Every two weeks, Jane Lin-Baden shelves her day job as a software entrepreneur and flies to San Francisco to attend Wharton's prestigious executive MBA program. But the life she leaves behind is 16 time zones away--in Shanghai, China.
Our classes are on the weekends, so I leave Shanghai Friday morning and arrive in San Francisco Friday morning. My flight is 15 hours long, including a stopover in Tokyo. It's not so unmanageable. I meditate, but I can't sleep because it's my only time to focus on my studies. Usually I go straight to class from the airport, so I often go 24 hours without sleeping.
My husband travels twice a week for his job as well. Sometimes he is leaving when I am coming home, so we meet in the airport and talk. Or he stops over in San Francisco for a dinner or Wharton family event with me. Most people think this is crazy. For me it's a matter of will. This program is important to me, and so is my company and my family.
I haven't had a very traditional career path. I've worked in advertising and chemicals, and I used to dream of my own art gallery. I grew up in Taiwan; my father was minister of finance there, and my mother was an executive at Hoechst, the German drug company. I got my undergraduate degree in marketing in Taiwan, then a master's degree in the history of contemporary art from the University of London. I also lived and worked in Germany and India before we moved to China.
I applied to Wharton in 2000, the same year that I started my company, Audacee Digital Inc. My dream was to help businesses create more value with fewer resources. Audacee provides business intelligence solutions to retailers in China--things such as price modeling and sales and inventory analysis. In China, there is a vacuum of such tools, so what I've learned in my MBA classes enables Audacee to be a pioneer.
Education is a gift to be cherished and used well. I always knew that I wanted to go to one of the best business schools. I would even have flown to Philadelphia if Wharton hadn't opened a West Coast campus. It wouldn't have been so different. Instead of 15 hours each way, I would have had 24 hours. You can get more done in 24 hours, more time to study!
It's not so much that I wanted to be in the United States per se--but the United States is very welcoming to entrepreneurship. It's harder to be a woman entrepreneur in China. The cultural expectations are different. A woman in business is okay in China. A woman boss is another matter. In China, we see an aggressive man and we think, "He is a mover." We see an aggressive woman and we think, "She is eccentric."
So I find inspiration with my fellow students. The average age in my class is 34, like myself, and they all pursue thriving careers. Some of them run their own businesses, like I do, so they know what I'm going through--the things I deal with in my life and in my work. We have a really terrific network. It's like having a team of consultants available every two weeks.
I went to Wharton looking for cutting-edge business theory and a degree to make it in the corporate world. Once there, though, I realized that the fundamental issue is leadership. If I really want to take Audacee to the next level, I need to focus on people, not skills. The key is to inspire people to identify with our goals and go the extra mile to make it happen.
People ask why I want to make such an effort for two years. But for me, this has meaning beyond knowledge; it is an attitude, a commitment, and a way of thinking. I'm in my last semester now. I graduate in May. Having flown over a million miles in two years, I should be exhausted and glad it's over. Physically, I am tired. But mentally, every time I fly back to China I feel refreshed. Wharton is like an intellectual spa--like pulling up to a gas station and filling up my tank.