Students Stories

Nov 01 , 2018

SAIF Freshmen | Nan Chen from MF18: From Harvard to SAI ...

About Author Nan CHEN MF18 Student Graduated from Applied Mathematics, Harvard College Hi! My name is Nan Chen, and I am a student studying under the master of finance program at SAIF. I’m writing to not only introduce myself but also to share how I came to choose SAIF as my home for the coming two years. I hope that by writing about my experiences, I can help guide like-minded people into paths that are exciting and meaningful. About Me Last May, I graduated from Harvard College with a degree in Applied Mathematics. Like many of my classmates, I chose to continue my education instead of entering the bullish US job market. The reason was simple— four years of college learning sped by, and despite the all-nighters and the grueling pressure, I was craving more. I wanted to experience new things, meet new people, and confront new ideas. Graduate school offered all the above, so I packed my bags, diploma in hand, and headed to Shanghai for the next chapter of my life. Before I can elaborate on how I came to this decision, I should briefly introduce myself: I am a Chinese American. I speak Mandarin. I studied at Harvard College concentrating in Applied Mathematics and Economics, and I have a deep passion for policy research and international affairs. I intend to pursue a career that is related to public policy. In the past few years, I had the incredible opportunity to work at a few of the world’s leading policy think tanks. I spent my junior summer researching the Council on Foreign Relations, an international policy institution that played an instrumental role in drafting US-China relations back in the 1960s. (My work involved studying China’s reserve and currency management policies) During the school year, I was a part-time researcher at the Center of International Development based at the Kennedy School, studying how developing countries could achieve sustainable growth. I was captain of the Harvard Billiards team, and I enjoy reading about history. Why China? So why China?” This is the question most asked regarding post-graduate plans. If I were to tell my past self that I will be attending a top graduate program in China, I probably wouldn’t be surprised—at least for the China part. China, for years, has been a destination that I queued up for myself for the near future. I considered studying here as a crucial next step my for own growth: I am invested in China’s development and its integration into the world, and I understood that I had to immerse myself in China to truly appreciate its culture and its perspectives. The question was not merely which program or school happened to be the right choice, but what was the best way to position me for the future and help maximize my value. My reasons for studying in China are simple, yet at the same time, personal—1) I believe that the relationship between China and the US will be one of the most consequential in my lifetime, and 2) I think that by observing and being part of China’s development in the years to come, I can grow personally and prepare myself for a future where China is an essential part of my life. Why SAIF MF? Many of my classmates have wondered how and why I chose SAIF as my next destination. The process goes back to last winter when I was researching and visiting potential graduate programs in China. SAIF was a compelling option for a few reasons. First, I consider Finance a good fit for my graduate field of study. It naturally builds upon my undergraduate coursework in applied mathematics. I already have considerable experience in courses and research in international finance but lacked a more nuanced understanding of financial industries. I was drawn in by the importance of Finance in the realm of policy, as no industry has the potential to do quite as much good or harm as the finance industry. The devastating effects of the global financial crisis still loom large over the lives of millions, yet a bustling financial system is the backbone of the incredible growth of any economy. More importantly, the school is situated at the heart of Shanghai, one of the most charming and vibrant financial centers in the world. I am no stranger to this city—flip through my passport, and you will find at least a dozen entry stamps from Pudong International. The Huangpu river nurtured my parents. My grandparents lived in this city weathering the toils and horrors of colonialism and war. And I experienced Shanghai through the lens of its breathtaking modernization. A microcosm of China’s transformation, Shanghai embodies the optimism, resilience, and unbounded energy of the entire country. Frank Sinatra’s famous line attributed to New York can be easily applied here: If I can make it here, I’ll make it anywhere. The courses at SAIF are taught in English by excellent faculty, and hence require minimal adjustment for me. And since the program is two-years instead of one, I will have more time to both learn about China and contemplate my future. SAIF is host to a respected think tank heavily involved in research on China’s financial reforms. The list goes on. I chose SAIF after considerable deliberation. I spoke with recent graduates of the program and asked for their impressions. I sought advice from professors who left tenured positions in western universities to pursue their calling in China. I enjoyed my correspondence with an incredibly warm and helpful SAIF admissions staff. In the end, I couldn’t let pass an opportunity to study at a stellar graduate program, in an exciting part of the world, among the brightest and most determined group of people China has to offer.

