Donald Mi has a career that is characterised by transition. He graduated university in China with a degree in computer science and immediately put his technical know-how to excellent use working for IBM.
In due course, however, he felt that his skills and interpersonal competencies would be better suited to management roles. After nine years with IBM and a stint in Silicon Valley, he moved to London in 2014 – a decision that dovetailed with the realisation that he needed “something more”.
“I had reached a point in my career where I needed to look forward to the next 20 years and do some real thinking about how I was going to navigate a rapidly changing world, and make the next transition in my professional life.”
Mi was keen to break into senior leadership. To do so, he knew he needed to develop a raft of leadership skills that would help him to manage a broader range of stakeholder relationships, while arming him with the tools and the mind set to adapt to change.
“The Sloan programme at London Business School (LBS),” he says, “simply fitted the bill in every way. From the seniority and diversity of the participants, the scope of the curriculum, the calibre of guest speakers and expert faculty right through to the School’s reputation for excellence in strategy, I knew this was the programme I needed to help me prepare for new responsibilities in my career.”
Considered a perfect fit for the programme, Mi was awarded the Philip Langsdale Scholarship to complete his studies. At LBS, he found the diversity of backgrounds he was looking for in his cohort – a group of international leaders from more than 25 different countries.
“One very memorable part of the programme for me was looking at the dynamics of transfer pricing across different countries,” he says. “I found the input from different classmates so enriching – how the perspectives of my counterpart from Singapore weren’t the same as those of another colleague from Brazil. Then there were layers of interesting insights from classmates who’d come from private equity backgrounds. The sheer diversity of the group meant that the learning experience went way beyond the book.”
Mi was also part of an organising group that took Sloan students on a study trip to China to visit major Chinese multinationals such as JD.com, Tencent, Huawei and Ali Baba.
“It was great to be able to have this kind of input into my fellow students’ learning experience. Our group leveraged ties to organise meetings with Chinese business leaders and part of that meant gaining privileged insight into the artificial intelligence journey that Ali Baba is currently going through.”
First-hand access to distinguished decision-makers was also a defining quality of Professor Jessica Spungin’s strategy classes. Leaders from companies as diverse as BP and Google came to present and share their insight with the class. Mi says the experience had a “profound impact” on his understanding of strategic analysis.
The Sloan programme has had a transformative impact on Mi’s life, both personally and professionally. “I might have continued to evolve and grow, but it would not have been so fast. And in this fast-changing world, that gives you a huge competitive advantage. The programme has taught me many things, among them a certain resilience in the face of challenges, and an appetite to try new things and to keep on learning.”
He has this advice for anyone contemplating the next 20 years of their career and thinking, as he did, of pursuing a senior master’s degree.
“Do it. If you have the backing and the support of your family, just do it. We have a tendency as we get older to resist change, but we shouldn’t. The Sloan progamme is an enabler of personal and professional change that rejuvenates your thinking and sets you up to continue to compete in our changing world.”