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Alumni Story | Joseph CHEN: Sail Straight through The Career Sea

Joseph CHEN SJTU– KEDGE Global MBA 2017 intake General Manager China, Flywire Corporation

"Outstanding managers are like experienced sailors, all of whom have seen intense winds and high waves. Developing a career is like starting a long voyage. You need clear goals and the ability to adapt to environmental changes, know how to use external support, then make your own efforts.” This is Joseph CHEN’s attitude towards career development.


He has been deeply involved in the financial payment industry for more than a decade and has successively worked for many well-known domestic and foreign enterprises such as HSBC, UnionPay, MasterCard, and Visa. And now he is General Manager China of Flywire Corporation. From financial services to educational payment, while following the industry trends, he also constantly takes new challenges. He chose to go back to school to attend an MBA programme when felt at a crossroads, sought external support timely and helped himself to ride the wind and waves in the voyage of career development. 

Early Stage: Lay a Solid Foundation and Dare to Try

Joseph received his master’s degree from Beijing Foreign Studies University and has excellent foreign language skills. When he first started his career, he chose to join HSBC as a management trainee instead of being an interpreter in which he exceled. Joseph has a clear goal: using his language skills as a tool to support his work and prove his career value in a promising industry.


HSBC provided Joseph with a systematic training of large international enterprises, laid a solid financial foundation, and cultivated courteous professional quality. Joseph's work primarily involved personal financial services and investment banking business. After a period, he found that payment, compared with banking, is a more stable industry (less affected by fluctuation of economic cycles), while electronic payments will be very promising with the advantages such as management convenience and security.


Therefore, he had a clearer career direction. He successively worked for two large payment- enterprises: UnionPay and MasterCard. And he was responsible for the development of middle platform products such as cardholders' rights and interests. Joseph joined the two companies for two reasons. The first is from the perspective of career development. He wanted to know the corporate culture of state-owned company and compare with that of international ones to find out which working environment was more suitable for himself; the second is from the perspective of business knowledge and skills, he wanted to fully understand the business scope and details of both domestic and foreign payment services.

Joseph firmly believes that in order to achieve faster growth in the early stage of career, it is quite necessary to try more. Therefore, he joined Visa in 2014 and shifted his work focus from the middle platform to the front end that directly faces customers. As Senior Manager of CRM, he was responsible for initiating a new business - developing Visa card business with regional banks in China. From his point of view, foreign financial payment companies still have a lot to offer in terms of localized services in China. Only by staying close to the client and responding to their needs can he truly make changes.


Relying on his solid knowledge on banking products and business processes of Chinese companies, Joseph got the job started very quickly, and the Visa card business with regional banks in China had also been rapidly promoted. With the accumulation of experience, Joseph's career development vision gradually shifted from regional banks to national ones, and he became interested in more large-scale and systematic business management.

Crossroads: MBA is Like a Career Pass

2017 marked Joseph's 10th year from starting the career. Joseph, like other managers, after reaching a certain professional height, began to ask himself: “Where to go next?” Given the difficulty to keep his vitality in pace with the fast-changing market, Joseph realized that it was time to improve professional abilities and grow knowledge.


Before deciding to enroll in the MBA programme, Joseph also hesitated. After all, MBA programme requires a lot of energy and time. Finally, a friend's words encouraged him to make up his mind: "MBA is like a career pass, you should seize the opportunity when you have the energy and the money. Because when you are in your 40s and still want to advance in your career, you will only find yourself less competitive since your rivals are all equipped with an MBA. "

When choosing the MBA programme, Joseph mainly took account of the following factors: whether the programme curriculum is comprehensive and systematic, whether it speaks to the needs of professionals working in an international business environment, whether the participants are serious enough towards the programme, and whether the participants could receive solid deliveries. After some research, he decided to apply for SJTU- KEDGE Global MBA and here are the reasons why:

  • The integrated systematic curriculum could enable him to discover his own "blind spot" and help him to bolster weak points. Although it promises no expert in all areas, it could lay a solid foundation for him to build a system on his professional ability and management knowledge, leading to an overall development in the future.
  • An international faculty and an all-English teaching environment bring broader vision and a variety of business cases. The knowledge learned here can also be better applied in foreign companies (Joseph feels more at ease in the working environment of foreign companies).
  • Whether the ones who showed up in the programme info sessions or the participants who already started their MBA there, they all had a serious attitude towards "learning". A friend of Joseph was participant of the programme and was drafting his final paper at that time. His “painful” study experience also proved that the programme sets extremely strict requirements for its participants.

New Start: MBA Fuels Career Advancement

Looking back on the 2 years of MBA study, Joseph considers that the Programme has met his expectations both in terms of study and career.