May 03 , 2018

Kangkang ZHANG: Building Up Your Strength Along the Rig ...

Kangkang ZHANG had been admitted by Peking University Yuan Pei Experimental Class with the third highest score in the College Entrance Examination in Zhejiang before he was recommended to and later graduated from SAIF MF Cohort 2011. Undoubtedly, he went through a typical roadmap of a straight A student. Passionate at work, he quickly discovered Sunny Optical, the first 10-fold stock in his career, which not only brought remarkable return to his company, but also substantially improved his insights on investing in long-term growth stocks. In addition to the good habit of “reflection and summarization”, he believes it is important to build up your strength along the right path in the right way, “First of all, you need to know what you desire to make the most. Second, you need to understand whether you have the tributes that the industry wants, which will help you maintain your position over time. Consider investment, which calls for independent thinking, reflection, openness, inclusiveness and impetuosity. Then you have to build up and refine such tributes in daily work. Success follows the Law of Large Numbers, which can be a high probability event.” Over 1 million characters of notes Kangkang received the first job at Fidelity, one of the leading international buyers. However, the early days were full of chaos and confusion in addition to excitement. “All of a sudden, I had to take over the entire industry, check tens of stocks, study the companies, meet sellers, prepare reports, answer phone calls and attend meeting…. I was engaged by mails and sellers every day. But after one month, I felt confused because it wasn’t as fruitful as I had expected,” said Kangkang. Fortunately, his abilities of stress resistance and time management were suitably trained at SAIF MF. Once he stepped back and clarified his goals, he realized what he needed to strive for or reject. During the process, he learned how to optimally allocate his time and focus on the essentials in chaos. Kangkang attributed his capability of rapid alignment to his long-lasting habits of “reflection and summarization”. From the hand-written collection of mistakes in his years of elementary and high schools and the notes of all courses in college, to the summary of dozens of interviews during job hunting and the internship diaries, through to the ideas on research, investment, life and career, he has accumulated over 1 million characters of notes, including research summaries on public companies. “An investor pays attention to too many things to simply memorize them in your brain. Meanwhile, it is difficult to organize such complicated data. Along with charts and figures, these notes help me systematically identify the lessons and in turn improve my performance in all aspects. Though in some cases, the ideas recorded in the notes are subsequently proven to be wrong, it also drives me to better reflect the mistakes. In the era of information explosion, it is important not to mistake information for knowledge or knowledge for wisdom.” Discovering the “10-fold stock” In his first job, Kangkang also identified Sunny Optical, the first “10-fold stock” in his career life. “When I found it, it was only a mere electronic small cap price at HK$6. The company started from optimal lens and thus built up its expertise in optics. However, due to the short-term competition in module business, the market only considered it as a module factory with low barriers, which was proven wrong later. At that time, no one believed that it would achieve breakthroughs in the business of mobile phone camera with high barriers, or saw its deployment and accumulation in on-board camera, surveillance, drone and many other segments. But I realized that the market might fall short of its earning forecast and valuation.” It was his conclusion based on extensive and in-depth research derived from consistent and active communication with its management, numerous meetings with upstream, downstream and competitor experts, review of trade reports and literature and engagement of his electronics network, in particular the resources of A stock buyers and