When you hear the words “SAS alumni,” who comes to mind? Perhaps the shy young woman who found her voice in special needs education advocacy. Maybe the guy who changed his career from operating room doctor to fitness expert. Or, the young movie director who made waves at the Tribeca Film Festival. Their stories and voices highlight the SAS alumni experience. Click on any article below to read about how our alumni thrive.
- Ben McGill ’08: From Northeast to the Far East
- Johanna Tan '11: Her Commitment to Lifelong Learning
- Steffen Lohrmann '02: Chasing Success
- Cailin Lowry '10: Redefining the Voice and presence of Women in the Creative Industry One Project at a Time
- Carson Lee '07: From SAS to Nurse Practitioner
- Chloe Yee May '12 : Lessons from a Professional Artist
- Stephanie Yin '09: Her Journey from Start-up Employee to Start-up Owner
- Betty Barr '49: SAS Adventure May 13, 2019
- Susan Ho '06: Her Business Journy, and Her Trailblazing Experiences as an Entrepreneur Woman in Tech.
She walks into her office dressed in black from head to toe, which is the only colour you will find in her closet. According to Stephanie Yin '09, an all-black wardrobe channels her inner Steve Jobs and eliminates unnecessary choices in the morning. While Yin’s attire seems monotone, her life is far from dull.
At the age of 27, Yin is the Chief Executive Officer of Fugazi Creative. Fugazi is a branding and content-creation company with clients such as Carrefour, Lanna Coffee, Spread the Bagel, and O&G Capital Management. Her journey to becoming her own boss before the age of 30 would take her around the world - and it started right here at SAS.
In third grade, she convinced her parents that she should take French instead of Mandarin since she would have exposure to Chinese at home. It was this same persuasive attitude that gave Yin the courage to sway her parents’ decision to allow her to attend university in Paris. After all, she did study French for 10 years.
Yin studied at the American University of Paris. “Attending AUP was eye-opening, magical at times, and something I would never trade,” she recalled. “After two years in Paris, I realized I wasn’t going at the pace I wanted, so I went back to the drawing board.”
Before she knew it, she was accepted to Northeastern University and headed to Boston.
At Northeastern she participated in a co-op at a music studio. This gave her a taste of real work and ultimately changed her professional goals. She went on to become a Content Marketing Manager for a New York-based contemporary arts start-up company after receiving her undergraduate degree.
After realizing her efforts did not match her gains at the start-up, Stephanie reluctantly returned to Shanghai. Her boss at the time saw this as an opportunity to expand the start-up and sought Yin’s guidance for setting up shop in Shanghai. She recruited a friend to help her.
Little did Stephanie know at the time, this was her first step towards establishing herself as an entrepreneur. While exploring the value the start-up could gain from Shanghai, she recognized the value she could bring to businesses in the city. Yin eventually left the company and Fugazi Creative was born.
According to Yin, “SAS breeds independent thinkers and go-getters, while emphasizing teamwork,” she said. “As I gained more confidence as an adult, I found myself looking back at my time at SAS and extracting the positive attributes I admired about my peers and teachers. But beyond that, being at SAS contributed to my open-minded outlook, which can be applied in any setting or situation.”
I had not visited the Puxi campus for two years. What changes! Our tree, planted by 19 alums in 2004, is still there, growing well, and Teddy’s gavel still has pride of place at the History Wall where old Columbians and newspaper cuttings are also displayed.
But the campus in general has a spruced-up look. There are bright red new signboards telling you where to go for each division of the school, e.g. Middle School, and the paths are much improved - wider, well paved and surrounded by flowers everywhere. The most spectacular change is in the Science ‘Space’, an amazing building in ultra-modern style housing all kinds of ultra-modern scientific apparatus. I did happen to see two books saying “Physics” and “Chemistry”! I learned that the building is used for the teaching of science in new “liberal arts” style programs.
There were not very many students around and we were told that it was because the Freshmen and Sophomores were away on their China Alive activities. This is a program under which the students leave the campus for a week and take part in a great variety of activities, some traveling to faraway villages in other provinces, others doing special sports. As the name implies, it is an attempt to help the students understand present day China.
On this occasion it was ICS (International Channel Shanghai), a local TV channel, who took me to the campus. They are doing a project on local international schools and, of course, SAS is one of the most important. They asked me to chat to a number of students at different levels, one, purely by chance, turning out to be a Senior called Donna. She is active in the History Club and has sent questions to several of us in SASA regarding our old school.
Another Senior with whom I had quite a long chat was Chansol Park, a young Korean, who is about to go to Oxford University. The story was that he is interested in history and therefore applied to Oxford. At the interview he was asked about the history of his school and, it seems, he knew all about it and was therefore accepted! He told me that another reason he chose Oxford was that he admired the students’ debating skills.
At the other end of the scale, I was asked to talk with a group of fifteen kindergarten students in their classroom. This is not my forte but I took my '49 Columbian and showed them the photograph of the ten kindergarten students that year. The present students were very lively, mostly Asian faces (probably with US passports) but with a sprinkling of children from the US (Houston, Texas), Sweden and Finland.
