“It’s not about how high or low your position is, but how you influence the people around you.”

In his third year at Fudan University, Gary Shi thought he would “like to have more interactions around global topics,” so he decided to take the lead and, with a group of Harvard students, , co-organized a Harvard Project for Asian and International Relationships summit in Shanghai for about 400 friends from around the world. The event united Gary’s global curiosity with his capacity for leadership. It also awakened him to the value of general management. “I became committed to business as a career,” Gary says.

For six years after graduation, Gary worked with two of the biggest consumer brands in the world, Proctor & Gamble and PepsiCo, assuming an escalating series of responsibilities. “The biggest thing I learned,” says Gary, “is never say no to yourself. There’s always need for a challenge.”

Changing ideas of leadership

Gary openly acknowledges that aspects of his business years were difficult. At P&G, he had to earn the respect of sales representatives with much more experience than he had. At PepsiCo, he instantly stepped into tough negotiations and contract terms with some of the company’s biggest local and international retailers. “My roles reflected the way I used to think about leadership,” Gary says. “How do I lead from a junior level? How do I manage without being senior?”

But, Gary says, “HBS has changed my ideas about leadership. It’s not about how high or low your position is, but how you influence the people around you.”

HBS has also expanded his ambitions. “Rural China still has lots of people living in poverty,” says Gary. “I want to bring back knowledge that can impact their lives.” Gary is not waiting until graduation, but has begun to exert influence through his involvement in the Enterprise Solutions for Poverty course. “I’m in a project focusing on microfinance that helps farmers improve their farms, improve their lives.”

Gary has been back to China in both his winter and spring breaks to “learn more about what’s happening in rural areas.” For his summer internship, he is joining a Chinese venture capital firm. After graduation, Gary and his wife, Xu Zhang, plan on returning to China. “I want to change the rural business environment and the entrepreneurial eco-system of my country.”