Sharing by Past Participants

Could you briefly describe your profile and career?
Mark Lee

I am currently working as a head of growth at a startup called SendBird, with HQ in Silicon Valley. SendBird offers a B2B chatting module for desktop and mobile applications. Before that I was a management consultant at McKinsey.

To what extent did the case competition shape your future skills?
Mark Lee

I met many talented students from various countries, which significantly broadened my perspective. Initially, I treated South East Asia as one identical regional block, but the competition allowed me to meet with, experience, and learn about the variations of perspectives and approaches particular to students from different countries. For instance, the students from the National University of Singapore approached a case problem from the marketing perspective, and the students from Mainland China tried to solve the same problem using an organizational approach. It was very interesting to see how they translated the problem and how they articulated the resolution depending on what country they came from.

Another takeaway for me was learning how to solve the problem within a limited time, which was especially useful when I started to work at McKinsey when we were working on very tight time lines. At the competition, problem translating, resolution, and presentation preparation was like a mini demo of what I would later experience at McKinsey.

How did the global context of the competition resonate in your life?
Mark Lee

After graduation from college, I joined McKinsey, where I traveled a lot for projects. Now at SendBird, I communicate with 9,000 global customers across 150 countries, frequently traveling and giving office and on-stage presentations. Not only do I need to understand cultures, but I have to be able to understand the problems of the given business context in a given country. I believe that the competition was a beginning for how I started to develop the skill to look at reality from different perspectives, which helped me a lot in my career.

Do you still keep in touch with your team members or other people that you met at the competition?
Mark Lee

Yes, one of our core team members, Heewon is working as a Private Equity Investor at Blackstone in Hong Kong, and others work for international companies such as Johnson & Johnson and P&G. The competition gave us a foundation to be able to work in the international companies.

If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice with regard to life after university, what would it be?
Mark Lee

Have a lot of fun, even if you are in a fierce or challenging situation in a business or nonbusiness environment. Try to keep a positive vibe and attitude. Every time you are trying to improve yourself to move to the next level, you will face a lot of challenges and internal arguments, but a lot of opportunities come to people who stay positive. I can see it looking at myself and at some of my colleagues in both junior and senior positions. Those who stay positive and professional get more recognition from the company and their management.

Do you have any tips for how to stay positive even when you don’t really feel that way?
Mark Lee

A lot of difficulties and challenges come from the relationships between people. People often hold negative attitudes towards one another, and these are often based on misperception or misunderstandings. Believing in good intentions and higher goals is one of the ways to stay positive, as it changes your attitude towards other people.

Thinking back on the competition, how would you describe it to future participants?
Mark Lee

I would have two pieces of advice:

A high level one:
Make a lot of friends and try to enjoy Hong Kong, as it is one of the most advanced business districts. The probability of being the first team is much lower than the probability of making good use of your time, and more importantly, the probability of making good friends is much higher than winning. I still stay in touch with people who were not on my team, and we share thoughts and experiences.

The practical suggestion:
Focus on the solution, not the problem and its identification. Many students spent too much time on understanding the problem, but sometimes the top-down approach can lead to better results because people want to understand what the solutions are and what the rationale is behind your suggestions. This top-down approach, or as we call it “answer first,” is very difficult for students, as it is a skill one acquires in professional life.

You have worked in the corporate and startup environments. Which one do you feel more comfortable with?
Mark Lee

I love my experience at a startup because of the amount of ownership I have and clear distinction between my effort and result and my ability to deliver something in the global environment. However, without the experience I had gained at McKinsey, I would not have got into the startup world and I couldn’t make it to any successful startup trajectory. We need to remember that a startup is an early stage of a corporation. Without the experience gained at McKinsey, I would not know where I am heading now.

Many students face the dilemma: startup or corporate world? What is your take on that?
Mark Lee

If you have a fire in your belly and really good friends and mentors who can help you realize your dream, then chase your dream. However, if you don’t have what it requires, then go with a corporate or professional career first. Successful business is often not about an idea or business plan. It is about the realization and implementation. In order to implement your idea, you need to understand people’s behavior, as you will deal with business partners, employees, and suppliers, and you also need to understand implementation steps that involve business strategy, marketing, finances, etc. Students often jump into a startup context and get deceived by their business partners or get tackled by legal issues. A professional career prepares you for the startup. Although you will not learn everything, you will develop an understanding of how people, companies, and corporations behave and work. At McKinsey, it was understanding people’s behavior and agenda that helped me solve problems more than understanding the business issues. People and business are very complex. When you go into a corporate world and someone promises you something and right after stabs you in your back, don’t blame them but rather try to understand the business context of it and take action based on that context.

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