Xian Li: [00:00:00] There is no definitely right decision at any moment, and you will always have opportunity to correct yourself. But when circumstances change, your plan would change accordingly as well. So, don't stress about making that right decision at that moment.

Andy Molinsky: [00:00:19] Welcome to From the Dorm Room to the Board Room, a podcast where we provide insights, tips, and inspiration for college students and young professionals, so they can make a really successful transition from college life to the professional world and beyond.

Andy Molinsky: [00:00:37] My name is Andy Molinsky, and I'm your host. I am also a Professor of Organizational Behavior and International Management at Brandeis University's International Business School, where we record and produce this podcast.

Andy Molinsky: [00:00:56] Okay. So, today's guest is Xian Li, who serves as Senior Vice President for Production for SK Global Entertainment. In this capacity, she is in charge of enhancing and expanding the company's slates of Asia-focused, global-minded film and TV projects following the success of SK Global's co-financed and co-produced film, which I imagine many of you have heard of, Crazy Rich Asians, which myself I have also seen. Great movie.

Andy Molinsky: [00:01:26] Previously, Xian led Asian productions at 20th Century Fox International where she oversaw creative development and production across Asia. She specializes in Asian co-productions, as well as sourcing international materials for global English language features. Xian worked in TV, digital media, and business development before starting her career in film with Sony Pictures Entertainment in Los Angeles. Born and raised in China, Xian graduated from Peking University and the University of Southern California, where I was formerly a professor. And before we got on today, we talked about how much I miss living in Manhattan Beach in LA. So, Xian, thanks so much for being on.

Xian Li: [00:02:11] Thank you, Andy. It's a pleasure to be here.

Andy Molinsky: [00:02:13] So, tell us what you do now. I know most people listening have probably heard of Crazy Rich Asians. Tell us about what your job is, how you've gotten involved in that film, and just give us a sense of what you do.

Xian Li: [00:02:25] Absolutely. I work in creative development and production for SK Global. We're production finance company that focuses on premium content with worldwide-reach and local market understanding. We have operations in LA, New York, and Asia. As an independent company, we're really dedicated to making high-quality commercial content for motion pictures, TV, and beyond. Our film and TV projects always have an eye towards the global marketplace, and we have been developing and financing intellectual properties both independently and in association with major film studios. And for all of these projects, we always dispute with local partners and global distribution partners.

Andy Molinsky: [00:03:11] Yes. So, what do you do? What's your job?

Xian Li: [00:03:15] Absolutely. So, I work in the line of creative executive. That means that I would be evaluating all the submitted screenplays and packaging projects based on both creative and market potentials. I would actually procure properties and scripts from top publishers, filmmakers, producers in both Hollywood and Asia. On a day-to-day basis, I would work really closely with writers, directors, and producers that's, first, from the script stage, and that means to provide a lot of creative feedback to them, and to preproduction, which includes location scouting, casting, and to principal photography, and all the way to post-production as well. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:04:02] Wow, lots of things. So, can you give us just -- I'm wondering, can you give us a sense of what a typical day might be like? I know there's probably no typical day, but give us a sense of like the kinds of things you do on a daily basis. Last week, for example.

Xian Li: [00:04:19] It really depends on what stage of the project, the ones that we are focused on at the moment. But for me, for instance, a day would start with, first, reviewing all the emails, all the submitted materials, making sure that they're all covered, and trading calls with agents, talent managers, screenwriters, or producers that we're working with. We will also talk with a lot of like internal parties. My legal and business affairs colleagues would talk about the projects that we're going out for, the deals that we're making at the moment. I will also talk a lot with external parties on the projects out we are either pursuing or we're passing on. So, really, try to keep on top of all projects that we have at the moment.

Andy Molinsky: [00:05:13] What was your role in the movie, Crazy Rich Asians because I know people have heard of that? What role did you play?

Xian Li: [00:05:22] I actually joined slightly later in the process of that film. That film was already made before I joined the company. I helped a little bit with the distribution part of it, but the reason why I joined the company is to work on films like Crazy Rich Asians. I was brought on board to develop more projects like that, and including the sequels to Crazy Rich Asian, which we're developing right now.

