Alumni Profiles

Susan Mays, GSAS '06

Major: 
International History
Job Title: 
Principal and Founder
Grad Year: 
2006
School: 
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Please briefly describe your current position in more detail, including your responsibilities and job tasks:

At M~Stone Advisory, my work involves identifying, winning and managing China-related consulting projects.  I find new projects through existing business and social contacts, both in China and the US, and the projects that I take often are at the intersection of business and academia.  As an example, one project involved helping a Chinese tech fund identify relatively new, US-based companies that might want to co-locate in China.  The goal was to connect my Chinese client organization with US tech companies that were founded and run by Chinese graduates of leading US universities.  In this project, my work involved bringing together my Chinese client and US-based entrepreneurs, as well as developing and presenting research and using my academic networks to identify US-based Chinese entrepreneurs.  Every consulting project is different, but at the end of the day, getting results for the client is what matters most.  In the example above, the China-based fund has now invested in over 30 high tech companies.  In all my work, what I most enjoy is working with Chinese friends and colleagues and experiencing first-hand the rapid changes in China's business and social environment.

Please briefly describe your career path, including the reasons behind job changes, since graduating from Columbia University:

My Ph.D. (2013) is in contemporary Chinese economic history, and my dissertation is on the electronics industry in China and how technology companies in China are moving up the value chain.  During my doctoral work, I also began consulting through M~Stone Advisory on China-focused projects.  Consulting is not new for me, as I was previously a management consultant for seven years with A.T.Kearney, serving Fortune 500 clients on global projects.  Yet, there is a big difference between my academic research and what a particular client might need.  When I began consulting through M~Stone, I initially spent significant time reshaping my knowledge base to better serve clients, and of course each project requires unique and original work.  After completing my Ph.D., I will likely teach as well as continue with consulting work.  I have been exclusively China-focused since 1999, and I pursued a China-focused PhD because China's uniqueness and dynamism demand in-depth expertise, whether working in business or the university.

How did your experiences at Columbia University (e.g., academic studies, extra-curricular activities, student groups) prepare you for your career?:

By being located in New York City, Columbia University offers conferences, seminars, etc., that attract global leaders in many fields.  By participating in these events, I met students and alumni that have become friends, and these relationships have been invaluable, resulting in mutual professional help.  I also attend activities outside my own department, often attending Chinese community events or events at the Business School, Law School or School of International Affairs.

What job resources (internships, summer opportunities, work experiences, or individuals) have influenced your career choice(s)?:

One of my most formative early working experiences was working as an engineer for Texas Instruments.  For me, the big company pace was too slow, but working for a well-known company such as Texas Instruments opened up subsequent job opportunities and gave me an inside view of how global companies operate.  When I later worked with Fortune 500 clients at ATKearney, I was able to better relate to our clients and their business culture, due to my time at Texas Instruments. 

What advice would you give to a Columbia student or graduate interested in your field?:

For students interested in emerging markets, I suggest specializing in one region or nation and studying the language and history as well as the current economy and events.  Also, study or travel in the region, if possible.  Perhaps most importantly, make friends from the area.  With depth, you will be capable and credible when you eventually work in that country or region.  Some will say "But what if Brazil (or India or Russia) isn't 'hot' in ten years?"  My response to that concern is this: when you study a particular region, you will consider issues that are critical in any country, e.g., the legal system, industrial development, how culture affects business practices, etc.  If you someday need to work in a different region, you will be well equipped to "ask the right questions."  Also, you can develop regional expertise without pursuing a regional-studies degree.  Focus on the region by reading whatever books interest you (fiction, biographies, etc.), do class papers on the region, make friends from the region, join relevant clubs, see films, attend seminars, do some informal traveling, and learn the language to whatever extent time permits.  Follow your interests, develop your expertise, and be assured that if you one day work in the region, your curiosity and goodwill will almost always be welcomed.