2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Meimei ZHAO, Cambridge Judge

Meimei ZHAO

Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS)

Age: 34

“Relentless curious entrepreneur with passionate belief and chameleon-like adaptability.”

Hometown: Hubei, China

Family Members: Mum and Dad

Fun fact about yourself: I almost pursued a professional singing career in my adolescence.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

BA Creative Industry Management, Communication University of China

MA Media and Public Relations, University of Newcastle

Where are you currently working? Founder and Managing Director of Variety Plus PR & Consulting Ltd.

Variety Plus is one of the UK’s fastest growing communications agencies with offices in London and Shanghai. Variety Plus is the go-to agency for brands looking to connect with Chinese consumers creatively and efficiently and vice versa. Variety Plus works in partnership with clients to develop insight driven, cross-cultural communications strategies which are practical and sustainable.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Salsa & Bachata dancing

Part-time immersive theatre producer & promoter

Co-producer of immersive Alice’s Adventure Underground (2018, Shanghai), immersive Wolf of Wall Street (2019, London)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Our DEI (diversity, equality & inclusion) team consulting project for The Walt Disney Company. This is my favourite subject and it’s for one of the companies I like most. It’s like getting the secret receipt to cook your favourite dish. It was quite challenging during the project due to various reasons but I was lucky to have the best teammates and we made it eventually.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I found out what I love to do in my early thirties and had the chance to run my own business.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I wanted to learn how to best manage and grow my business within the creative industry. Among all the executive MBA programmes, Judge Business School offers the most diverse cohorts, forming springs of new business ideas and industry inspiration. And personally, I value the history and traditions of Cambridge University, which has been described as “Harry Potter Experience”.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Just as all the academic knowledge I have learned during my study, so did I gain so much in-depth operation know-how. I had realised the monumental importance to acquire talents with many different areas of expertise and to build a support system that can dynamically assist those talents to succeed. This discovery was only made possible by the diverse selection of team consulting projects and group assignments. This is also a significant step beyond the traditional understanding that entrepreneurs are there to simply manage people.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? I applied for the programme in 2019 after my business experienced some initial success. Little did I know the substantial impact from COVID would have on my business. It’s fair to say it’s not an easy task to face all the challenges of business survival, manage two offices (London and Shanghai) and take the intense curriculum in the first term.

Prior to the pandemic, our business focused on promoting British brands in the Chinese market, mainly in tourism, education and creative industries. Since the pandemic literally put the hard break on all these sectors in the UK, I had to spend extra time and effort to source new business opportunities. As the word Wei Ji in Chinese, a crisis is too valuable to waste, I was lucky to find and tap into the rapid development of DTC (Direct-to-Consumer) sector globally. For the first time, the eight hours’ time difference plays into my advantage as it allowed me to have business meetings first thing in the morning before my classes and my partners in Shanghai were kind enough to schedule nothing earlier than 6 o’clock.

Against the backdrop, I took the biggest business risk, albeit calculated one, in my career to expend our team when most companies started to furlough or layoff staff. It turns out to be the right choice as we are better positioned to drive our DTC business from China to the UK and vice versa. I would like to express my gratitude here to all our solid team. It’s because of each and everyone’s support that I can pass through the finish line of my executive MBA programme. It was only made possible by the solid execution of the team.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? An executive MBA programme would not provide one a solution but an answer. You would need to have clear questions or at least clear discovery areas before your pursuit first (e.g., how to succeed in any particular business line or how to optimise the efficiency in any particular operation). Whatever the question is, I’d recommend that any prospective student ask themselves what is the question you want to answer. This program is not he means to an end, but it will equip you with an extremely strong toolbox and smart minds to help you along the way.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? Many people believe that having an MBA or EMBA education is only for people who want to make connections; it not for studying. Well, I have to say you sort of forgot how demanding and intense the study can be when you went back to school after a few years after graduation. Yes, you would meet a lot of new friends and have many socialising opportunities. However, the things taking most of your time and energy will be assignments and all the reading, the amount of which won’t be easy for those who have learnt English as a second language.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I have to confess that I hardly finish all the reading materials, which I probably would take some along in my next holiday trips.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I have learnt much more than I expected from all my classmates. To answer this question, I would say Caroline Birkle and Linda Conway Baigrie have made the best impression on me. First of all, I think they both have strong leadership, thoughtful in their arguments with a lot of attention to details. I enjoyed their great insights on almost every subject during the lectures. As successful women in their respective industries, they manage to strike an almost impossible balance between professional work and family life. And outside the work, I know Caroline has been actively supporting some NGO initiatives. How amazing is that?!

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? You won’t have as much people interaction in online programmes and I think as executive MBA students improving your knowledge and skills through face-to-face interaction is irreplaceable, at least for now.

As a young entrepreneur, I felt in-person courses and face-to-face interactions was essential to the growth of my leadership skills.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? For years, my team and I have been focusing on intercultural marketing solutions and communication strategies for organisations and brands. I still have the vision that is to become one of the strongest entrepreneurs enhancing global business partnerships, especially ones that crosses significant cultural barriers. While taking this journey, I hope I can always stick to my belief, which is “Do what I love and love what I do”.

What made Meimei such an invaluable addition to the class of 2022?

“It has been a delight having Meimei as part of the cohort – she showed great dedication to her studies and her contribution in class as well as group exercises has been exemplary. In addition, she has contributed immensely to the social fabric and extra-curricular activities of the cohort. For instance, her mini video project capturing wonderful moments throughout the course has been a great initiative that will be valued by all. Our very best wishes to Meimei in the next steps of her career.”

Othman Cole 
Senior Faculty in Management Practice (Finance) 
Deputy Director of the Executive MBA programme 

DON’T MISS: THE BEST & BRIGHTEST EXECUTIVE MBAS OF 2022

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