Vivian Tian

  • Degree Programme: LBS Sloan Masters
  • Global Nationality: Chinese
  • Profile Job Post-programme: Regional Manager PMO (APAC), Unity Solutions at Unity Technologies
After 16 years in China’s global telecoms market and gaming industry, Vivian Tian wanted to develop a more international perspective. Today, she explains how the Sloan programme helped her change her organisation’s direction and prepare her for a global leadership role at Virtuos and Unity Technologies.

I grew up in Chengdu – the capital of China’s Sichuan province – where society very much expects all children to excel at school. My parents were quite relaxed and lenient, which is far from the norm; they never pressured me to be top of the class. But everyone around me, my friends and classmates, did experience those pressures, they were all expected to be high-achieving students. By being around them, I soon developed that same mindset, and so threw myself into school and found that learning was something I had a talent for. I was always top of my class; the only problem was that I followed the normal routines and societal expectations without taking time to think about who I was, where I am or what I felt passionate about.

In secondary school I became fascinated by computers, which ultimately set me on course for a career in the technology sector. In the early 90s, computers were still quite rare in China; they were these mysterious things with limitless possibilities that I’d only ever heard about. I remember one of my teachers organising a field trip to a local university to introduce us to some new machines. I wasn’t chosen to go, and felt so disappointed – it only served to pique my interest. As I got older and computers became more accessible, I’d use them as much as possible. Everyone always said that having a good understanding of technology would be key to finding a good job, so I decided to study Computer Science at Yunnan University. I went on to complete a Masters in Computer Applications there, before joining the Institute of Computing Technologies (ICT) at the Chinese Academy of Science for a PhD in 2002. 

“The Sloan has really created a domino effect of continuous progression throughout my career. I couldn’t have got where I am today without it”

After many years of reading and researching, I wanted to get out in the field, develop new products and lead teams. I worked in a number of roles: starting out in 1998 as an AI System Designer for City University of Hong Kong for two years, then as a Team Leader Engineer for Lucent Technologies Bell Labs – the research arm for Nokia’s technology and product manufacturing – before landing the role of Senior Project Manager at Ericsson Technology. At Ericsson, I held a project management role, working on large-scale system design, software and hardware integration with 150+ project members and over 100 suppliers and multiple mass production lines. I stayed there for six years before becoming a Unit Service Director at Tieto China Co – the world’s largest Nokia mobile application and development partner – where I spent two years working on their Nokia mobile premier applications.

In 2010, I joined Virtuous in Chengdu as their Head of Studio General Manager, which was my first foray into the gaming industry. It was an extremely exciting transition; suddenly I was working on Ubisoft, Sony and EA game development with game producers, developers, artists, designers and testers. In six years, I grew the studio from 200 to 560 people, an achievement I was extremely proud of. Despite this, we still ran the studio in a way as most Chinese companies – without clear methodology and knowledge on how to build up stronger global connectivity for business expansion. I knew that to take the studio in the direction I wanted, I needed the frameworks and skills to maintain long-term growth. To formulate a practical strategy to make this happen, I needed to turn back to education.

My role at Virtuous was primarily focused on providing game development and art content for the global market from a Chinese studio, but I wanted to become a more rounded, global business leader. In my previous role as General Manager in Virtuos Chengdu studio, I was in contact with clients in territories like North American and EMEA, as well as APAC including Japan, Korean and Australian, that gave me the chance to open my eyes to other cultures and think globally. With the motivation to expand my view in a more international way, the LBS Sloan programme seemed the perfect chance to scratch the surface of what it was like to work with people from around the world and understand each other. 

“Learning alongside classmates from South America, Japan, China, the UK and India made me realise that there’s no right and wrong way of doing things; everyone has their own style and position to stand. Understand that is the key to find common ground to work together.”

The Sloan was exactly what I needed at that point in time; it gave me the opportunity to build a more open mindset and connect with people from different backgrounds. The UK is known for being a popular destination for Chinese students, so I knew it would be a good place to study. I was also familiar with London Business School’s excellent reputation and diverse cohort, so thought that learning there would simulate the environment I was striving to create at Virtuous. After looking into programmes, I discovered the Sloan was the perfect match for my experience. I didn’t think twice about applying. 

Learning alongside classmates from South America, Japan, China, the UK and India made me realise that there’s no right and wrong way of doing things; everyone has their own style. Working closely with people from different backgrounds showed me that everyone can contribute in different ways, and that their individual cultures and experiences often influence the way they do things. In my current role as Regional PMO Manager at Unity Technologies, I worked with teams from North American, Singapore, Korean, the UK, Japan, Australia and China. The Sloan programme really helped to develop a global outlook; I now have a greater understanding of different cultures and can see that everyone, including myself, has an individual role to play in a team and organisation.

Choosing my most valuable Sloan module is impossible; each of them helped me develop in different areas. The leadership courses with Professor of Organisational Behaviour, Herminia Ibarra, helped me understand different frameworks. She made them incredibly accessible, and also explored not just how to implement new processes, but why. Another of my favourites was The Corporate Agenda with Andrew J Scott, Professor of Economics. It made me re-think what I wanted for my future by looking at the next 30 years rather than just the next five. 

“The Sloan programme has been fundamental in allowing me to step into the digital transformation area which is the future of our business world. Without it, I never would have confident and encourage to move to that direction at my previous organisation, which in turn gave me the experience I needed to land this role”

I’ve built really close relationships with my Sloan classmates, which has been an amazing way of staying updated with what’s going on in different parts of the world. We talk about work, our career concerns and aspirations, and the latest news and developments in our individual corners of the world. One of my classmates from Hong Kong also works in the gaming industry, so we’re always discussing what’s happening there. I’m also in regular contact with the Singapore alumni network; it’s great to have familiar faces in my home city to share opportunities with or just meet for a catch-up. 

The programme propelled me into a global role that I wouldn’t have been considered for before the Sloan. When I returned to Virtuous in 2020, my boss asked me what I’d learnt from the programme and I told him about my vision to build up a digital platform for improving the operational efficiency and transparency, using what I’d learnt from Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, in his Digital Transformation classes, alongside the frameworks from Professor Ibarra’s leadership courses. My boss trusted me and gave me the chance to take the whole Virtuous group in a new direction, promoting me to Director of Project Management to be in charge of the whole digital platform strategic planning and developing for 10+ Virtuos studios across the world. Suddenly, I’d gone from having responsibility for one Chinese studio to having responsibility for digitising the whole operations and project management of our Chinese, American, North American and EMEA studios. It was a huge step up. 

In April 2020, I joined Unity Technologies as Regional Manager of their project management office for the Asia-Pacific region – by far my most global role to date. Unity Technologies are one of the world’s leading platforms for creating and operating real-time 3D content and use cases. In my role, I manage to sign deals and deliver projects featuring Unity solution developers, designers, solution architects and testers. By utilizing the Unity engine and products, we provide professional services to multiple industries such as transportation, education, ecommerce, healthcare, etc. The organisation has offices around the world – from Copenhagen and Munich to Tel Aviv and San Francisco and Vancouver – and I’m regularly talking to colleagues in different cities and regions. Part of my remit also focuses on expanding the Unity business in APAC vertical industries; we’re currently trying to build the business cases across Australia, Singapore, Japan and Korea with key clients accounts. The Sloan has been fundamental in allowing me to step into a role like this. Without it, I never would have secured the promotion at my previous organisation, which in turn gave me the experience I needed to land this role. It really has created a domino effect of continuous progression throughout my career – and I know I couldn’t have got where I am today without it. 

Learn more about our Sloan programme.