“Students push themselves to be genuine and accountable.”

Just before the Beijing Olympics, Ann Chao took a year off from college to study at Peking University. “I was writing a thesis on blindness in China and was interested in seeing how business could lift people with disabilities out of poverty,” Ann says. Among the unique business models she observed was one in which a school of massage therapy offered free training for blind students, who went on to work in massage clinics that funded the school. “I was intrigued by the private sector approach – a way to address problems from the ground up as opposed to government programs that are top down.”

Accepted into HBS’ 2+2 program, Ann completed her college education then worked as a consultant for a German firm in Beijing. “Nuclear power, automotive, steel distribution, financial services – I got a good view of many different kinds of Chinese and multinational companies and how they work,” Ann says.

Bridging the gap between creative and business minds

For Ann, the most distinctive dimension of her MBA education is its ethical core. “HBS gets to our deepest motives,” she says. “Is it just profit? Or is profit a means for contributing to society, to deliver value? What you remember from your cases are the moral dilemmas. Students push themselves to be genuine and accountable.”

Ann’s FIELD 2 experience took her into new territory, both literally – to Accra, Ghana – and figuratively, into the world of consumer products. “L’Oreal asked us to figure out why their single-use packets of hair moisturizers weren’t selling well,” she says. “In the beginning, we listened to the company and its distributors who believed the product just wouldn’t work. But HBS had given us the resources to challenge the client.” By conducting one-on-one interviews on the streets of Accra, Ann’s team uncovered a different story: strong interest in the product but confusion about price and lack of awareness due to poor distribution. “We recommended a re-launch that bypassed the distribution network and took the packets to the streets, to the local markets that valued the kind of customers the packets were intended for.”

A pianist since childhood, Ann ultimately seeks a way to combine arts and commerce. “Few people can bridge the gap between creativity and business – I hope to be one of them. I’d like to go back to China to bring great stories and entertainment there – and to tell stories about people who are too frequently ignored.”