Tag: Executive MBA



Brad Li, CEO of ZTE USA

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.”


In the first week of October, Anne Petersen was in the passenger seat driving through upstate New York when she noticed her email was starting to blow up.

The Weston Career Center coach was on vacation with her husband when inquiries started to roll in from an email the career center had just sent to thousands of WashU Olin alumni. “You’ll always be able to partner with the Weston Career Center for lifetime career support,” the email said, inviting alumni to seek support whenever they needed it.

Seek they did. More than 50 Olin alumni reached out within the week that the email blast and video went out. Some were recent alumni, out only a year or two. Some had left as long ago as the 1960s.

“The emails started coming and the phone started ringing immediately. It was more than we anticipated,” Petersen said. “I don’t think alums were aware of our coaching services and the breadth of resources available. They also didn’t realize that we work with alums across the country via phone or Skype, as well as in person in St. Louis.”

Existing services—and new ones

The email campaign and related video were designed to remind Olin alumni of the career coaching resources available to them long after they walked away with their diploma. Coaching, career assessment, personal branding, resume and LinkedIn profile building, interview preparation, networking and negotiation—all services alumni can continue to get from the Weston Career Center.

That day in October, Petersen started responding to alumni seeking ideas about making a career pivot or changing geographies. She set up later appointments with some and worked with Jen Whitten, associate dean and director of the Weston Career Center, who fielded inquiries and connected alums with experienced coaches on the WCC team—including Frans Van Oudenallen, Mary Houlihan and Kathie McCloskey.

“They’ve run the gamut from young alums, undergrads, MBAs, specialized masters, senior citizens, mothers that were out of the workforce,” Petersen said. “It’s been a great process. We have had the opportunity to work with a lot of fascinating alums.”

Once Olin, Always Olin

A number of them have started by taking advantage of the WCC’s career leader assessment, a survey instrument that normally costs $75—but is available to alumni free of charge.

“It gives alums insight regarding their interests, motivations, skills, potential career directions and company culture matches,” Petersen said.Petersen said. The response to the email has been gratifying for the WCC team, who had sensed the services were not well-known enough or that alumni from outside St. Louis might be reticent to take advantage of them.

“They very much are commenting about the idea of ‘Once Olin, Always Olin’— the idea that it’s for me at any stage of your career,” Petersen said. “They felt like, ‘This does pertain to me—no matter where I am.'”

Looking for career help as an Olin alum? Contact Anne Petersen for career coaching resources (annepetersen@wustl.edu or 314-935-8951), or Jen Whitten (jwhitten@wustl.edu or 314-935-8970) to discuss WCC’s resources or any questions you might have. For remote coaching, the WCC is prepared to connect via Skype, phone or in person.




The 2018 Olin Business magazine shared a series of vignettes featuring alumni (and Dean Taylor) faced with a business decision requiring them to weigh data with their values. We featured these stories to support Olin’s strategic pillar focused on equipping leaders to confront challenge and create change, for good. This is one of those vignettes.

In 2007 and 2008, as world markets tumbled into history’s worst global financial crisis, Mark Taylor was managing the European arm of a $10 billion global hedge fund—and 95 percent of his clients were pension funds. The crisis demanded staff reductions in his team, and with returns down, remaining employees took massive hits to their incentive-based compensation.

“How do you motivate a staff when you’re in the middle of a financial crisis?” Taylor asked. Part of the answer: Leverage as much data as possible to analyze long- term fundamentals—recognizing that the crisis had rendered much conventional analysis unworkable. The goal: Stem losses and preserve as much wealth as possible.

But another part of the answer meant Taylor had to reinforce for his team the reasons they came to work every day.

“This was other people’s money. If we walked away, people’s pension funds could disappear,” he said. When he met with pension fund trustees, he asked them to invite some of the retirees themselves, placing them across the table from his own junior and senior staff members.

His team responded positively to the motivation. And in the darkest moment, Taylor said, his fund was down about 10 percent when world markets were down 40 percent. The fund rebounded sharply the next year.




Sara Hannah

The 2018 Olin Business magazine shared a series of vignettes featuring alumni faced with a business decision requiring them to weigh data with their values. We featured these stories to support Olin’s strategic pillar focused on equipping leaders to confront challenge and create change, for good. This is one of those vignettes.

Mike Budden was relentless. And Sara Hannah, BSBA ’01, recognized the potential impact. So that’s why the first global branch of the Barry-Wehmiller Leadership Institute is based in Cape Town, South Africa.

The South African leadership consultant had attended a BW workshop three years earlier, and was using some of its principles in his own work. Budden had stayed in touch with Hannah, trying to persuade her to open the institute—with its people- centric principles—in his hometown.

Hannah, managing partner of the Berry-Wehmiller Leadership Institute, initially wasn’t so sure. “It made absolutely no sense for us to do business in Cape Town,” she said. The currency exchange rate was unfavorable. It would be the institute’s first foray into an overseas market. Budden was already there.

Yet other data was compelling: “When we looked at the economic and government situation in South Africa, we saw that business is the way to touch the lives of people,” Hannah said. Not government or NGOs. Business.

The institute made a minimum two-year commitment in Cape Town. “We believe we measure success by the way we touch the lives of people,” Hannah said.




Valerie Toothman

The 2018 Olin Business magazine shared a series of vignettes featuring alumni faced with a business decision requiring them to weigh data with their values. We featured these stories to support Olin’s strategic pillar focused on equipping leaders to confront challenge and create change, for good. This is one of those vignettes.

A few years ago, a trend in convenience store sales alarmed Valerie Toothman and her team at Anheuser-Busch, where she was then vice president of innovation. A competitor was snatching market share from beer sales and other specialty malt beverages like AB’s Lime-A-Rita.

Phusion Projects gained the ground with Four Loko, a beverage line featuring flavors such as sour apple and fruit punch. The alarming part? The consumer target was entry-level drinkers—21 years old. The alcohol content was high— between 12 and 14 percent. And the containers were big—24 ounces.

“We have very clear principles that drive our company forward. The biggest one that has governed a lot of my role is that ‘the consumer is the boss,’” said Toothman, BSBME ’01, BSAS ’01, MBA ’08. “If we do what’s right for the consumer, we do what’s right for the business.”

The data shouted a message from consumers: “The growth is there. The volume is there,” said Toothman, now executive vice president, brand and beverage marketing, for DrinkWorks.

But alcohol content that high, in containers that large, didn’t jibe with other company principles and values—specifically AB’s commitment to delivering a better, healthier world, where every experience with beer is a positive one and supports a life well lived.

Therefore, AB tested two versions of “Natty Rush,” a new beverage with its own bold flavors, but better aligned with delivering against AB’s principles—one with 8 percent alcohol content and 25-ounce cans, the other with 12 percent alcohol, but at a third of the serving size, 8 ounces. The larger can prevailed— allowing AB to recover market share in a way that felt true to the example AB wants to set forth in the industry.

“We want to serve that customer’s needs,” Toothman said. “However, we’re 100 percent committed to doing it in a way we believe is responsible.”