Andy Molinsky: [00:05:48] I see. Interesting. So, okay. So, let's rewind. You were born and raised in China, and you graduated from Peking University in China. When you were in your last year or years of Peking University, did you have a good image that you'd be doing what you're doing today?

Xian Li: [00:06:08] That's a great question. So, I majored in Media and Communication already when I was in my undergrad. So, since a very young age, that's always been something close to my heart. So, I always kind of knew that I wanted to do something related to media and entertainment. So, when it comes to my junior and senior year, I've already really used my first two years as a trial-and-error period to do a lot of social activities, take as many internships as I could at that time, and conduct informational interviews.

Xian Li: [00:06:42] So, I already kind of got an idea of what I wanted to do. But when it comes to my junior and senior year, like everyone else, I started to think about, what is the imminent next step? I had a great opportunity to come over as an exchange student to the US, and that's where I figured out that all the transnational media companies that I really want to work for, that the companies that have global impact, they were all headquartered in LA. So, I just knew that I had to move to LA to pursue further studies. That's how I got to USC.

Andy Molinsky: [00:07:15] I see. So, you went to USC to study immediately after college or was there a break?

Xian Li: [00:07:21] No, there was an immediate action that I took. It's pretty unusual, and I don't encourage everyone to do that. I really felt like it'd be useful to have some kind of industry experience and exposure before you started a graduate program. Especially, I always knew that I was not cut out for a tenure. So, my program in Communication Management is a good combination of business courses and creative courses. So, having some industry experience would definitely help a lot in your graduate studies.

Andy Molinsky: [00:07:56] And which program at USC were you part of?

Xian Li: [00:08:00] It's called Communication Management.

Andy Molinsky: [00:08:02] I see, okay. And then-

Xian Li: [00:08:03] Yeah.

Andy Molinsky: [00:08:03] And then, when you're done with that, what did that prepare you to do? What was your first job after that?

Xian Li: [00:08:09] My first job, so I've done a lot of internships in grad school, but it was nothing really close to what I started out that I wanted to do before I moved to LA. So, upon graduation, I was really trying to land a job with one of the big film studios. Eventually, through referrals, through connections, I got an interview at Sony Pictures in the digital marketing department. And that's how I first got started in the film entertainment space.

Andy Molinsky: [00:08:44] And then, how did you move from there to where you are now? Tell us about the process of building a career in this industry. Is it through skill building? Is it through networking? Is it through something else? Like, how do you build a career?

Xian Li: [00:09:04] Absolutely. This is a very interesting industry, especially given that it's really a people industry. So, it's important to really make connections with people, but also, very importantly, you have to have some transferable skill sets. So, for my scenario, like I moved from digital marketing, to international marketing and distribution, and then to international production, and now to more global production. So, I really make sure that I work hard to excel in my current job before I start to think about how I can move to the next step. It's a working process for most of us in this industry.

Andy Molinsky: [00:09:52] I think that's true in a lot of industries. And a lot of young people I talk with have that question. It's like, when to jump to the next thing? People might be ambitious. They might see a real high potential for themselves. It's like, do you, sort of, like lean in and sink into what you're doing now, or do you keep an eye out for the next thing? And can you talk a little bit about that? And I have to share with you, it's almost like being at a cocktail party in a big room, and you're talking to someone, but you have an eye on the next conversation. There's something very ambitious about that, but there's also something maybe not as good about that. So, say something about that.

Xian Li: [00:10:36] Absolutely. I think I got a really valuable piece of advice when I first started my job in entertainment. It's that I was told I should not switch my jobs too frequently. That really benefit me in my career. And I have seen people who are not super patient with their team and what they are doing, always wanting to find continuity to grab the minute they can grasp that opportunity. But I would really advise people to try to excel in your first job before thinking about a move. If you are staying in the same industry, your work performance is going to be something that you are going to carry over with you to your next job.

Xian Li: [00:11:20] And you will always be asked for references from your past employers, so it's very important to get recognition from the team that you are working with before you think about moving to the next job. And that's what happened to me as well. When I was transitioning from role to role, I always make sure that I was doing a good job in my current role. And if there's extra responsibilities you want to take on, you can always lean in and ask for extra responsibilities, but make sure that you give your team and your job enough time, enough patience for people to really understand you and to trust you to give you more responsibilities if we're thinking about a move.

