You can learn a lot from the Rearview Mirror

img_3930As I exited the intercontinental business center on Hanzhong road, I no longer loathed the sticky, harassing humidity that had already formulated dense drops of sweat on my back. In the midst of a symphony of chaos, Shanghai had become my second home — my solace in the east. The still, focused faces of the others trudging along in the afternoon commute transformed into smiles as I waltzed past with a new heir of confidence. My attitude was radiating. I felt a power, a happiness beyond belief. In just three months, I emerged from my cautious cocoon, with a fresh pair of wings to carry me into the coming storm of life. I left Fletcher Building feeling accomplished, stronger than ever, like I had grown a foot taller. Yet my heart ached for more; I desired greater vision, creation, inspiration, and experience. I knew that my work beyond my border had only just begun. My first real taste of the world, and it had awakened my senses to the beauties of difference, a beauty that I was determined to pursue, to explore, to evoke, for the rest of my life.

To reflect on my experience, my Davidson experiences truly carried me through the summer. First and foremost, the diversity of my Davidson education allowed me to thrive in more than one circle. From Davidson’s excellent instructional Chinese program, I was able to communicate and meet friends and connections from all over Asia. From my experiences in Chinese culture, I was able to personally relate to cultural nuances and experiences and fully grasp the vibrant Chinese lifestyle. Furthermore, the diversity of the Davidson education made me open to such encounters and helped me take advantage by fully surrounding myself with new cultural experiences. From my experiences in the Davidson challenging, economics courses, I was able to tackle complex and technical business problems and begin untying their Gordian knots with analytical solutions. From my experiences in close knit environments like Davidson, North Carolina, I was unfortunately shielded from a lot of what the world had to offer. Although, thanks to Davidson’s generosity, I was afforded the life changing opportunity to explore an entirely foreign way of life in Shanghai.

In closing, looking in the rearview mirror has helped me realize a lot about this past summer. I think a lot of what my internship experience allowed me to do was to see the world in a new way. This was best enhanced by the diversity of my Davidson education, although, I believe increasing the amount of international exposure that Davidson students get will better prepare them for working and thriving in international environments. There is a lot to be said about new experiences. The way they make you feel, grow, live, change. It’s not all easy, in fact, most of the time you’re going to wish you could just throw in the towel and go home. Yet, overcoming these challenges helps you fortify your defenses, and grow stronger than ever before. This summer undoubtedly changed my life, outlook, and perspective and I think by providing more opportunity, Davidson can begin to cultivate an even more promising and accepting culture of future professionals. Learning to dance with difference was the best possible thing I could have ever done, and I’m forever thankful for such an eye opening experience.

Open your eyes, Kid.

6 days following my arrival in China it was finally time to start my summer job. At this point I had nearly conquered my jet lag and fear of Chinese food, however, I still had yet managed to conquer to the Shanghai public transportation system. This extended my supposed 15 minute commute to work into an hour, but nonetheless I was on time for my first day. My welcome to Fletcher building was warm and I was comforted by the use of both English and Chinese in the office. As I sat with the General Manager of the Shanghai office, my ears were battered by an overwhelming background crescendo of Chinese, Shanghainese (yes, they’re different) and English. The combination of excessive instruction and planning was truly chaotic. I took a deep breath following the meeting and accepted the fact that this internship was going to be a challenge unlike any challenge I’d ever faced. Using the password provided by the IT help desk, I logged into the computer and began my descent into the multilingual unknown. It was about time that I opened my eyes…

My boss, Phillip Kreutz, was a fellow Midwesterner and a long time Shanghai native. With fluent Chinese under his belt, Phillip smoothed the communication transition and managed to outline a comprehensive plan for the following 10 weeks. With Fletcher buildings sourcing office I would spend a week with each internal team for the first six weeks, then choose an individual project for the following four. Fletcher Building’s Shanghai Sourcing Office was its first true attempt to globalize and expand its operations and effectiveness with Low Cost Country (LCC) sourcing. Therefore, the office and its relative youth provided me a ton of responsibility for the coming 10 weeks. This excited me as I knew that my efforts would genuinely impact the business model.

