What determines the future is our attitudes and actions
Zhang Qingwen, graduated with a first-class Bachelor’s Degree in Finance, Accounting and Management from Nottingham University Business School China in 2013. She now works for PwC as Manager of M&A Advisory Transaction Services in Silicon Valley. She is a member of CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst), FRM (Financial Risk Manager), AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) and CMA (Certified Management Accountant). She founded ACCA Club Eastern China at UNNC and served as its first President.
Qingwen took a break from her busy schedule to tell us more about herself and her journey from UNNC (University of Nottingham Ningbo China) to PwC.
UNNC has changed me a lot
Qingwen was initially attracted to UNNC’s educational philosophy which combines academic knowledge and hands-on application. “I learned that UNNC required students to not only learn theory, but also practical skills. My father’s clients from Ningbo also spoke highly of UNNC. My time at UNNC has had a profound impact on me, most importantly was my transformation from an introvert into an extrovert.”
But transformation starts with failures.
Qingwen explains: "I wanted to do well in both study and extra-curricular activities but there were many difficulties. My English listening and speaking skills were fairly poor, I was introverted and had low self-esteem. Worse still, having spent almost all of my time studying for examinations over the past few years, I was bad at interacting with others. However, UNNC provided lots of resources for us to learn English and improve our social skills so I wanted to make full use of them to change myself.”
She took full advantage of the English courses during her first year; went to the library when it opened in the morning and only leaving when it closed at night; practised oral skills in English Corner; and listened to English audio files before going to sleep every night. Likewise, she fully immersed herself in extra-curricular activities of interest or that provided a chance for self improvement including competitions, elections and interviews.
In spite of all of her efforts, Qingwen failed nearly all of her interviews, receiving comments such as 'introverted', 'dull', and 'recited like a machine', exacerbating an already fragile self-confidence. She told her parents: “I guess, it’s impossible to change myself at university.”.
Yet Qingwen is someone who never admits defeat. With steely determination she continued to try, repeatedly telling herself in the mirror that she 'could do it' while continuing to practice and recite her speeches dozen of times.
Finally, her English scores improved, and she delivered a speech for the class president election in front of more than 80 students. “The class president election changed me. When I finished the speech, I realised the 'introvert' label others put on me had inhibited my self perception. The experience was a great confidence booster.”.
Although Qingwen failed to win the election, she received offers to join two student clubs, enabling her to work with different departments and projects and develop skills such as event planning, public relations, human resources, finance, English speeches, and entrepreneurship competitions etc. She also passed a highly competitive selection process to serve as a translator for a United Nations Director during the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. She also formed a study group, where members would gather every week to present key points they had learned and shared notes. “The study group was very helpful to me. It was the atmosphere of UNNC that helped me become more open and studious, allowing me to communicate and share with others.”.
Inspired by her experience in the student clubs, Qingwen founded ACCA Club Eastern China and served as its first president. “During revision for final exams, I had to answer more than 30 calls to deal with the club’s issues every day. With so many responsibilities, my skills, in particular, communication, leadership and multi-tasking, improved significantly, and these have benefited my career considerably. Ten years later, the ACCA Club is still flourishing, providing services for UNNCers to enhance their business knowledge and develop their practical skills.".
In her third year, Qingwen went to the UK as part of an exchange programme. During the summer vacation, she also went to the US for an internship where she was awarded 'Best Overall Performance' and 'Special Contribution' and invited to stay for a full year. Taking a gap year to complete the internship Qingwen also studied for the GMAT and FRM exams during her lunch break, on the bus to work and home, and at weekends. She was admitted to the MBA Summer Camp of Michigan University during the summer and received postgraduate study offers from many top US universities including the University of Michigan Ross Business School, University of Washington in St. Louis, and the University of Southern California. Returning to China, Qingwen obtained a first-class honours degree from UNNC and then took up the offer of a place for a Masters in Finance and Accounting at the University of Michigan. But with growing confidence her she has continued to study and develop her professional knowledge and is a Chartered Financial Analyst Charterholder, Certified Financial Risk Manager, Certified Public Accountant, and Certified Management Accountant.
“At a party before graduation, my best friend smiled at me and said, ‘Now you are completely different from the person I remembered when you first entered the university.’ Looking back on my four years at UNNC, I realised how meaningful this thorny path was.” said Qingwen.
From audit to consulting, be the first one to try new things
Joining Ernst & Young's Chicago office after graduation, Qingwen found the first year a tough baptism to the world of work, often working long days and on weekends and getting up at five o’clock in the morning every day to study for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants exams. In her second year, she gradually realised that auditing was not for her and became interested in mergers and acquisitions following her chance involvement in an M&A audit a meeting.
However, as this job required strong communication skills and American employees with English as the first language were preferred it was difficult to change roles within the firm at that time. Undeterred, Qingwen followed her interest and joined a smaller accounting firm as a consultant on mergers and acquisitions, despite scepticism from others. A year later, she rejoined PwC in their mergers and acquisitions advisory transaction services, where she now has the position of Manager - one of the rare Asian women who has been promoted to this level.
As Qingwen explains: “The safest choice is not necessarily the best, and it’s not a bad idea to be the first to try new things. Sometimes, taking a risk results in the realisation of ambitions.".
The present and the future
As an M&A Transaction Services Manager, Qingwen’s main duty is to assist technology companies like Google and Microsoft in acquiring other public companies or selling business units which have limited profitability. This includes communicating and negotiating with acquirers and acquirees, and analysis of business data etc. Qingwen points out that the prospects for the industry are closely associated with the direction of the economy, so a booming economy stimulates M&A activities and gives companies more cash flow to make acquisitions. The past few years have been good and she been kept very busy.
Describing why she likes the M&A Transaction Service, Qingwen told us: “There are new challenges every day. I am exposed to different companies, industries, cases and business models, which broadens my horizon and is a lot of fun. Also, many skills can be applied and practised, such as data modelling and analysis, communication and negotiation, and business writing which are useful to long-term career development.” Aiming at establishing her own business eventually, she hopes to sharpen her skills in her current job and engage in product strategy analysis in a future company, so as to get closer to a company’s operations and products.
Asked what advice she would give to students who want to enter the industry, she said: “Improve your communication skills, such as through club activities. Pay attention to knowledge and practical skills in the field of finance and data analysis, and in terms of that, the courses at UNNC are very practical. Those who have spare time should do some extra-curricular learning.”.
Posted on Wednesday 4th December 2019