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University of Pennsylvania Featured Alumnus ¨C Robert Zou

This month we feature Wharton alumnus Robert Zou (WG94) who is quite busy at his bustling office in Beijing. Robert is finally getting a chance to rest some and catch up with work coming off the great success of the Wharton Forum held in Beijing last month, the largest Wharton event ever held in Beijing with more than 600 attendees. Take a moment to learn more about Robert¡¯s fascinating and interesting journey through life.

Robert is originally from Tianjin. For nine years after graduating from high school in Tianjin, Robert worked as a construction worker during China¡¯s Cultural Revolution. Anyone who lived during this period of China¡¯s history is instantly intriguing.

After the Cultural Revolution, Robert completed college in Tianjin and then began a career at pharmaceutical company, Smith Kline. He worked in various areas including production planning, general management national marketing before going to the U.S. to pursue an M.B.A. at Wharton.

Robert returned Asia in 1994 after completing his degree to work at Banker¡¯s Trust and later A.T. Kearney in Hong Kong. Four years later, he came to Beijing to start the company he leads now, Arrail Dental.

When asked what his biggest concerns were when preparing for the Forum, Robert says attendance, speakers, sponsors and logistics. A team comprised of people from campus, Shanghai, Beijing and volunteers began planning for the Forum in May 2008 when it was announced that one of the locales of the 2009 Forum would be held in Beijing.

Getting people to attend would require a good program and good speakers. Luckily, Beijing has well known speakers. There was no full time staff available to prepare for the Forum; so, one person with experience working for the 2008 Olympics was hired to make sure everything was taken care of on the ground in Beijing so that when every one arrived, we would be able to accommodate them.

Many things have to be considered and tended to, such as working to confirm speaker schedules, airport logistics, and making people who have come from every direction feel welcome once they finally arrive.

There were many expenses. So, getting enough sponsors was a major concern. In addition to the expenses, a sizable donation was made to a local foundation for the families of police who lost their life in service. Volunteers put in a lot of effort to get businesses to donate products and to sell raffle tickets for the products which helped to cover expenses as well as generate suspense and fun as Forum attendees won great prizes.

Robert attributes a lot of his business success to Wharton and says had he not attended Penn, he would not have started his own business. Actually, he never even considered it before going to Penn. He knows that individuals start business and create jobs; that¡¯s the beauty of what he does and the credit goes to Wharton he says. He also has enjoyed the benefits of making good decisions as well as developing staff and seeing the amazing changes of people growing from junior staffers to senior managers.

When asked about the changes in Beijing since he arrived in 1998, Robert says there weren¡¯t very many Wharton people. He was just getting involved when the bombing of the Chinese embassy took place in 1999 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia; international relations were very tense. He remembers hosting a reception at the top of the CITIC building for Wharton alumni where tensions melted away. He¡¯s been involved with Wharton activities in Beijing since then.

One of the biggest differences he has seen in Beijing since he arrived is the number of graduates returning to Beijing. More students are coming back to China shortly after graduation now and starting businesses. Previously, students tended to stay in the United States.

As far as living in Beijing, Robert notes the biggest change has been in the air quality which has made living here and wanting to stay in Beijing more attractive. Now, you can see blue skies in Beijing. He remembers visiting Inner Mongolia in 2002, seeing stars in the evening skies but thinking he¡¯d never see them in Beijing. He recently noticed stars one evening in Beijing¡¯s skies and realized the significant transformation that¡¯s taken place in Beijing.

Robert believes it¡¯s good to have an active Penn Club in Beijing. In order to make an impact, the size of the organization is important. Bringing all Penn communities together to make a big impact is important and all schools will benefit. Greater involvement in club activities could come with intellectually stimulating activities, opportunities to update skills, and scheduled professors. When attending an event hosted by another university, it was clear to see why attendance exceeded 200, Robert said. The event had an interesting topic, a good speaker, and great organization with key areas in business, government and academia represented.

Robert lives in Beijing with his wife and two children. His wife is enjoying an early retirement; and, his children attend the Beijing International School.

July 2009