Starting with the accounting team I was responsible for drafting a standard operating procedure for the team CPA. This SOP included day to day responsibilities, as well as high and low level operations explanations. Furthermore, on top of this SOP I also drafted the process for expense reporting. In addition to tasks I completed, I also learned a good deal about Chinese tax and accounting procedures. My knowledge of GAAP assisted my general understanding of the process, although the accounting practices in China differ in many way from the states due to government and corporate structure.

Within the accounting department, I also spent a week taking care of administrative practices. Once again, I drafted an SOP regarding proper administrative guidelines. This SOP included all administration practices ranging from visa and passport handling for international business meetings to straight forward daily health and safety standards. Furthermore, I began building a few financial models in excel to better organize and maintain transparency within the accounting department. I would later adapt several other models in order to assist

Following the first two weeks, it was time that I gave sourcing a go. This was undoubtedly the biggest challenge of the summer as the sourcing process often required both spoken and written Chinese. After a late night of developing a script and studying up on my sourcing vocabulary, I dove into the complicated world of LCC. The FBSO process starts with an online enquiry from one of Fletcher Building’s Business Units. From here the sourcing team will evaluate the enquiry and contact the various BU’s regarding the reception of their enquiry. From here the sourcing process truly begins as the Sourcing team begins its due diligence process to identify appropriate factories in mainland China. This process involves the initial contact of the supplier in which the supplier will be required to answer a variety of questions regarding the desired product, standard certifications, and testing records. If the product and its respective factory is then deemed to be appropriate for the BU’s requirements, the sourcing team will follow up with the timely provision of a quotation. Given the mutual approval of price point and detail, the sourcing team will then pass the respective supplier onto the quality team within the FBSO. In this process, I achieved all steps on my own and moved forward a few suppliers for several large FB projects requiring Flooring and Kitchen Bath Sink (KBS). The comprehensive process not only helped further develop my business Chinese literacy and ability but also increased my professional and networking skills. Overall this sourcing experience was truly rewarding and allowed me to grow tremendously.

Next up, I moved into the Quality department for a two week rotation. These two weeks enabled me to engage and edit the quality process through building Visio flow charts and comprehensive models and also physically participate in the quality assurance process. The flow charts included both high, medium, and low levels of the quality process and addressed the comprehensive process from the business unit, the FBSO, and the supplier. These processes ensure transparency and honesty in the process that prevent quality corruption while developing premiere professional relationships. The quality assurance process required that I travel to factories in both Ningbo and Wuxi to conduct physical audits of factory and product quality. In order to save time and simultaneously maintain acceptable confidence levels, we tested the products according to AQL sampling. From here, utilizing my technical skills, I formulated a scoring template encoded with the proper valuations. This not only scored the factories according to their respective performance in the categories we tested for, but also provided a high level summary and chart illustration as well as moving the factories into a permanent log for proper organization. Upon completing the evaluations and touching up on quality SOP and writing a few more policies for the office, my time with the quality team had expired.

In my final week with the internal departments, I switched between quality, sourcing, finance, administration, and management in order to polish and revitalize their internal processes. This was the point where I openly analyzed and suggested changes to the various departments. In this time I had the opportunity to sit down with each of the department heads and go over their processes and begin to make positive change in the business. This may have been my favorite part of the internship, because I truly made a large impact on the business and spoke with some very important members of the Fletcher Building Family. In this time I even was granted the opportunity to meet CEO, Mark Adamson.

The final four weeks of the internship were an open book assignment for me. Phillip cut the leash and said to attack my interests and desires and I did just that. I started with a list of around 4 or so projects that I wanted to implement, ranging from creating the first marketing presentation for the FBSO website to creating e-tutorials for the various excel models and SOP’s I had put in place. The videos turned out to be a challenge given the company IT policies that prevented me from downloading professional video editing applications, however, I managed to create some pretty sound and professional videos utilizing personal software on my own computer. Another struggle with this process was the speed and access of the Internet in China. All in all, I attacked and finished all of the main projects for the summer, and left Fletcher building feeling accomplished and knowledgeable.

