Helen Li, MBA ’11, Public & Nonprofit

in PNP
October 6th, 2011

Helen LiBoston University Graduate School of Management student Helen Li (MBA ‘11, Public & Nonprofit Management), discusses her former role as CEO of Hoge Lumber’s Shanghai division, doing business in China, being an Olympic supplier, and what she wishes she knew then that she’s learned recently at BU.

“Pursuing my degree at Boston University has really provided me an opportunity to look back at my role in Shanghai, and very often I realize something could have been done differently.”

Leading Hoge Lumber.
“Hoge Lumber Company is a century-old lumber company based in Ohio.  As CEO of the Shanghai division, I served the whole China market.  Before 2003, Hoge Shanghai was engaged in promoting bowling lanes to China. We were known in the industry as the best manufacturer of wood bowling alleys–and I’m not biased at all!”

The Challenges of Breaking Into the China Market.
“In 2003, we spotted another market opportunity for professional sports floors in China, then forged a strategic partnership with Horner Flooring Company, a Michigan company and one of the top 3 sports floor manufacturers in the world.  From here, we started promoting Horner floor in China. Horner floor is widely adopted by NBA professional teams, including the Celtics, but at that time it was totally unknown to the China market.

“The initial challenge was mostly on the marketing side to inform potential customers of the product and the brand. As we moved on and established the reputation of Horner floor being the best sports floor in China, the challenges then shifted into sales and operation.

“Very often it would take more than a year to follow up a project and close the deal.  As the construction business in China is notoriously full of uncertainty and lack of standards, coordinating with general contractors was also extremely challenging.”

Becoming an Olympic, China Games, and NBA Supplier.
“Hoge Lumber was chosen as a flooring supplier for the Beijing Olympic Games.  We supplied our product to six Olympic arenas, including the Beijing Olympic Center and the National Shooting Center. Our crew was also responsible for installing the flooring in these arenas.

“We also worked closely with the National Basketball Association in the US, supplying the official floor for all NBA all-star games in the US since 1984, and for the NBA’s China Games since 2004.”

Looking Back from the School of Management Classroom.
“My move to Boston was actually inspired by a volunteer experience in 2008 with a nonprofit organization helping Sichuan earthquake victims in 2008. That’s when I decided to move into the public and nonprofit arena.

“Pursuing my degree at Boston University has really provided me an opportunity to look back at my role in Shanghai, and very often I’m stricken by a realization that something could have been done differently back then to achieve better results.  The diversified environment here has also offered me some wonderful experiences working with and learning from people across many different cultures, sectors, and industries.”

What’s Next.
“After I graduate next year, I’ll be looking for roles in nonprofit foundations. I’m also very interested in opportunities that involve cross-culture management.”