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26 January 2018

Reset Your Mind to Start at Square One

Under the leadership of Vivian Li (EMBA (Chinese) Program 2017) , mainland menswear brand GXG recorded a turnover of over RMB 10 million when it debuted at Alibaba’s TMall Singles Day. The success earned her the nickname “Sister Qianwan (10 million)”. However, after a long period of smooth sailing, she encountered a career bottleneck, prompting her to take two years off the e-commerce industry to study at CUHK. Last year she staged a comeback by starting her own business with partners and assuming the role of China CEO for sportswear brand 2XU. It begs the question: How did she manage to reset her attitude and reach new heights in her career?

Vivian poses with e-commerce mogul Alibaba Group Chairman Mr. Jack Ma

From Taxi Driver to “Sister Qianwan”

Vivian, a Ningbo native, entered the workforce after graduating from high school. She was once a taxi driver and also worked in human resources management. Her work in personnel training familiarised her with commodities such as watches and jewellery and introduced her to many global brands, paving the way for her to become a top salesperson for Mercedes-Benz.

When e-commerce began to take off on the mainland, Vivian was inspired by her friend’s online clothing store, which generated a turnover of RMB 10 million a year. Vivian was amazed by the influence of the internet and thought it was the way to go. Despite making RMB 200,000 a month as a car salesperson, she quit the job and accepted a monthly salary of RMB 2,500 as an apprentice to her friend. A year later, she was appointed as E-Commerce General Manager of GXG, which set the stage for the “Sister Qianwan” legacy.

Hard Work Leads to Industry Recognition

Vivian is fond of her nickname “Sister Qianwan.” On one hand, it symbolises the outstanding leadership she demonstrated at the Singles Day event for GXG in 2010. On the other hand, it represents the industry’s recognition of her and her team. The GXG team was only three months old, and in order to meet the TMall RMB 10 million target, Vivian and her team had been working tirelessly and burning the midnight oil for a month prior to the big day. “I remember the morning before the event I worked until 3A.M. After sending everyone home, the sun had risen already, but I was back at the office at 8A.M.”

Vivian and her team managed to achieve a record-breaking online turnover of RMB 10 million with their dedication and perseverance

On the last hour of Singles Day, turnover was still RMB 1.2 million short of the target. Just as she was starting to despair, her competitor Mr. Chen gave her a helping hand in an unexpected way. He shared GXG’s link on his own online store, and several other brands followed suit, which increased GXG’s traffic tremendously. “I asked Mr. Chen why he offered to help. He said, ‘I really like your brand, and I’ve never seen anyone who works as hard as you.’” GXG’s number was RMB 10.02 million the next morning. “Everyone cried because it was a result of hard work from all of us.”

Vivian (front right) listens intently and interacts with classmates at a CUHK Business School EMBA (Chinese) Program class

Three Lessons at CUHK

For a few years after reaching the milestone, Vivian continued to out-perform herself at GXG and was recruited by TMall as General Manager in charge of apparel. She initially hoped to flex her muscles with such a huge platform, but she did not expect the two companies to be so different in terms of organisation and business model. Unable to find her feet, she decided to take a sabbatical and enrol in the CUHK EMBA (Chinese) Program.

Vivian had several epiphanies during her two years at CUHK: Firstly, although the class was comprised of business elites, everyone was genuine to each other and was treated as equal. It made her realise the importance of respect in interpersonal relationships. People should see the good in others and keep their ego in check for a better outcome.

Vivian (centre in blue) and her classmates participate in the Xuan Zang Road International Business School Gobi Challenge. The teammates supported each other through their journey to victory.

Secondly, Vivian and her classmates complained to the university about the content of a business law class. The professor took the comments well and invited a former student, who now works in business law, to give a guest lecture. After the lecture, the professor asked students to critique and give suggestions. His handling of the matter made Vivian see him in a different light. Vivian was used to getting praise for outstanding performance throughout her career, but it eventually turned into a burden and a fear of criticism and failure. From this professor, she learnt to accept criticism and tackle problems gracefully in order to achieve excellence.

Thirdly, Vivian participated in the Xuan Zang Road International Business School Gobi Challenge two years in a row. Over the course of four days, she trekked through some 100km of desert in excruciating heat. Although giving up did cross her mind, she managed to press on. Winning the Shackleton Champion Prize was a testament to importance of perseverance. “Whatever you’re pursuing, as long as you’ve made a decision, please carry on until the end. Don’t live life with regret.”

Vivian likes to challenge herself and live life to the fullest

Overcome a Career Plateau with the Right Attitude

To rest is to prepare for a longer journey. During her two years at CUHK, Vivian focused on study and exercise. It reset her mind and made her understand the benefits of exercise. It inspired her to get back on her feet and get into the sportswear industry. She successfully lined up Australian sportswear brand 2XU and GXG to form a partnership, taking advantage of the former’s compression garment manufacturing technology and the latter’s strong retail network. Together with her extensive above and below the line management experience, they are set to take over the Chinese market. It will also be a dream come true for Vivian as it has been her life-long goal to draw from her own strength to change the lives of 100 people.

Last year Vivian led 2XU, which had only entered the Chinese market for two months at that time, to participate in the TMall Singles Day event. Her industry partners again shared 2XU’s link on their online shops to welcome the return of “Sister Qianwan”, a gesture she appreciated deeply.

Going back to square one requires a complete reset. One cannot add more water to a glass filled to the brim without spilling some. Only when it is emptied can it be refilled with soothing fresh water.

Video — Messages from Our Alumni

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