Baby Steps

As I nervously exited the Emirates Airbus 777, I couldn’t help but praise the solid ground that once again comforted my tired legs. After nearly 30 hours of travel, I was ready to eat some real food and sleep in a real bed. The Pudong International airport allowed for a cushioned start to my chinese experience as the signs quite thankfully included directional English as well as chinese characters. Finally, after around 30 minutes or so of waiting for my bags, I exited the airport and breathed my first true inhale of the smoggy air and hailed my first taxi — I was going to my new home.

The ride in the taxi was quite memorizing. I was immediately thrown into the Chinese urban fire as the taxi driver neither spoke any English, nor seemed to care about either of our well beings as he soared through heavy traffic. As we crossed the Pudong bridge, I couldn’t help but gasp as I caught my first gaze of the vast, outstretching urban jungle that is Shanghai. I quickly snapped my first photos of the city scenery.

After nearly 40 minutes of navigating heavily populated streets filled with countless restaurants, people, fruit stands (literally countless), and scooters (also, literally countless), my taxi driver informed me that we had arrived at 999 Changshou Lu – the address of my new home. I exited the cab and was warmly welcomed by my wonderful host! Exhausted, yet thrilled, the two of us made our way to the elevator. The light ding of the elevator made my stomach churn as I nervously stepped out on the eight floor and made my way into my new, temporary home.

The apartment was wonderful. Spacious, air conditioned, wifi accessible, and even better — I had my very own bed. I couldn’t help but to continuously repeat thank you as she showed me around her home. Our initial conversations were about basic things like discussing my job, schooling, and travels, my host encouraged me to take my first adventure around the block. With a sudden rush of both anxiety and adrenaline, I grabbed my backpack once again and ventured into the crowded streets for my very first time.

As I exited the apartment complex, I was immediately engulfed by an alien world. In my first 300 steps I had seen at least 1000 people in the bustling 6PM rush hour. While I was entirely physically overwhelmed, I couldn’t help but feel electrified by the city atmosphere. The further I walked, the more energy I garnered from the horns, yells, and sour aromas of street food wafting in the evening air. I entered a convenience store to make my first purchase — a 2rmb bottle of water. With a leap into the unknown, I cautiously uttered my first attempt at making a purchase in China. To my surprise, the cash register greeted my attempt a warm smile and a chirping giggle as she handed the bottle back over. Although I had certainly botched my attempt, I had accomplished my first true task in my new home. With a new breadth of confidence, I ventured back into the streets once more.

After an hour of navigating the winding alleys and busy streets of my block and feeling like I was some modern Marco Polo, my body decided it was time to go home. The jet lag was finally setting in as I located my apartment and entered my bedroom. As my face hit the pillow with utter exhaustion, I couldn’t help but let out an exhale of relief.

My first day in China brought about several revelations. The most obvious being the stark contrast between classes in urban Shanghai. An interesting aspect about Shanghai is the constant bombardment of western media and advertising. Shanghai is the epicenter of international business in China and therefore focuses a great deal of attention on appealing to western interests. While there is a heavy influence of western culture in Shanghai, there is an equal influence of traditional China. The black and white contrast of past and modern surrounds you at all moments. You can wander through old cobblestone alleyways echoing the memories of an old China and walk another 100 yards and find yourself standing in a bustling shopping mall with a variety of high end designer brands, and of course, a McDonalds or Starbucks. I believe this contrast is and continues to be the most shocking aspect of my stay in Shanghai.

As I look forward to the rest of my trip, I cannot help but to wonder which adventures I will encounter next. More so, I am thrilled at the opportunity to explore Chinese culture in a city that is rapidly developing and brilliantly intertwining the concepts of traditional and modern China.