The MBA alum bridging Japan and China through e-commerce
Choosing CEIBS – Why China?
A Japanese citizen, Mayu grew up in New York, undertaking a bachelor’s degree in Art History before diving into the world of fashion with ZARA Japan. After coming to grips with the intricacies of the Japanese fashion market (informed by her experience and knowledge of both European and US fashion market conditions), Mayu realised that she was eager to look more closely at what China had to offer.
“I had a good understanding of how retail in the fashion business works, and Japan is a very mature market. However, whether it be the manufacturing or consumer side, China has become a presence that Japanese companies cannot, and should not, ignore. So, I knew that without understanding the Chinese market, there was no way for me to understand the entire industry in Asia – what ties it together, where the next big opportunities are coming from, and so on. That’s why I chose to apply to CEIBS. I wanted to learn from a top business school, but I also wanted to experience the realities of the Chinese market for myself,” Mayu says.
Before taking up an MBA at CEIBS, Mayu spent several months at Shanghai’s Fudan University in order to get used to both written and spoken Mandarin. She says that her early days at CEIBS went by both quickly and pleasantly as she immersed herself in her studies while exploring the exciting fashion, retail and culinary offerings of Shanghai.
For Mayu, the real-life consumer habits of one of China’s most affluent and cosmopolitan cities represented an important source of knowledge that she was keen to tap into. The combination of absorbing Chinese-focused case studies offered at CEIBS and actually living in China gave her a much more well-rounded understanding of what is unique about the country’s market conditions, and where it fits into the wider Asian/global retail industry.
“There are so many things that you simply can’t fully grasp about China’s approach to retail unless you experience living here. I’d say this is true of practically any country, but it doubly applies to China. For example, in Japan the average person is much more concerned with their digital privacy, whereas in China, you have to grant access your personal information to some extent. Whatever your views on the wider ramifications of this issue, it’s undeniably impressive what Chinese companies can do in terms of digital marketing. For example, you could be on WeChat talking about going out to dinner, and then you immediately receive a coupon for that restaurant; that might be a little alarming if you’re new to China, but from a business standpoint, it’s quite impressive. I’d read cases about Chinese mobile marketing, but until you experience it for yourself, you could never realise quite how extensive the ecosphere is,” she says.
Looking inwards – Combining classroom learning with leadership challenges
In addition to exploring Shanghai and the wider Chinese retail market, Mayu also allowed time for plenty of self-exploration during her studies at CEIBS. Although her background had given her extensive knowledge about the global fashion industry, Mayu knew that she had relatively little understanding about the daily business realities faced by business owners and retailers of different sizes.
Through her courses on different marketing concepts, accounting, cost structure analysis and numerous other business fundamentals, Mayu quickly gained the ability to see fashion through the eyes of the retailer. This, combined with her branding knowledge, would later prove invaluable after graduation, once she had taken up her role with Shopee and dedicated herself to helping Japanese retailers sell their products overseas.
Alongside the theoretical, classroom-based learning, Mayu cites the leadership challenges undertaken by her class in the Gobi Desert as one of the most exciting, revealing and fulfilling experiences of her MBA.
“Being with your peers and being tested in a controlled life-or-death situation is pretty intense – it’s definitely an experience that sticks with you. In the classroom, it’s fairly easy to imagine what you would do in any hypothetical business scenario, but when the pressure is that high, it shows you what kind of leader, what kind of person, you really are. I think that the way CEIBS puts you through your paces in unique, practical situations like this makes the whole MBA experience that much more relevant and informative. You’re learning more about how you work, not just how business works,” she says.
Post-CEIBS – Joining Shopee in Japan
Mayu graduated from CEIBS in 2020 and, like millions of others around the world, she needed to rethink her immediate plans in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Returning to Japan, she joined Shopee’s Tokyo office.
Ironically, the pandemic has accelerated growth for many companies. And, while the global disruption of COVID-19 might have brought whole industries to a standstill, Mayu explains that it has also had a galvanising effect on Japanese businesses:
“It’s fair to say that plenty of Japanese businesspeople are very conservative in their outlook. There is an unfortunate tendency for them to rather see their company slowly sink than take the risk of venturing out into other markets. COVID was essential in creating an opportunity for convincing Japanese business leaders to take chances and try new approaches, because in many cases there was literally no way to carry on with business as normal. For me personally, it really honed my entrepreneurial spirit. Since we couldn’t rely on standard practices, we were always asking, ‘OK, what do we do instead?’ When you’re forced to do this, it often leads to you find better, more efficient ways of doing things. Fortunately, my studies at CEIBS prepared me well for this kind of scenario where we had to think on our feet,” she says.
In addition to overseeing Shopee’s cross-border accounts in Tokyo, Mayu remains an active member of the CEIBS alumni community. She is regularly called upon by the CEIBS admissions office to host coffee chats with prospective applicants, giving them an insider’s view of both the MBA programme and CEIBS life in general. This is something of a natural fit, given that Mayu served as a student ambassador during her MBA. Like her Shopee clients, these prospective CEIBS students get the benefit of Mayu’s experience, as she helps them understand what China really has to offer.
While taking an MBA in China is understandably beneficial for improving a person’s employment in the country, Mayu adds that it has just as much to offer those who plan on living and working elsewhere.
“One thing a lot of people ask me during the coffee chats is why I didn’t stay in China after my MBA. For many CEIBS students, the main goal after they graduate is to work in China. Of course, this is a valid goal and if it wasn’t for the pandemic, I think I would happily have stayed here at least a few more years. But I think that you can leverage the things you learn and experience through the CEIBS MBA wherever you go. That’s the point – your professors and your peers are always giving you lessons that should help expand your business mind-set, to help you think more broadly, more globally, about business,” she says.