sellers. Kangkang gave the credit of this success to the practices at SAIF LIVE, “Thanks to the exercises at SAIF LIVE, I learned to how to model my findings, prepare convincing reports in English and personally meet every fund manager at their offices.” With sound pre-stage preparation, he successfully persuaded the fund managers with strong points. Later, the stock roared from HK$6 to over HK$70-80 in merely three years, which even doubled after he had left Fidelity. It not only created huge return to the company, but also demonstrated his professionalism. But in his own opinion, Kangkong benefited the most from the in-depth insights on the investment of long-term growth equities based on his experience in this “10-fold stock”, combined with Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits by Philip A.Fisher, a book highly recommended by senior fund managers at Fidelity. “We often focus on ROE and ROIC when looking at public companies. However, few investors take account of the ROI in the process of studying an individual stock. If you keep on investing your time and efforts in a promising segment, optics for instance, you will build up your own defense, which creates far greater return than identifying a number of separate stocks. Even if you do make profit by investing your time and efforts in some stocks that turn around or are frequently traded, it is likely that the industry expertise that you have grasped will be left on the shelf…. Time and efforts are extremely valuable in the research of fundamentals. In long term, the ROI of studying top-class segments and companies is exceptionally high, even though there are few opportunities in short term.” Know your destination and hone your skills Later, Kangkang left Fidelity and joined Wells Fargo Funds Management LLC as Researcher of Offshore TMT. Shortly after one year, he was promoted to Investment Manager. According to him, Chinese fund managers feature higher potential of ongoing growth, which provides a greater room of personal development and more opportunities of down-to-earth research, which are missing in international players. However, the investment philosophy and framework of international buyers are lifelong benefits. “I wrote down the words from experienced project managers at Fidelity in my notes, which I believe will contribute to my future. For example, the famous remark of Anthony Bolton, ‘People never change at my age’, has been repeatedly proven in many cases. Young researchers and fund managers are energetic, open to new things and quick in learning. However, they know little about human nature and easily trust the words of executives, while ignoring the importance of track records.” Working for either a leading domestic buyer or an international giant, Kangkang believes it is critical to mistake the value of the organization for that of your own. “You need to always ask yourself: Will people talk to me if I leave the organization? What are my values to others? These questions are often forgotten by recent graduates, who may overvalue the superiority of being part of the brand yet undervalue the ongoing buildup and improvement of personal values.” For Kangkang, it is advisable to clarify your goal of success as early as possible and build up your expertise in the right way, while enjoying the process without excessive worries about short-term outcomes, which is far better than the envy from or to others. It is also the most relevant tip to junior fellow students. “At school, your academic achievements are the sole criteria of success. At graduation, your offer is the sole criteria of success. However, after graduation, you will find that the world isn’t black or white. Some become successful entrepreneurs. Some fail and are out of our sight. Some make great fortune overnight. Some go flat broke. Some find the true meaning of life and happiness, even if they are seemingly mediocre. Some are confused and lost though seemingly successful,” added Kangkang, “I really like a remark of Dr. Zhu, Investment Director of Fidelity and also one of the best A-stock fund managers, ‘You need a rating system of your own. Otherwise, you may be easily overwhelmed and beaten by many other values.’”