First, the programme provided him with knowledge in corporate finance and marketing, two fields he has hardly reached before, especially that of marketing. For Joseph, the marketing course delivered by Professor Michel GUTSATZ made him "painful"(since there is always no standard answer) but also motivated to explore more. "An experienced professor is able to guide MBA participants to identify problems that they might have overlooked before, which sometimes could lead to disputes (quite common when people are free to speak). But the professor can always find the right time to stop the debate, get control of the situation, and leave the participants curious about further research and thinking.” said Joseph.


Joseph believes that the marketing course has helped him step out of the box, have a more comprehensive view, and understand the reason why there is always a gap between his perspectives and conclusions and that of others. Keeping fully aware of his situation as well as that of others and knowing how to analyze from the standpoint of others, these qualities bring great benefits to his current work as General Manager China of Flywire Corporation.

In 2019, Joseph joined Flywire as General Manager of China during his MBA study. From payment organization to third-party payment focused on overseas education, from director to general manager, Joseph has adjusted his career direction and completed his career promotion at his own pace.


The following MBA study and his new career direction also supplement each other. The graduation thesis (SBP) of Joseph focuses on the education industry that Flywire has been deeply engaged in, and mainly studies the market prospects of K12 education. In the process of research, apart from the guidance of his mentor, schoolmates with similar age and professional experience also offered Joseph a lot of resources and technical help. The latest and real industry information can be received through exchanges with these elites in their respective fields and could effectively forecast the market trends.

Business Challenges and Industry Transformation Under the Pandemic

Flywire has entered China market as early as 2012 and has achieved certain development. At present, Flywire, starting from an exquisite but small-scale company, has become a listed enterprise (listed in Nasdaq in May 2021), China always being one of Flywire's most important markets. To explore more customers while maintaining the post-listing growth, how to gear for the mass market has become a major challenge for Joseph.


According to Joseph, being official partners for many schools, Flywire provides the security and peace of mind through traceability of the entire process, which is the most competitive feature compared with other payment channels. However, in the China market where consumers value goods more than service, the top management of a company must figure out a way to grow the company’s value, provide better services and avoid falling into price battle leading to profit loss.

Faced with the “better service or cheaper price” challenge, Joseph and his team strive to ensure the steady development of the company’s business in China while putting focus on exploring new customer acquisition channels. They plan to make use of the brand’s good reputation earned in the past to create more co-branding partnerships in order to enjoy a larger number of potential customers. The cooperation may involve large banks, payment organizations and study abroad agencies, etc.


Apart from this, under the influence of the pandemic, the domino effect in the industry has gradually emerged. The large-scale stagnation of the cross-border tourism industry forced institutions and platforms such as banks, Alipay, and WeChat also to pay attention to international students and set foot on the field of studying abroad, which led to a fiercer competition in this segment market. Without doubt, the entry of such institutions and platforms with brand awareness, strong development ability and price advantages will lead to the reshaping of the industry structure and bring about a significant impact on market. Impacted by the pandemic, international relations, and national policies, now the prospect of the study abroad market is still unclear. Joseph believes that improving the business efficiency and quality is the most practical way in this competition. Different parties have different focuses (Flywire pays attention to the payment itself, banks value the parents of international students, Alipay focuses on the payment needs of international students after they go abroad). It may end with a "love-hate relationship" for all parties. There is competition and cooperation, and the final winner must be the most open and inclusive enterprise that can provide the best service.

Future Career Plan and Advice for MBA Participants

The current global market is in a state of rapid fluctuation due to factors such as geopolitics and the pandemic. In this context, Joseph believes that whether with an active or passive attitude, no one could prevent themselves from the changes. When talking about the future career planning, Joseph said that he will lead the team to win the “battle”, and will work on three aspects: firstly, maintaining business growth; secondly, formulating strategies suitable for the China market; finally, preparing for the reshaping of the industry structure. Undoubtedly, this will be a tough battle, but also a good learning process. "Outstanding managers are like experienced sailors, all of whom have seen intense winds and high waves. You need clear goals and the ability to adapt to environmental changes, know how to use external support, then make your own efforts.” said Joseph.


For those who have plans to attend an MBA or are about to start their MBA study, Joseph gives 3 suggestions:


  1. One need to have a down-to-earth expectation for MBA. MBA cannot bring you “success at one stroke”. What can MBA offer? An integrated business management knowledge system and the ability to apply the general rules of the business world. In addition, MBA can help reduce communication costs so one can work more efficiently. At the same time, one can cultivate good study and listening habits during MBA study, which will help identify personal weakness and learn to get rid of the shortcomings.
  2. MBA is not an armor, but a sword. The aim of attending an MBA is not to learn to protect oneself in his or her career, but to help broaden horizons, have the guts to explore and innovate, and even find opportunities in areas one has never reached before, and as a result, achieve a greater self-worth.
  3. Make sure to start your MBA study as early as possible while you have time, money, and energy. It’s the right time to act especially when you foresee that you are about to have a career bottleneck. Once you decide to attend an MBA, try to choose the programmes with longer duration, which will offer you more solid deliveries and make your career path further and smoother.


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