grandparents. Yang explained that the loosening of the policy in 2013 had led to moderate population growth to counter the aging trend.

Shanghai family on Nanjing Road.

Shanghai family on Nanjing Road.

As I observed the adorable and well-dressed children of Shanghai Chinese, I was haunted by their absent siblings. As one-of-two daughters in my immediate family, with two half siblings, and with two of my own children and three step-kids, I can barely fathom what it must be like to grow up in a world of children without siblings. There are no large, extended families. There is no one to show you the ropes when you head off to junior high–as my older sister did for me–or to the US for that matter. Which is why I found the cluster of girls in the main photo of this post so poignant. These three college students, undoubtedly all only children, are finding sisterhood at school as they prepare for the daunting task of supporting their aging parents and grandparents. Maybe their children will have an easier time of it.


I come from large, Eastern European stock. I am tall–even for US standards–and big boned, with curves. As a woman of a certain age I now accept that even if my body is not consistent with current standards of youthful beauty, it is still beautiful–with the exception of occasional psychological crises. One can always be more fit.

I was worried that going to China would set-off such a crisis. We learned in our Corporate Strategy class that the British department store Marks & Spencer’s initially floundered when it entered the Chinese market because it neglected to cater to the narrower, shorter Chinese frame.  I expected to tower over the Chinese, as if I were on stilts, and not to find any clothes that would fit me.

"Fat Girl" stall at the South Bund Fabric Market, Shangai.

“Fat Girl” stall at the South Bund Fabric Market, Shangai.

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, on our first day in Shanghai, EMBA 43 visited the South Bund Soft Spinning Materials Market. We had heard from previous EMBA classes and faculty that we might want to have a suit or other clothing custom-made for us at this market since it would be inexpensive and fun to pick out the exact materials we wanted. Plus, it would fit perfectly.

Although many of my classmates took full advantage of this unusual and colorful opportunity, I didn’t. On the first floor of the three story warehouse of fabric sellers and tailors I spied the “Fat Girl” stall, which didn’t help.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted, for one thing. Thinking logically, it would have been a great opportunity to get something that fit really well. I believe I was afraid of someone calling me big, which I am. But seeing how eagerly the sellers worked those stalls, I have no doubt they would have been glad to make me a nice, large garment.

Walking around in Shanghai as the International Residency continued, however, I realized that I stand out no more for my size there than I do in the United States. In the downtown area where our hotel was located, there were plenty of other Americans and Europeans–large and small. Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I know exactly what I should have had made. A lovely, silk, Mao-style jacket. Now I know what I’ll do next time I go to the fabric market.


EMBA 43’s field studies and presentations were arguably the “meat” of the International Residency in Shanghai. On Thursday (Day 6 of our trip), we set out on a variety of missions to study Financial, Healthcare, and Consumer perspectives on business in China. We reported our findings at Fudan University on Friday and back at the hotel on Saturday morning before the end of the residency at noon.

Shanghai Stock Exchange. Photo by Garrett Ray

Shanghai Stock Exchange. Photo by Garrett Ray

10 members of EMBA 43 did a Financial Services field study. This included visiting the Shanghai Stock Exchange (SSE), a mutual fund management company, and a life insurance company.

Jason Corman, an executive at Bunge North America, reported that the Shanghai Stock Exchange was quiet. “There was no hustle and bustle. There was a ceremonial room, where they do press conferences, but the exchange is completely electronic.” The SSE is one of two major exchanges in China, the other being the Shenjen.

ABC-CA Management. Photo by Garrett Ray.

ABC-CA Management. Photo by Garrett Ray.

When discussing the experience of visiting ABC-CA, a mutual fund joint venture between the Agricultural Bank of China and the French investment firm, Credit Agricole, Lindsay Wagner, Vice President at Bessemer Trust, said, “It’s not real investing as I see it in my day-to-day work. It’s more like going to Vegas.”

The process of investing in a mutual fund in China tends to be short-term, without being based on any long-term investment plan. Sai Tumuluru, Technical Consultant at Edward Jones, said, “Trust in the markets is not there.” Nick Lane, Vice President for Commercial Banking at CoBiz Financial added, “People trust Alibaba (the wildly successful Chinese e-commerce company) more than they trust individual financial professionals in China.”

The group also visited ManuLife-Sinochem Life Insurance Company (John Hancock), and met with Guy Mills, President & CEO, and also an alum of EMBA Shanghai Class-11.