Andy Molinsky: [00:12:08] Can you give us a sense about mentoring, and if you've ever had a mentor, if you've been a mentor, and the role that mentoring has played in your career so far?

Xian Li: [00:12:19] Absolutely. I think having a mentor is really important. I have had mentors who inspire me, and sustain me, encouraged me throughout my career. And these are the people who really knows me well, and understand my strengths and weakness, and would be honest with me, and give me really great advice. I always find that it's important to have a mutually pleasant experience in mentorships. I think it's important that your mentor is enjoying your conversations and really enjoys seeing you taking that advice to your heart and make some real progress with that.

Xian Li: [00:12:59] Most of my mentors happen to be my past supervisors who have been in industry for really long, and who have supervised my work, and know me really well, and always give me great feedback. And now that I've progressed more in my career, I definitely try to mentor more people, and many of those people happen to be my past interns or assistants as well. And I, also, chair for a young filmmakers pitch festival for the past few years.

Andy Molinsky: [00:13:31] Cool. And when you have these mentoring conversations, where do they take places? Do you meet someone for coffee? Do you take a walk? Do you call on the phone? Like I'm just kind of getting, sort of, a daily picture of how this -- I know it doesn't happen daily, but what it might actually look like.

Xian Li: [00:13:47] For myself, when I was first starting out, a lot of mentoring conversations happen when I have a decision that I want advice for. And because these people, most of time, are people who work in my company or people who I work with on a daily basis, so I would just reach out with an email saying, "There is something that I really want to get your advice on," and they would specifically set a time for me to either have a coffee or a lunch that we can go through the issues that's bothered me at the moment.

Xian Li: [00:14:25] For myself, it also really depends on the person and what their needs are. I don't really believe in handholding. I think it's important for you to think through your decision and think through your situation before coming with a question or coming with a decision that you want advice on. So, that's more of like when it comes to critical moments that you really think you need some advice, that's, I think, the perfect timing for you to talk more in-depth with your mentors. 

Xian Li: [00:14:59] But on a more regular basis, it's always good to keep your mentors updated of your progresses, keep them updated of the achievements that you have made in your career. I think that's always something that lightens up people's day.

Andy Molinsky: [00:15:12] So, you've had really some good experiences in your career as a young professional and, now, as a much more seasoned, sort of, senior person. What misconceptions do you think, sort of, college students or young people have entering the workplace? What do they, sort of, expect that maybe they're a bit naive about?

Xian Li: [00:15:34] Yeah, I think I've seen quite a few. And myself had quite a few misconceptions when I first started out. The first thing is I think it's important to not be stressed about making the right decision. There's no definite right decision at any moment, and you will always have opportunity to correct yourself. But when circumstances changes, your plan would change accordingly as well. So, don't stress about making that right decision at that moment. Really importantly is to really listen to your heart and pursue where your passion is. And that's something that, I think, I've learned from firsthand experience.

Andy Molinsky: [00:16:19] What's it like being from a different country and working in the US, or working in LA, or working in the film industry, however you want one to answer it? Tell us a bit about that because I suspect there are people listening now who are in the US, and not from the US, they're probably people who are in other countries who are kind of curious about what that's like. Can you speak to that?

Xian Li: [00:16:42] Absolutely. It was a very intimidating experience at the beginning. Even though I've been here before I officially moved here, but I've never really worked in an environment that's completely different from where I came from. And what that taught me is that I should not be afraid of making mistakes because I would be making them all the time. It's only natural when you first come to a different environment, everything seems strange, everything is different, but give yourself enough time to get used to it.

Xian Li: [00:17:27] Give yourself enough time to really adjust to the different environments. And that's something that I've learned really early on as well. I remember when I first moved here, I would be afraid of speaking up in different classes or at a huge group setting. I always felt like I, probably, would not be the most qualified person to talk about my opinion. Only when I was in my first internship here, I was encouraged. And, actually, I was tasked with a presentation to the whole department, and that was the first time that I was forced to put on the stand and talk to people about my opinions, about the research put together. And only after that I felt like I can actually do this, and I've learned to just let go of all those mistakes, and focus on the message that I want to get through to the audience.

