Brad Li, CEO of ZTE USA
WCC advice for Olin alum leads to big things

As a successful Chinese expat based in Kansas City, Brad Li had already done great things. He was a general manager who opened one of the first US offices for the China-based company he worked for, telecom and networking giant ZTE Corporation. He’d recruited and built a team. With his wife, he’d even established a family.

Brad Li
Brad Li

So when a big opportunity came Li’s way, it wasn’t a surprise. The only question: Was it the right big opportunity? This is the story of how Brad Li, EMBA ’17, made the decision—and the help he got from Olin after graduating.

After making his mark with ZTE in the United States, Li decided to return to school in 2015 to get his executive MBA at WashU Olin when his US-born boys were about 6 and 3 years old. After receiving his degree in 2017, he was presented with an exciting opportunity with the company that would require relocating his family and taking on a different role.

“It would be a totally different career path,” Li recalled. “That would mean I would stop my business development here and build a different career path.”

As part of his decision process, Li decided to utilize the expertise and best practices of the Weston Career Center to carefully think through the impact on his future. He contacted Frans VanOudenAllen, director of executive career development with the Weston Career Center and Olin’s EMBA program, and together they walked through a process developed to help executives make decisions based on factors such as future growth, personal development, and family impacts.

“We put everything down on paper,” Li said. “There were many uncertainties. But I was well-prepared to think through my options and future impacts from different angles and perspectives.”

Ultimately, a few considerations weighed heavily: The impact on the network he’d built in the United States, the separation from the team he had developed in Kansas City, and the significant cultural and lifestyle change for his family—particularly for his young boys, who had lived in Kansas City their entire lives.

Beyond all of the data and factors, an important aspect of decision-making for executives is listening to one’s own intuition, and Li felt that perhaps now was not the right time to make a big change.

And so after discussing all of these factors with VanOudenAllen, Li decided to not pursue the new opportunity. As fate would have it, within a few months ZTE named him CEO of its North American operations, overseeing the United States and Canada. He’s since moved to ZTE USA’s Dallas headquarters.

He remains grateful for VanOudenAllen’s coaching. “With VanOudenAllen’s help, I was able to take a holistic approach and utilize the best practices designed by the Weston Career Center,” Li said. “Effective decision-making requires both a qualitative and quantitative approach, and I would recommend the services of Olin’s EMBA program to any executives.”

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