Alumnus applies HNC skills as Manager at Deloitte Thailand

Alumnus applies HNC skills as Manager at Deloitte Thailand

George GaoCertificate '17, SAIS MA'18, discusses the skills he gained at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, which help him in his current role as Manager for Deloitte Consulting in Bangkok, Thailand. While at the HNC, George was previously featured on the blog for his performance in Moot Court. Check out the story from his student days here:

Could you tell me a little bit more about your career and current role? How much have you built upon your HNC experience, and how much did you have to learn on the job? 

In college, I majored in environmental studies with a focus on international relations. After I graduated college, I had jobs everywhere. For instance, I worked as a teacher very briefly and then I did a few internships at the United Nations (UN), where I looked at sustainable development and human rights. I then worked as a journalist, and I really enjoyed that process. From there I got a job at the Pew Research Center in Washington, DC and continued my journalism work while picking up some data skills as well. I wrote about international topics such as China and more generally about demographic shifts and economic shifts, as well as public opinion both in the US and around the world. That's when I decided to apply to the HNC. 

I applied for the two-year program, a year at the HNC and a year in SAIS DC, for two reasons. First, I personally always knew I wanted to spend time in China because I was born in Suzhou, which is right next to Nanjing, and I moved out of China when I was three years old. I wanted to move back, spend time with my grandparents, see what life was like there, and learn about the history of China to better understand my roots. Secondly, I wanted to gain more expertise in economics, especially international economics. During my time at the UN, I gained an interest in international economics and finance, and wanted to use it to complement my background in environment and energy issues.

As for my current career, while studying economics and finance at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, I was able to land an internship at Deloitte - Hong Kong where I used my Chinese language skills and international economics and finance skills to consult for banks. From there I went to DC and did a second internship where I did similar things such as consulting, with international banks as my main clients. After I graduated from Johns Hopkins SAIS, I started working at Deloitte in DC, and when my partner moved to Thailand for her job, I also transferred to Deloitte - Thailand.

How often do you use Chinese in your current position or other skills you gained while studying at the HNC?

The Hopkins-Nanjing Center was a place where I could experiment and try new things without fear of failure. This allowed me to gain a lot of skills and build confidence while not being afraid to pursue new tasks. 

The nice thing about the HNC is that you build up a lot of the hard skills from classes and outside of classes, whether that's language skills or other skills. For example, I was part of the Moot Court team at HNC, which was completely new for me. I gained a lot of experience there on international business and arbitration, and some basic understanding of business law. Those experiences definitely helped me have the confidence to tackle similar problems in the workplace.

In addition, I had never done anything with law or public speaking before. I tried (to be a part of the Moot Court team) at the HNC because I knew it could help me improve on those skills. Gaining that public speaking role, working with the team to conduct rigorous research, and gaining that subject matter expertise from international business studying was extremely helpful and applicable.

I'd say I use the skills I gained from Moot Court every day. As a manager, I need to find ways to motivate an international team and bilingual team, lead the team through ambiguity, keep up morale, and set an example for teammates especially during challenging times. I also have to present regularly to C-suite leaders, many of whom will challenge my recommendations and analyses, much like the judges did at the Vis Moot competition.

Another thing to add is that you build a great network at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. For instance, alumni have helped me in both finding internships and securing job opportunities. Another great thing about the alumni network is its international nature. When I knew I was moving to Thailand, the first thing I did was reach out to the SAIS alumni in the area. They are extraordinarily useful contacts to have.

What is a favorite memory from the HNC? 
I really enjoyed playing on the basketball team, as it was a bilingual team and we competed with other schools on the Nanjing University campus, such as the Nanjing Medical School and the Nanjing Law School. I also enjoyed competing in the International Arbitration
competition. We even took two trips, one to Beijing to compete with Chinese schools and another to Vienna, Austria to compete with international schools. Those are very good experiences and memories for me.

I also appreciated that both the Moot Court team and Basketball team were initiated by students. For the Moot Court team, we basically assembled a bilingual team of students who were interested, and worked with two of the law professors (Professor Simon and Professor Feng) to enroll our team into a formal program. The basketball team was similar. We got in touch with the managing administration, put together a team, and just went with it.

In terms of classes, I enjoyed my Chinese history classes because you don't get to experience those perspectives in the US. I took a class on Chinese history Post-1949 and I really enjoyed it.

The HNC is now 35 years old. What do you see as the value of the HNC in the next 35 years? 

The United States and China are two of the largest countries in the world, as well as two of the most influential economies and political forces in the world. Unless we want to descend into a US-USSR type of relationship, then institutions like the Hopkins-Nanjing Center are critical in helping both sides understand each other's perspective. Throughout my time as a student, I found the HNC to be a very important institution to build a foundation of mutual understanding--especially at a time when the relationship between the two countries has been somewhat antagonistic. I made a lot of lifelong friends at HNC who are Chinese and who are American, and after many shared dinners, parties, travel adventures, and other experiences, I can very confidently say that we have a lot more values in common than not. It is my firm belief that if US-China policy gets shaped on both sides by HNC grads, the world will be a much more peaceful and prosperous place.

Interview by Eljoy Tanos