May 03 , 2018

Lu ZHAI: I Struggle for the Highest Investment Return

Given her soft and gentle voice, you may mistake her for a student in an ivory tower. But in fact, she stepped into the world of venture capital five years ago. Lu ZHAI, a graduate of SAIF MF Program, now serves as Investment Manager at TMT Group of Sequoia Capital China. Lu ZHAI (MF2011 alumni), Investment Manager at TMT Group,  Sequoia Capital China It is worth suffering for Having completed her undergraduate study on National Economic Management at the Renmin University of China, Lu chose to continue her campus life in a graduate program. At that time, she already heard about Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance (SAIF) and SAIF MF Program was also recommended by one of her seniors, who had enrolled this Program. Though only launched in 2009, SAIF MF seemed an ideal option in terms of curriculum and faculty. Lu carefully reviewed the situation and soon decided to join it without hesitation. However, she was quickly drowned by tons of specialized financial courses. Though used to be a student of straight As, she encountered a number of unknown areas. “At that time, I could hardly follow the lectures and that was something I had never experienced before. What's worse, the reference books were abstruse when I tried to prepare for exams,” recalled Lu of her campus days at SAIF. But the training under intensive study and enormous stress helped her quickly adapt to the hectic work and easily deal with her career after graduation. “It is worth suffering for,” said she. Live Course impressed Lu the most, during which the guest speaker presented and simulated his professional experience of consultancy at the classroom. It aroused the interest of the class and even imposed its impact on the future career paths of some students. “The guest speaker of Live Course guided us to take a closer look at the evolution of the industry, which played its role in our choice of career. Even now, if I have doubts at work, I would ask for his advices.” After graduation, Lu and her classmates still gather together from time to time, sharing their concerns and insights both at work and in life. “It feels really good to have such friends and alumni,” commented she sincerely. Do what you do the best The days at SAIF were full of overnight study and discussion, during which a team of students worked together to conquer numerous assignments one after another. But after graduation, Lu prefers giving full play to her strengths. “To pick up the right career path and do what you do the best” is her advice to younger students. Concerning career path, Lu smiled and admitted that she might have been the headache of Career Development Center (CDC). “I wasn't sure about my preference and don't know what to do.” Some focused on buyer research, some on project consulting and the others on equity and debts. But Lu was different. She tried as many as jobs during her internship. “After several attempts, I discovered that I would be better off in consulting and investment. A consultant explores which sectors will grow quickly and how an organization can work better. However, an investor goes further, who visualizes the outlook in 3-5 years beyond business analysis and roadmap.” Thanks to the ongoing assistance of CDC staff, Lu eventually gained a clear picture on her future career. Just before her graduation, she received an offer from Sequoia Capital. “As one of top-class investment institutions, Sequoia Capital met my interest the best.” From a confusing graduate to a firm investor, Lu ZHAI has worked at Sequoia Capital for five years and continues to enjoy her journey of investment by conquering the challenges along the road. Return is key to investment Talking about her job at Sequoia Capital, Lu admitted that “it's quite tough and you need to trade off between work and life, in particular for women.” To define “tough”, she explained that she has to meet 4-5 groups of clients until 10PM every day and also need to review each underlying company out of conference room, for example, which strategy to take, what kind of executives to employ, how to deal with competition and even more subtle details. “People used to describe me as 'nice' rather than 'aggressive'. But it's different now. My job requires me to create my own point and stick to it.” Undoubtedly, Sequoia Capital is prestigious in the trade. It is highly recognized for its precise and forward-looking vision by having invested in Meituan and Dianping separately, before these two organizations were merged. But according to Lu, instead of Sequoia Capital's intention, it was resulted from the unique competition and delicate interplay in TMT business, and such innovation and changes represent the charm of the investment profession. “Return is the cornerstone for the viability of a fund”, this statement was made by Lu repeatedly during the interview. The value of venture capital resides in figuring out an intersection between your own belief and fund's performance, serving as the entrepreneur behind entrepreneurs and bringing up more optimal solutions to the world. At Sequoia Capital, a VC platform highly respected by founders, startups from all walks of life always flood in. For Lu, such value-based inflow derived from brand awareness is the strength of an exceptional platform. “I hope I would help more remarkable startups over the next five years,” she was extremely confident in her next milestone along the journey of her VC career.

