When it comes to education, Gaohan “Zack” Zhang is nothing if not practical. But when it comes to life, he’s ruled by his instinct.
Gaohan—who grew up in Quzhou, a city about four hours east of Shanghai—decided to leave China for college because he was interested in business and felt that “the U.S. definitely had the best to offer.” He majored in accounting because it “is the backbone of business” and applicable to many jobs.
After graduating from Michigan State University after only three years in 2012, he just couldn’t see himself as an auditor. “Accounting is about historical financial data: looking back on what has happened. Finance, on the other hand, is forward looking. It involves making decisions and solving problems. And that’s what really interests me.”
Ever pragmatic, he chose Brandeis International Business School (IBS) for two reasons: first, its appealing location in metro Boston; and second, its rank— in 2014, the school ranked among the top ten in The Financial Times’ ratings of Master of Finance programs for the fourth consecutive year.
After taking several courses in real estate and obtaining a year-long internship at Cushman & Wakefield, the world’s largest privately‐held commercial property services firm, he knew he wanted to pursue a career in real estate. He also knew he wanted to return to China. He went through a rigorous recruitment process—competing mostly with PhDs from MIT, Harvard, and Columbia—and won a position in the future leaders program at Country Garden, one of China’s leading integrated property developers. During the program, Gaohan will rotate around the company’s divisions while being mentored by the CFO. Gaohan is expected to join Country Garden’s top management team within five or six years.
Aside from his academic and ongoing professional successes, Gaohan feels strongly connected to Brandeis IBS because of the people. “As an international student, it can be hard to adapt to the U.S. culture and way of doing business. However, Brandeis IBS has the most open and friendly student culture I have ever seen in an American school,” he says. “The fact that it has such a diverse student body makes all the professors, staff, and students both appreciate the cultural differences and open up to people from different backgrounds.”
Gaohan felt a “sense of belonging” at the business school. “It gave me the courage and confidence to challenge myself because I know no matter how hard things get, I am not by myself; I have a whole family [of fellow students and professors] to support me.” He says he owes his success in large part to Brandeis’ Real Estate Program. “It helped me gain important knowledge in understanding real estate capital markets and different sorts of investment, debt, and equity financing. The school really prepared me well for the future challenges of Country Garden.”