Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and author of "Power – Why Some People Have It and Others Don't," recently wrote about me, trying to illustrate some of his career advice.
More specifically, he looked at my decision to join a Chinese tech company and compared it with what my alternative would have been: "simply put, Stanford MBA graduates, like many people from all over the world, find themselves doing a) what is sort of expected of them and b) following the crowd – succumbing to the enormous social pressure to do what everyone else is doing. Often following the crowd is wise. But for career success, it almost always is not.
The decision was to turn to China in the pursuit of new professional opportunities. The prospect of competing with 240 classmates for small start-up roles in the Bay Area was depressing to me. So, 10 days after graduation I was sitting on a plane to China – one-way, two bags. No job, no friends, no network, no language, no housing. Simply the aspiration to find a company that is on the verge of going international and the belief that I could help them do that.
I ended up getting a job at Ofo which has pioneered the concept of "dockless bike sharing" with 10 million plus bikes across China, and several hundred thousand bikes overseas. They are about 3 years old and have raised $1.3 billion. As their only non-Chinese employee among a staff of 3,200, I am now building and running their global business development unit – an opportunity I would have never been able to find in the Bay Area."
Jeffrey went on in his article and tried to highlight four pieces of advice:
- go where there is less competition (Omid: Chinese companies were surprised to see a foreigner like me offering them help to go global)
- find a job where you can add unique value (Omid: note that as the only non-Chinese I can help link my company to the rest of the world)
- be willing to find your own path – and not follow the crowd or do what is expected (Omid: which is something that is already in my DNA); and
- perhaps most importantly, just like finance teaches there is a trad-off between risk and return in the financial markets, there is a trade-off between risk and return in careers as well. Playing it safe may be – and certainly feels – comfortable. But if you really want to accelerate your career, implementing a higher-variance, riskier strategy is the way to go (Omid: I think there are times where it makes sense to take that risk, and other times where it's better to play safe. Graduating from business school gives you a big safety net, so how far do you dare to jump?).
For me personally, it was the right thing to do. By no means to I want to argue that it's the right thing to do for everyone. If I hadn't lived/worked/studied in the Bay Area for six years prior to my decision, I would have certainly made a different decision.