Message from Partner

2010 – Dialogue with Frank

I am Jasmine Sun, an Associate at SmithStreet, a boutique consulting firm focused on China growth strategies. I had an interesting dialogue with Franklin Yao, Managing Partner and Co-founder of SmithStreet.

“Frank, our list for this year’s campus talk is really special.” I said.

He asked why.

I answered, “Generally, large companies won’t visit so many universities for recruiting. For example, McKinsey only visits four universities in China, Tsinghua University, Beijing University, Fudan University and Jiaotong University. But we cover much more.”

“So what’s your opinion?”

“I think just visiting the top universities for recruiting is enough. Last year, we were able to recruit enough excellent students. Why should we visit more?”

“What’s the difference between Nanjing University and Southeast University?” he asked.

“Using university entrance examination scores as the benchmark, we can say Nanjing University is a first tier school, while Southeast University is in the second tier. Both of them are good universities, but generally Nanjing University is better.”

He told me a story: “A few years ago, when I was in Opera , we went to Nanjing University for a campus talk, and we recruited a student from Southeast University who showed up to the campus talk and really had a good performance. He ended up being one of the best new hires that year. The next year, Opera held their campus talk in Southeast University. Although not many large companies hold campus talks in Southeast University, there are truly excellent students there.”

“So how many students did Opera recruit the second year?”

“About four or five. Actually, we could recruit the school’s best students because there are few large companies that visit Southeast University. I believe those top graduates must be much better than the relatively bad students from top universities. When I was studying in Yale, I found that not all the students there are intelligent; on the contrary, I met many more intelligent people from non-top universities like Seton Hall and Lehigh after I start to work. So I want to have a shot to see what kind of students we can find in non-top universities this year.”

“I see, so you mean that the education background is not that important. But I have another concern, as students from top universities usually pay a lot attention to the environment of the company, including backgrounds of colleagues. If we lose them because of this reason, isn’t it a pity?”

He replied “If they care so much about the education background, I don’t think they are suitable for SmithStreet. As the person in charge of the campus talk this year, you should know what kind of talents I am looking for. Conventional students chase for conventional companies, but we are not a conventional company, we use our own judgment to do the right thing. I don’t like to hear people using standard answer from internet to answer my questions in the interview. I wish to see their innovation and specialty. Conventional companies are afraid of making mistakes, but we can try new things. You do know the story of Tortoise and the Rabbit don’t you?”

“Of course.”

“I’m not looking for the rabbit that runs fast, I’m looking for the turtle that has potential to catch up and win in the end. The person I want is who knows themselves not perfect and are willing to learn and improve with humility to become an outstanding leader after 5 to 10 years.”

Conventionally, smart means a person has high IQ. But we have a different definition on it, attitude is more important than IQ. Just like Malcolm Gladwell said, normal people can achieve succeed when they put certain amount of efforts in it. We are not looking for geniuses. Every company has different employment philosophy and company culture. What McKinsey wants are geniuses who are capable of dealing with all kinds of work. However, each individual is always competing, that’s why people in McKinsey are often very aggressive; Opera puts great emphasis on logical thinking, so they request high ability in this aspect rather than others. Our goal is to find different strengths from different people, which could be strong logical thinking, micro point of view, or detail oriented, and obtain excellent results through their teamwork.”

I raised one last question “If an excellent graduate gets an offer from McKinsey, are you going to persuade him to come to SmithStreet?”

He said “The image of McKinsey in China is quite exaggerated, even though it is the top-ranking consulting company in the USA. It’s hard for me to understand why Chinese students see McKinsey like a god. But if you can get an offer from McKinsey, I would suggest you to accept it; after all it is one of the best consulting companies. However, if someone rejects SmithStreet for a company like Big Four, it’s really a pity.”
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