Dec 29 , 2017

Our Freshmen | Shanxiao Zhang: I’m the Tiger Girl

Hearing the name “Shanxiao”, which means “roaring in mountains”, you might come up with a boy full of energy and strength. Surprisingly, though Shanxiao is also energetic and conversable, SHE is a girl from Chongqing, delicate, likable and feminine. However, over time, you will discover her openness and coolness as her name implies. That is Shanxiao Zhang, a freshman of SAIF MF 2017, aka “Brother Shanxiao”. Logic Guided me from Geology to Finance Graduated from the School of Earth and Space Sciences, Peking University, Shanxiao was also granted with a Bachelor of Economics from the National Development Institute of Peking University. Born in a family of educators and influenced by her father, a physician, she was enchanted by mathematics, physics, programming and all other disciplines and topics related to logic, ever since her childhood. In the 1st semester of her senior year at high school, Shanxiao took part in a Geoscience Summer Camp organized by Peking University and later was recruited by the Department of Geology at Peking University, thanks to her outstanding performance during the camp. Though it seemed that she was on the right track, once on campus, she found her study deviated from logic and wondered whether she really wanted a career dealing with geology, landform and rocks. Therefore, Shanxiao started to explore unknown territories, by studying in Physics in her freshman and sophomore years, and also sitting in the classrooms of History and other subjects. After all these efforts, she turned to finance. In the 1st semester of her junior year, Shanxiao managed to participate in an exchange program at the Faculty of Science of The University of Hong Kong. During this one-year program, she established a general perception on finance, “I enjoy the fun of finance, which involves the logic of mathematics, capitalizes on my previous knowledge base and skills of mathematics and science, and interacts with applications and reality, while it isn’t too academic or abstract. It appeals to and fits me perfectly.” At the end of the exchange program, Shanxiao returned to Peking University for the 2nd semester of her junior year and immediately started her efforts. In addition to the courses of Geology, she also applied for the 2nd degree program of Economics, not to mention TOFEL and internship at a financial institution. Thanks to her dedication and extraordinary ability of learning, Shanxiao completed all the courses of the three-year Bachelor of Economics Program in just one and half years. “During that period, I worked so hard that I doubled the workload of my classmates. However, I made it and became better, with more sound fundamentals of Finance...”, claimed Shanxiao. An Open Environment of Diversity “SAIF is quite open-minded, which focuses on today and tomorrow instead of yesterday. Therefore, SAIF MF students are diverse, from all kinds of disciplines. It’s particularly interesting, because we often take different perspectives even when studying the same course,” noted Shanxiao. Though on the campus in Beijing, she paid attention to Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance (SAIF) based in Shanghai. However, the participation in Mini Camp organized by SAIF MF Program in March 2016 brought her closer to SAIF. “I read about SAIF’s Mini Camp and immediately registered. I took part in a variety of activities, attended the training of business etiquette and sat at Prof. Nengjiu Ju’s course of Finance, which created an in-depth understanding on SAIF. The subsequent field visit to SAIF Shanghai Campus helped me make the decision.” After over two months on SAIF campus, Shanxiao described her experience and perception as “being pushed forward in a mighty current”. Every day is fully scheduled, with courses, assignments, workshops of financial institutions or preparation for CFA and CPA tests. Though this situation of multi-tasking is busy and exhausting, she understands it also creates fast progress. “By communicating with amazing classmates, it always reminds me to reflect what I really want to do, what I can actually do and what is the direction of my future,” said Shanxiao. In fact, before her enrollment at SAIF, Shanxiao served as an intern at a number of buy-side and sell-side financial institutions, including Citic Securities, Haitong Securities and Grand View Capital, which also helped her identify the capabilities required by her career roadmap, for example, industry analytics, programming and other computer skills, financial analysis and valuation modeling. Without systematic training, one or more skills may be missing from a holistic mindset of financial analysis. SAIF MF Program offers both financial fundamentals and elective courses, including quantitative programming calling for exceptional mathematical and scientific knowledge. Meanwhile, SAIF also provides enriched resources and training programs to structure knowledge framework and capabilities in terms of financial analysis and valuation modeling, which helps her customize her own curriculum. Fresh and Independent Though Shanxiao fell in love with finance at the first sight during her undergraduate study, after joining SAIF, she actually explored the world of finance and realized what she wants and is able to do. Shanxiao recalled that during the first consulting session of Career Development Center (CDC), the staff helped students to sort out their hobbies, interests and strengths, and then provided resources accordingly. “For example, some of the students are eager to enter the business of investment banking, so CDC will invite some investment bankers and interviewers from financial institutions for lectures. If you prefer industry research, CDC will work with Oriental Securities in joint training and courses.” Shanxiao stated that she would focus on buy-side research on the secondary market of public funds, “I believe it’s perfect for my personality. On one hand, I prefer a workspace of equality, freedom and communication. On the other hand, it convinces people with logic instead of seniority.” Moreover, the investment decisions of buyers directly influence the market, which means the results of her investment analysis is directly assessed by market performance and such immediate feedback will create pressure and “growing pains”. “Many of my classmates plan to serve as IBD in international banks. My career roadmap is new and fresh,” smiled Shanxiao. Independent and courageous enough to face pressure, she reveals her coolness and muscularity. Due to her energy and aggressiveness, she is often called “Brother Shanxiao” or “Mountain King” by her peers. In fact, similar to other girls of her age, she also loves Korean soap operas, hiking, scuba diving and other adventures, who holds an Open Water (OW) license. “Under water, you will feel clear and pure, discovering a world and yourself in a totally different way.” That is our Shanxiao, energetic and lovely, yet strong and brave. We hope this independent and decisive girl would enjoy a smooth and successful journey to her dreams.