My parents are both Taiwanese, but I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where they were in the hotel business. Most people in Asia think of the US in terms of the east or west coasts, but I grew up in “suburban Middle America” and have very fond memories of those days. It wasn't all about school, and some of the best times included golfing with my dad on long summer evenings and joining the swim team, where I became a sectional champion and qualified for state championships.
For as long as I can remember, though, I had a passion for the airline industry. It started with collecting model airplanes and checking out as many books as possible on aviation whenever I visited the local library. In fact, I still have all those models in a room at home.
After completing high school at Columbus Academy, I went on to Georgetown University in Washington, DC, majoring in finance and international business with a minor in Japanese, and competing as a member of the varsity swim team.
When you're young, it can be easy to follow the herd. Studying finance, it seemed all my friends and classmates were going for analyst jobs with the major investment banks. Of course, I seriously considered doing the same, but I also explored other opportunities, looking to combine my business studies with my interest in the airline industry. Eventually, I was offered an internship at a leading aviation consultancy and aircraft appraisal firm, Morton Beyer Agnew. I used this as a stepping stone to learn more about the aircraft finance and leasing industry and subsequently came across DVB Bank, a specialised bank in transportation finance offering a graduate trainee scheme for which I applied and was offered a job.
From the outset, I was told it would be a very international role, and that certainly proved to be the case. I began with a stint in New York for less than two months and, over the next 18 months, spent time in learning the business in Frankfurt, London and Singapore, where I asked to be based when the chance came up.
Our team was responsible for helping airlines and leasing companies in Asia-Pacific with any aircraft financing requirements. We also had to cross-sell the other parts of our aviation “platform” - asset management, leasing, and financial advisory. I appreciated the fact that the bank looked beyond age and experience and, when confident of your abilities, gave you the autonomy to focus on winning deals. The bank had never enjoyed success in the Taiwan market, but in 2008, aged just 26, I originated sale/leaseback deals with China Airlines and EVA Air, as well as spare engine portfolio financing for China Airlines. This was during the global financial crisis, which made it even more challenging to get deals done, as most banks had practically stopped lending. At the time, I was the youngest person at DVB Bank to become an assistant vice-president and, later, a vice-president.
For many reasons, 2011 was an especially eventful year. Firstly, I married my long-time girlfriend in May and, around the same time, also decided to pursue an MBA. This had always been an ambition, but I was torn because I was making progress in my career and didn’t want to leave my job to take a full-time degree. Therefore, I attended a few information sessions on EMBA programmes, and while the admissions teams admitted that, at 28, I was younger than average for such programmes, they also emphasised that they would consider applications based on qualifications, merit and potential to contribute both as a student and future alumnus.
Because I expect to return to the US at some point, I felt it made sense to look at schools with strong US links and, if possible to choose a programme based in Singapore, where I lived. That led me to Chicago Booth and I also thought the format of one-week modules taught twice a quarter would work better for me than having classes every other weekend, like other programmes.
As told to Ginn Fung.