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.

My Time on Science Park

To me, the decision to attend a small liberal arts college was a bit of a gamble. Growing up, an incessant emphasis on the value of STEM related fields seemed like an unspoken indictment of liberal arts. While degrees in engineering and programming promised a clear career path, a major in the liberal arts threatened unemployment out of college.  

Even though I was confident that I wanted to pursue a career revolving around biology and business out of college, I suspected that the broad education and versatile skills I could acquire from an intimate liberal arts curriculum could prove valuable in any career I might end up having. Sure enough, being able to intern at TÜV SÜD provided an opportunity to investigate these interests and see for how my liberal arts education had and not trained me for an office experience so far.

At the very beginning of my internship, when my supervisor from Medical Health Services introduced the first project I would be working on, I felt most unprepared. The project required me to evaluate medical technology companies and compile a list of potential clients for TÜV SÜD’s medical device testing services. Its emphasis on topics in finance, which Davidson offer no classes on, immediately exposed my knowledge deficit regarding the subject. I was unfamiliar with the relevance of several financial metrics that I was supposed to use to evaluate companies, and had little grasp of how they related to the medtech industry (e.g., what would be a healthy EBITDA for a public orthopedic company with 5,000 employees). While this made it initially difficult to make judgements about a company’s health and potential value, my supervisor filled me on the most essential information I needed to know for the project. I do still suspect, however, that I could have better prepared myself if Davidson offered some sort of classroom instruction in finance or business.

As soon as I began my second project, however, my liberal arts education proved itself to be a valuable attribute in the office. Like my first project, this assignment required me to analyze companies and compile a list, but this time I was screening candidates for acquisition.  Seeking to expand medical device testing capabilities in the United States, where most of the top medical technology companies are headquartered, the CEO of product services wanted to acquire an existing American testing company and had already reached out to one attractive candidate. My task was to research other companies to build out a market landscape and identify potential alternatives.

To point me in the right direction, I was given a number of suggestions  on what might make a company attractive, such as a strong client base, technology or procedures that could be exported to other TÜV SÜD facilities, or testing capabilities that could allow TÜV SÜD to increase its market share in key testing areas. Beyond this, the actual curation of the list was left to my discretion, and my only check-in was a preview presentation to be given halfway through the project. And because small private companies rarely release the detailed financial information I analyzed for my first project, I realized this investigation would require a good deal more creativity. Luckily, the initial breadth of the undertaking evokes many open-prompt projects and papers I had encountered while at Davidson and Andover, so I was well-prepared to springboard off the limited guidance I received and to navigate a new subject.

Like for any history paper, I began with a look at available primary sources, in the case the corporate documents and information in TÜV SÜD’s possession. I looked at a consulting company’s annual outlook on the medtech industry to familiarize myself with the device testing landscape, finding information on the size and forecasted growth of different medical device categories. As I began to dig for companies meeting the essential criteria on LinkedIn, I turned to secondary sources to help to educate my assessments, like whether a rare certification might make a company more appealing, or what testing requirements the FDA had assigned for new kinds of active, software driven devices. Throughout, the web- searching skills I developed from years of school research proved particularly useful as I hunted for whatever information I could find on companies

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 12.05.42 PMIn addition to these tangible skills my liberal arts education provided me, I also encountered the benefits of a diverse pursuit of disciplines. My previous experience with biology in the lab allowed me to engage with scientific testing protocol and be able to ask educated questions during procedures. Since much of the testing I observed in the lab connected to the kind I handled in the office, my time in the lab felt like a look underneath the hood of TÜV SÜD and enriched the my other projects. My german also became surprisingly useful as nearly half of the employees in the office are from either Germany or Switzerland.

My time at TÜV SÜD made it clear that I may still have a good deal to learn when I begin my first job out of college, because there’s a clear disconnect between a liberal arts curriculum and many business- related industries. But it also illustrated the quality of training one receives from a broad curriculum that promotes critical thinking, creativity, and versatility– special attributes that can prove their worth in any profession.

Working in Singapore

For a product-testing and certification company, Singapore is a great place to do business. The country itself is fixated  on quality and fervent in its desire to produce world class products, both of which lead to demanding regulations and a constant need for testing and certification. But opportunity also flows in from beyond the country’s compact borders. Singapore’s grade-A business infrastructure, and business-friendly rule of law make it a regional business hub for all of southeast Asia. Businesses in neighboring countries seeking to market products beyond their own borders naturally turn to Singapore for testing and certification services, making it a  truly ideal place for such a company like TÜV-SÜD to set up shop.

Unlike in the United States, many European countries have no federal regulatory departments like the FDA or EPA. The governments of these countries instead accredit private companies to perform product testing, auditing, and training according to domestic or European Union regulations. TÜV-SÜD (short for Technischer Überwachungsverein SÜD or technical inspection association – south) is the largest technical inspection association company in Germany  and the sixth largest in the world, with 2.3 billion in annual revenue. Its German facilities offer services ranging from evaluations of water purity and automobile safety to the certification of socially responsible labor practices.

