One graduate on how he found his way from Brazil to Peking University HSBC Business School to a career in China.
In 2014, on his first visit to China, Ricardo Glesse stood struggling to count all the lanes of the Beijing street stretched out before him. The size stunned him. Ricardo grew up in Brazil, gradually moving from rural to more urban areas, but, still, he was overwhelmed by the scale of the city.
The infrastructure conveyed incredible movement, development and potential. Beijing’s highways and metro lines set him down his own path—exploring the question of “Why doesn’t Brazil have this?”
This inquiry pushed Ricardo to construct a future in China. In 2018, he moved to Shenzhen to begin studies at Peking University HSBC Business School (PHBS). Recently, Ricardo earned his master’s degree in finance at PHBS and now he is settling into his first job and second city in China.
Drawn to China
There are many reasons Shenzhen was a match for Ricardo.
To begin, China’s modern reform and development strategy has made full use of the entrepreneurial spirit and potential for trade networks along its coast, especially in Guangdong where Shenzhen resides.
Brazil also has a long coast. At the southern end lays Porto Alegre. Like Shenzhen, Porto Alegre is not a sleepy coastal town for tourists to lounge on a beach. It is a technological and industrial hub where foreign investment, trade connections and industrialization helped it develop its own unique entrepreneurial and international spirit.
The international character of his home region has had a significant influence on him. When Ricardo was young, his father worked in international trade. He would make business trips to attend the Canton Fair in Guangzhou and fascinate Ricardo with his stories and pictures.
At the same time, Ricardo absorbed another aspect of his home region’s cosmopolitan culture: studying foreign languages. He took a special interest in English once he began attending a training school with an innovative motivation strategy.
“You would have classes and then after you could play [computer] games. All the games were in English,” he explained, “In a sense, I learned a lot of my initial English in playing games like Call of Duty…I was playing with people in other countries.”
A strong score on the Brazilian college entrance exam earned him a spot to study international relations at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, the top university of his home state. Ricardo decided on international relations because it would allow him to “go and interact with other people” in real life.
With a mastery of two foreign languages already (Spanish and English), Ricardo was eager to start learning Chinese to pair with his international relations studies. He immediately started beginner classes. He also connected with the newly opened Confucius Institute on his campus.
The Confucius Institute provided Ricardo with tremendous resources to accelerate his learning. He took extra classes and participated in cultural events. Through his engagement, he was quick to learn about an opportunity to join a short, immersive language and cultural learning trip to Beijing.
“They were going to pay for everything,” he recalled, “so I was like this is the chance.”
The trip intensified his academic focus on China. “I wanted to master the Chinese language as soon as possible,” said Ricardo about returning to Brazil. In the following 6 months, he improved his HSK level from 2 to 4.
By this time, he was finishing up his bachelor’s degree. To nurture this sharpening interest, Ricardo’s advisor recommended he write about China’s financial system because, at the time, there was little information in Brazil on this topic.
“That’s how I got interested in finance. By studying the Chinese financial system,” he explained.
The Perfect Entry Point
With a solid understanding of the Chinese language and financial system, Ricardo began searching for an entry point to start a life in China. PHBS and Shenzhen were the best fit because they presented the challenge he was looking for.
“I was more interested in Asian financial systems so I might as well go to China and learn from them,” he said.
When he started comparing the different options, the academics at PHBS stood out.
“This program looked more technical,” he said. “[If] I’m going to go for a master’s in finance, I want to fill the gap in my curriculum that I don’t have technical skills.” And even though the Shenzhen campus was relatively new, he was reassured because he regarded Peking University as the “top university in China.” Plus, he was excited to be in a warm climate and close to Hong Kong.
Ready to get technical, he wasn’t surprised the courses tested him in his first year.
“[The math] was as difficult as I expected the math to be,” remarked Ricardo. “I think there were other people that were surprised, I was mentally prepared for it.”
Long study nights, daunting review piles and demanding group projects were constants. But these challenges proved rewarding. He mentioned classes, like corporate finance, that gave him the exact practical and highly technical knowledge he knew would take his career to the next level.
“The way we learned was not through sitting and reading about corporate finance,” he said. “[It] was a very hands-on experience for what the industry will be like after [graduation] in an investment bank.”
“[It] was a very hands-on experience for what the industry will be like after [graduation] in an investment bank.”Ricardo Glesse, PHBS alumni
Fortunately, intense coursework did not prevent him from developing new close friendships. For Corporate Finance, he stayed in the PHBS building all night “finding the information and crunching the numbers” on a project with his classmates Soda Coulibaly and Jackson Collantes Huacon. His two partners became two of his closest friends for the rest of his time studying at PHBS.
Little could they have expected those late study nights for their project would only be a fraction of the time they would spend together—because who could have expected a global pandemic?
Taking the Next Step
Ricardo was in Shanghai when COVID-19 disruptions began.
Before the Chinese New Year break, he had worked diligently, applying to dozens of positions, and eventually attained the opportunity to intern at a company he would be enthusiastic to get involved with, Emerging Strategy, an American consulting company. He would be working on market research for international clients.
When the break began, he flew to Shanghai to begin his first professional experience in China. Not long after arriving in the new and unfamiliar city, things took a very strange turn: Shanghai’s nightlife stopped, restaurants closed their doors and he got a call from his supervisor telling him not to go to the office.
In a matter of days, COVID-19 prevention and control measures had arrived and completely upset his plans. When he had to walk the city unable to find any food to purchase or eat, the gravity of the situation sunk in.
“During that week all the supermarkets, restaurants, everything closed. That week was very desperate for me. I was like ‘I’m in a different city.’ It was hard to find food,” he recalled.
Ricardo ended up needing to cut his time in Shanghai short and return to the Peking University campus in Shenzhen. Over 80% of the students had left campus for the break and would not be returning for the rest of the school year.
Coincidently, Soda and Jackson were still around. The trio was back together, now grappling with what to do considering the upcoming graduation and aching for normal life again: “It’s just crazy we could never imagine this could happen,” he said.
Ricardo never changed his plans to push forward and start a career in China. Back on campus, he prepared for his thesis defense and stayed on top of the market research he needed to do for his internship. He began using some of the tools he picked up in his favorite classes at PHBS. Although, he says it is not just these skills that have had a big impact.
He believes being able to say he is a “Beida” student is what “convinced them to go to [an] interview.” As he put it, “PHBS definitely opens doors for your CV in China.”
“PHBS definitely opens doors for your CV in China.”Ricardo Glesse, PHBS alumni
Fortunately, the epidemic situation in China improved quickly. Ricardo graduated on schedule, by which time Emerging Strategy was able to welcome him back to their Shanghai office as a research analyst. He made the move back to Shanghai. His girlfriend, Sydney Chu, who began studies in 2018 at the PHBS UK Campus and also graduated at the same time, started a new career in Shanghai as well, working as a marketing executive.
Ricardo embarked on his path to a career in China and has overcome the roadblocks along the way. Now, with a fresh master’s degree in hand, he is learning how to produce strategies for prominent foreign companies to find their best route into China. Ricardo says as long as he is “growing”, he has no plans to leave. Like the vast streets of Beijing which first gripped him, there is no end in sight for how far he could go.
Written by Nathan Faber
Photos by Mei Siyu