Andy Molinsky: [00:18:31] I lived in Los Angeles, and I know it's a very fun place to be. It can have beautiful beaches, great activities. Tell us a bit about what you do outside of work. Everyone's not just what they do at work. I'm kind of curious to hear a bit more about you. What do you like to do? Do you have any hobbies? Do you have any interests outside of work?

Xian Li: [00:18:51] That's actually a great question. LA is definitely a very interesting place. I tend to watch a lot of films. Now that you have Netflix and Hulu, I would just watch a lot of different content from all over the world after work as well. And that's something that happens to be something I like. But at the same time, it's relevant to my job as well. So, I still watch a lot of different content, either it's film or TV. But besides that, I try to work out as much as possible. I think that really helps you relax. And meditation as well. It really helps you focus.

Andy Molinsky: [00:19:33] So, on the top of meditation and focus, I ask everyone this question or, certainly, people recently that I've interviewed this question. I always get some interesting answers about productivity. Do you have any tips about how to be productive that you can share any insights? And it could be anything. It could be an app you use. It could be a sort of a trick you've learned. It could be a process you use. It could be something you do. Anything that you can share.

Xian Li: [00:20:05] Well, that's actually a great question because what I deal with everyday is kind of all over the place. So, I really need to get myself more organized. I feel like the most useful tip that I ever got on productivity is to learn how to prioritize. And I think that really helped me a lot when it comes to dealing with different projects, dealing with a day full of meetings. And when you start your day with understanding of what is the most important thing that you need to achieve for that day, it really helps clear your mind. And I think it's very useful to probably start your day by writing down all the things that you want to achieve for the day, and prioritize first, and then dive in your day accordingly.

Andy Molinsky: [00:21:02] That's a very useful tip. So, my last question is, if you could go back in time, I guess, to China and Peking University when you were nearing your senior year, your last year of college, and thinking of your career in the future, if you could go back right now, knowing who you are now, what you know now, the current wisdom you have, what would you tell that 20-year-old version of yourself?

Xian Li: [00:21:32] That's a great question. I haven't thought about that. But if I ever got that chance to go back, I'd probably just tell myself to really try to learn more different languages. I think that's a really good way to understand different cultures. Now, I work in an industry that's so much relying on international markets. The extra understanding of different cultures and different markets really have helped me but, also, would help me more if I had know more of them. And I would probably encourage myself to learn programming as well. And as people have been talking about, it sounds like the language of the future.

Andy Molinsky: [00:22:12] Yeah, to really equip yourself to be ready to handle whatever comes at you.

Xian Li: [00:22:17] Exactly.

Andy Molinsky: [00:22:19] Yeah.

Xian Li: [00:22:19] The day of AI.

Andy Molinsky: [00:22:19] Well, this has been really insightful. I think you gave a lot of great tips and insights for people. And I really enjoyed speaking with you. Is there anywhere people can go if they heard this interview and wanted to learn more about either your company or the work you do? Any place we can send them?

Xian Li: [00:22:38] Yeah, absolutely. So, the company website skglobalentertainment.com And I'm on LinkedIn as Xian Li.

Andy Molinsky: [00:22:47] All right. Well, thanks again for joining us. I really appreciate it. And that's it for today.

Xian Li: [00:22:56] Thank you Andy.

Andy Molinsky: [00:22:58] Thank you for listening to From the Dorm Room to the Board Room. If you're interested in learning more about the work that I do in helping people step outside their comfort zones and transition successfully into the professional world, please visit my website, www.andymolinsky.com. That's A-N-D-Y-M-O-L-I-N-S-K-Y dot com. And also feel free to email me directly at andy@andymolinksy.com with any feedback or ideas for guests for future podcasts.

Andy Molinsky: [00:23:29] This podcast is brought to you by Brandeis University's International Business School. By teaching rigorous business, finance, and economics, connecting students to best practices and immersing them in international experiences, Brandeis International Business School prepares exceptional individuals from around the globe to become principled professionals in companies and public institutions worldwide. Thank you so much for listening.