When TÜV-SÜD decided to expand the company’s business to southeast Asia it is no surprise that they chose Singapore, where they took over the existing government-owned facility  called PSB. That acquisition gave birth to TÜV-SÜD PSB,the headquarters of its German parent company’s business in southeast Asia.

TÜV SÜD’s five-story facility PSB, located in Singapore’s science park, has labs offering electrocompatibility, chemical, microbiological, environmental, biocompatibility, and condom testing (for the WHO), which are routinely carried out in accordance with both domestic Singaporean and multinational standards. Across the hall from the biocompatibility lab on the second floor are the offices of the corporate staff–  marketing directors, a corporate board member, and the global CEO of product services. For a prospective biology major interested in the intersection of biology and business, the ability to work on both wings of the second floor provided an ideally integrated experience.  

On the science side I spent time in the biocompatibility laboratory, which performs in vitro and in vivo testing for medical devices. The lab has done particularly well both because it can perform tests that the American and European regulatory bodies require for medical devices, but rarely permit under their jurisdiction, and the legal incentive of manufacturers to ensure that their high-risk medical products are safe, regardless of the price of testing.

Though I was unable to participate directly in hands on testing, due to their sensitive nature and the short length of my time at TÜV SÜD, I chose and spent time closely observing specific tests over the course of my six week internship. I focused primarily on in vitro tests, which I engaged through reading test protocols, conversing with lab managers and observing procedures first hand. Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 3.20.42 PMOne such study I followed was a “mammalian cell mutation test,” also called an AMES test, which detects mutagenic properties of a substance in reverse. Using cells that lack a functional gene for the essential amino acid thymidine, the ability of the cells to grow in the absence of thymidine after exposure to the extract indicates whether it caused a reverse-mutation that shifted the gene back to a functional form. Understanding tests like the mutagenicity, cytotoxicity, and endotoxin procedures I observed also proved useful in my other work at TÜV SÜD, much of which also revolved around medical devices.

On the other side of the hall, I worked on several projects for the medical health services division of product services. For my first project, I curated a long-list of attractive medical device testing clients based on factors like product areas and likelihood of being acquired by larger companies.  For the second, on which I spent the majority of my time, I searched for small American medical device testing companies whose areas of testing or access to top industry players would make them attractive candidates for acquisition. The project included research into the logistics and potential profitability of testing,  and undisclosed financial information of private companies, and my personal investigation into potential profitability of new areas of medical device testing.

My final project focused on increasing the efficiency of the medical health services division by searching for new ways to automate certain digital services processes. I investigated ways to streamline routine audits and travel schedule management for auditors, but my most significant contribution was  an outline for a web-crawling market intelligence program that would automatically screen regulatory approval databases of organizations like the FDA to identify potential sales leads and share them among the marketing staff at TÜV SÜD.

Though my internship was short, I felt pleased to have made two potentially valuable contributions  to the company. Several of the potential M&A targets I identified were received well enough to be included in a presentation given by the CEO of product services the following week, and a data specialist from the office’s digital “Center for Excellence,” was eager to begin a collaboration with the MHS department on a pilot program of my digital service proposal. For my own part, I came away with a much deepened and enriched understanding of multinational commerce, the worldwide regulatory system, and the daily workings of a huge, diverse business.

Working at a Non-Profit in Beijing : Americans Promoting Study Abroad

My experience at Americans Promoting Study Abroad has confirmed quite a few things I have read about working with non-profit organizations. First of all I would like to point out that this is an organization I have had quite a big insight and familiarity with before asking for an internship position for. APSA began with partnerships with quite a few other non-profit organizations. The idea was to have these other organizations who were more well established help APSA get on its feet and walk alone. However, that was never really achieved. Thus, we have the situation I am in now. An organization that is about eight years old yet does not have the stable base that it should have at this point. In our team of three, with two staff members from the One World Now organization, this summer we have a group of 21 students and a curriculum that we build as we go. There is far too much work to be done and there is only one full time staff member here in Beijing, our Executive Director. Being overworked and understaffed, that was my impression of a non-profit organization.

But many people would never believe the results we are able to churn out. To get so much done, with only a few staff members, within a limited amount of time, and resources, in my opinion we are all amazing here at APSA. And I am sure this is true for many other non-profits. The amount of fun and self discovery I have been able to enjoy during my internship has only left me with a positive impression. My research skills came in handy when it came to formulating short summaries of sites with hundreds of years of history and significance. My experience at Davidson College has taught me to wear many hats at one time in order to help us stick to a schedule or program. Although I have yet to actually find myself applying what I have learned in classes, other than my Chinese language classes, I have taken at Davidson College, my experience with extra-curricular clubs and networking has given me a better grasp of the real world and what it means to get work done at Americans Promoting Study Abroad.

Tower of Buddhist Incense

(Students of the APSA-OWN program in the Tower of Buddhist Incense of the Summer Palace)