“Being a leader means being comfortable with ambiguity.”

“I like math and love interacting with people,” Mi Zhou says. “Business is a good combination of both.” Working with McKinsey, first in Beijing and then in Frankfurt, allowed Mi “to explore different industries and functions.”

Mi’s consulting experience was eye-opening. “One of the common problems of Chinese businesses,” she says, “is rapid growth that overtakes corporate governance. In many cases, there’s very loose control over the business. I worked with one client that had business units making up their accounting numbers. In another company, the CEO couldn’t let go of operations, so he had little time for strategy. I helped him delegate authority and develop reporting relationships that would allow him to focus on the big picture.”

Testing interests

After five years with McKinsey, Mi found “what I really enjoy – quantitative analysis,” and an interest in energy and transportation. “An MBA,” she say, “would give me access to resources and information to test my interests.”

HBS’ general management program appealed to her. “If I want to move up,” Mi says, “it’s all about managing people in different functions from different cultures.” The school has also opened new perspectives. “Being educated in China,” says Mi, “I lack sufficient skills in critical thinking and communications. The case method pushes students to articulate their ideas and to feel comfortable, even when challenged. Listening to others and responding to questions – these skills will be very important in my career.”

Her most thought-provoking course, Mi believes, is Leadership and Corporate Accountability. “We have to consider business issues within the larger frameworks of ethics, law and the larger economy. There are no ‘black-and-white’ answers – everything’s debatable. In the past, I thought in terms of ‘either/or.’ Now, I understand that being a leader means being comfortable with ambiguity.”

Intimate gatherings and complex issues

A big part of what Mi likes about HBS is “the chance to meet people from different countries.” To make new friends, “I’m investing time to organize small dinners with my section mates, intimate, small-group gatherings.”

For her summer internship, Mi will invest her time in Hong Kong where she will conduct equity research. “I eventually want to work in China again,” she says. “There are lots of things happening, but I’m cautious about the future. Economic development is very unbalanced; the eastern part of China is growing fast while the west lacks access to education and foreign capital. The rich are accumulating greater wealth and buying political power, while the poor are getting marginalized. I want to address the difficult questions: How do we lower savings rates and stimulate consumption? How do we make housing, reliable health care and quality education more affordable to everyone?”