Many of the key turning points in Peter Yin’s life appear to have happened by chance, rather than careful planning, but he can be more than satisfied with the way things have worked out so far.
Born in Hong Kong, Yin left to attend college in the United States and at that point, thought he would stay away forever. Later, he found himself unsure which direction to take. “I hate to admit it, but I drifted and changed major five times before settling on sociology, mainly because I could finish it in four years,” he says.
However, he came to love academic life and decided to become a professor, which entailed doing a PhD in his chosen subject. “I came to understand it as a social science and liked the scientific approach,” he says. “I was intrigued by how people research and conceptualise the world.”
It turned out, though, that being a professor at the University of Memphis was not particularly well paid and offered little recognition. Therefore, Yin decided to change track joining Federal Express – now FedEx - as a market researcher. “I was unsure, but it seemed like a good opportunity,” he says. “It fit my academic background and I found it quite a natural move.” The new role was intellectually challenging and Yin kept moving up to reach his current position as the company’s vice president of marketing for the Asia-Pacific division.
Once a professor at the University of Memphis, Yin is now vice president of marketing for the Asia-Pacific division at FedEx.
Despite the shift, the principles of sociology still shape Yin’s work and have made him a good quantitative analyst. “Research and analysis are important in private sector business and how you apply statistics is crucial,” he says. “A businesses strategy is similar to a theory in sociology, which teaches the linear structure of thoughts. I use what I learned in my academic career every day.”
In fact, Yin continues to find new ways to draw on his past experience. As a professor, he didn’t necessarily appreciate the practical applications of studying arts and sciences. Students would complain that what they learned couldn’t be applied in the real world and, at the time, he tended to agree. Now, though, he sees things differently. “If I could go back, I’d do more to point out the relevance to daily life, explaining the applications of sociology in business and the public sector,” Yin says.
In the early 90s, another career change came about, more or less unplanned. FedEx asked him to move back to Hong Kong to work at their new Asia headquarters. “After 20 years, this was an exciting opportunity. I was happy to be back,” he says.
During a subsequent stint in Singapore, Yin came across Chicago Booth’s campus, which got him thinking about the possibilities of taking a formal business qualification. “I wasn’t thinking about changing company, but I had an intellectual curiosity,” he says, “FedEx agreed it would be a good idea to take an MBA and it has been one of the best experiences of my life, even over my PhD.”