Near the end of the afternoon I was taken outside the school to where ‘my’ school bus was waiting. I had heard earlier that there is a bus named after Teddy but did not know that I have one too! There is a copy of my '49 Columbian photo on the side of the bus, the numbers '49 and, of course in these days, a QR code which, once you have scanned it, tells you a little about me. Photos were taken....
The ICS reporter interviewed Kevin Lynch about the development of the school after 1980 and we look forward to seeing the program - next week!
Click here to view the news special.
The story goes like this: When Susan Ho '06 was working as an executive of fast-growing startup Fab.com, she went on vacation to Buenos Aires and didn’t have time to plan her trip in advance.
She ended up spending over 10 hours of her vacation in her hotel Googling and sorting through TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews, only to still end up in a “local, authentic steakhouse” surrounded by tourists. It was far from the hidden gem she was looking for.
As she told Electrify Magazine: “I felt like, why is it that I am an internet savvy person and I took the time to research and plan, yet I couldn’t find the things that I was looking for? Something’s broken.” And the idea for her new business, Journy, was born.
Ascent interview with alumna Susan Ho ’06
Susan, tell us about what you are up to these days.
I'm running my travel company, Journy (www.gojourny.com). We're a mobile app and web platform that pairs travelers with their own personal travel designer. We take care of hotel, activity, and restaurant bookings for our travelers using recommendations from a network of over 300 top chefs, sommeliers, and local experts. Travelers come to our site, fill out a questionnaire, and get paired 1-on-1 with an expert to plan their trips for them.
Since launching the company in June 2016, we were featured in Travel+Leisure as one of the best new travel apps of 2017, and have now planned over 4,000 trips.
What has been your trajectory since college?
My first job was as an associate at the Boston Consulting Group. After two years, I had the opportunity to join one of NYC's fastest growing startups, Fab.com. While there, the company grew from 100 to over 700 employees in under a year. I became the youngest executive in the company, managing a team of over 120 people across New York and Berlin as VP of Customer Service & Operations Strategy. After Fab, I consulted for a few other NYC startups including DigitalOcean (cloud hosting), Blue Apron (meal kits), and Learn Vest (financial planning) before starting Journy.
What are the biggest challenges and greatest satisfactions you find in running Journy?
The biggest challenge in running and growing a startup is that there is no playbook to follow. In the past, when I was working as a consultant or on operations issues, there was also a clear path to getting to the right answer to solve a problem — you just have to do the work to pull the right data, interview the right experts, or run the right analyses. With a startup, all of that goes out the window. I can work 100+ hours a week and still not be sure that I spent my time working on the right things. How do you market a product that never existed before that people didn't necessarily know they wanted or needed? How do you do customer acquisition at scale in a space that's incredibly expensive to do so, on a limited budget? Why aren't travelers engaging with our site the way we expected them to?
There are endless challenges that our team faces every day and there are no clear paths to the right answer. But, that's also what makes it so much more rewarding when you figure out something that works. For instance, we realized that potential customers have quite a few questions about our product. For our email onboarding, rather than have a short introductory email, we tested it against an email that included our entire FAQ that was more than 10x longer. To our surprise, the longer FAQ email resulted in 4x more purchases than our short email that adhered to more conventional "best practices."
It taught us that we shouldn't just follow best business practices and we need to continually test and challenge the norm to succeed.
What advice would you give to young people entering into today’s economy?
Learn as much as you can. I've managed over 100 young people in their first, second, or third jobs out of school. The ones who succeed and are able to move to the next level are constantly learning and asking how they can do their jobs better.
I also see a lot of young people who come into the workforce very entitled. They don't want to take a customer service job, they want to work on strategy right away, they want to a CEO right away. These are the people who don't succeed because 1) they aren't able to get their foot in the door by proving their willing to do whatever it takes for a shot, and 2) because they're constantly focused on the next level instead of how to better do the job in front of them.
My advice is to be humble and learn. For example, one woman working for me had a biochemistry degree from NYU, but she decided she didn't want to be a doctor anymore. She started off in customer service and then we trusted her to manage customer fraud. She continually excelled and innovated and her work led her to collaborate with the company's product management team. Eventually, she became a junior product manager and is now a senior product manager at Rent the Runway. I have multiple stories like this, including from people who quit careers in law and investment banking to join startups. They were humble enough to realize that their skills didn't translate directly right away and they needed to learn how the companies worked first before being able to contribute more meaningfully. By taking an entry-level position and not complaining and doing the work, the showed they were team players, willing to roll-up-their-sleeves, and trusted in their own ability to provide value without needing the perfect role and title right away.
How many hours a week, on average, do you work?
I used to work 90-100 hours a week, but I realized I wasn't being productive the way I needed to be. Because I'm in a role that requires a combination of creativity, management and empathy, and strategy, I'm not my best when I'm sleep-deprived or tired. Nowadays I limit myself to 60 hours a week (and encourage my team to do the same). I also make time for things like going to the gym, doing yoga, going to the chiropractor, etc. and I'm not only much more productive, but also much happier.
Best and worst part of being a grown-up?
Best: living alone.
Worst: paying your own bills.
Is Shanghai coming as a destination on Journy, and can we help contribute?
Yes, soon! You can help by sharing introductions to serious local experts, food lovers, chefs, bartenders, and sommeliers to uncover the best of Shanghai!
Photo credit, Edward Scudzlo