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Jonh Zhang

SFU Alumnus
Beedie School of Business › Marketing, Beedie School of Business › International Business

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General Motors headquarter in China
Without co-op I wouldn't be where I am today, that's the bottom line.
What is your current position?

I am the Manager of Business Development & Planning for General Motors in China, and as such manage the planning function for our department - mainly long term product and business portfolio planning. We often play the role of middleman between GM corporationand our local joint ventures; in China, where the automotive market is not mature enough todevelop its own product, joint ventures are a critical business model.

Our role is to make sure that we always have enough, and more importantly, the right GM productsto meet demand for the fast-growing Chinese market.We also handle industry intelligence and forecasting in addition to special projects when they surface. My functional role includes working with my partner to manage our portfolios, ensuring that every individual on our teamis working towards their potential, and offering support when it's needed.

Which SFU undergraduate courses would you say were the most applicable to the work you do today?

There were several courses which are applicable to the work I do today, specifically Business 447, Global Marketing Management, with Dr. June Francis; Business 446, Marketing Strategy, with Dr. Robert Krider; and Business 346, International Business, with Dr. Dave Thomas.

For example, I was always interested in marketing strategy, and Dr. Krider really allowed students to immerse themselves in their project. International marketing opened my eyes to how exciting and challenging the global business environment can be, given the levels of corporate interdependence that exist today.

How many co-op terms did you complete?

I did four. I completed my first three co-op terms with EventCorp Services, a services and events marketing firm. I conducted on-site event marketing research. This job really showed me the importance of having good technology. We used electronic stand-alone equipment, so people could walk up and complete surveys quickly and efficiently, which increased our response rates. I also shared in some of the responsibility in creating surveys, as well as composing summary reports for clients. Because the firm was small, with only four employees, I was able to share in a lot of different duties in of the business.

My fourth placement was with SFU Business Co-op. I managed an entire alumni survey operation, from creating the survey to producing reports, to compiling the information - all to keep track of alumni activity.

Which were some of your most memorable experiences, and why?

With EventCorp, the most memorable thing was working with such a small group, which allowed me lots of opportunities to work in every aspect of the business. I mostly worked with clients, developing and executing surveys. One thing that really helped me was that the managing director had excellent communication skills. Since we shared an office, I was able to gain a lot of experience just listening to him deal with clients, which has been extremely helpful in developing my own communication skills.

During my four months with SFU Business Co-op, I was given a lot of independence. Although the staff there was extremely supportive, they still encouraged me to learn how to find my own solutions to problems whenever I could. This gave me the opportunity to develop the entire project on my own, with minimal assistance.

Did you have any negative experiences while in co-op? If so, did you learn anything from them?

I wouldn't call it negative but one of the most beneficial things about co-op is that there are a lot of challenges. For instance, at EventCorp we only had four people at that time - one would be stationed at the office while the rest of us would be outside the office. We even had one a week where we were travelling all over North America to complete a series of reports. We worked non-stop for twenty-four hours at times. This really showed me what it takes to run a small business, not just the fatigue factor, but the high levels of intensity required to keep going. That's the sort of experience that probably can't be gained at a larger firm at this level.

Do you feel that participating in the program gave you a competitive advantage when entering the workforce?

Absolutely! For example, right after I graduated, I was offered a job with AC Nielson, partly because they valued co-op so much. They explained to me that there were lots of undergraduates with degrees, but the little things you gain from work experience sets co-students apart from the rest. When I got my job offer with GM, they also expressed appreciation for the experiences I gained through co-op. During the interview process, they asked me many questions about my experiences throughout my work-terms. If nothing else, it gave me a lot to talk about during the interview process!

Do you feel that Co-op played an important role in getting you were you are today?

Without co-op I wouldn't be where I am today, that's the bottom line. I think there are two main reasons for this: the global economy is not doing well and there are limited spaces available for job seekers; and secondly, there are so many students with degrees that there's always someone out there with better a GPA than you; or in my case, too many graduates with a higher GPA than me. Companies like General Motors, however, are often more concerned with the number of experience you have, than having a perfect GPA.

Would you recommend the Co-op program to students who are new to school or are unfamiliar with the program?

Yes, I think that co-op is the one big thing that really sets SFU Business apart from other universities. The success of the SFU Co-op Program was a large determining factor for me to choose SFU. I think everyone can benefit from this experience, and that everyone should want to participate in the program.

what advice, in general, would you like to share with SFU undergraduates?

First of all, enjoy university. Once you really get into the workforce you can never re-live your undergraduate experience. Make the most of your time, and always remember to study. One valuable opportunity is the various student organizations that are on campus. I was involved with the SMA for three years and took up various positions, such as president. This gave me the opportunity to establish myself as a leader in a variety of different situations and exposed me to many great experiences, and even better people.

Besides co-op, what other steps did you take to prepare for your career?

Being involved with the SMA (Student Marketing Association) was a big one - extracurricular activities are of high interest for employers. They want to see that you have many sides to your personality and that you lead a balanced life. I also got to meet a lot of people who were able to give me advice, mentorship and expand my network.

I did a lot of volunteer work as well. For example, one of the best events we had at the SMA was there for Children fundraiser. The SMA raised a few thousand dollars to donate to the Variety Club charity. We handled the entire event and got a lot of coverage in the newspaper, on television and on the radio, which gave us a lot of exposure in the community.

Are you a member of any professional associations or clubs?

I was a member of the AMA (American Marketing Association) for over two years while at SFU. I was also involved with AISEC, but not until my last term. It was a good learning experience; I wish I could have had more time there.

What advice do you have for undergraduates about how to succeed in such a competitive job market?

You have to be really confident about your own abilities. Take advantage of the co-op program, it will give you a lot to be confident about. Be active on campus, as much as you can, any club, anything outside of the classroom will add to your own portfolio. Take advantage of the information and resources provided by the campus clubs and organizations. And last but not least, study hard and enjoy those four years.

  • Jonh Zhang Mar 9, 2011
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About the Author

Jonh Zhang

SFU Alumnus
Beedie School of Business › Marketing, Beedie School of Business › International Business

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