“An MBA Lets You Be Bold”: How I Changed Careers and Started a Business

Taking calculated risks to discover my passion

Ready to take a leap of faith? That’s the question I asked myself. To find the answer, I had to look back at my career. Ten years ago, I left everything behind and came to the U.S. from China.

My friends said that I was too young to realize how risky this move was, but for me, I had only one goal: to expand my education. That was my first leap of faith.

When I made that decision, I knew there would be inherent risks. By choosing the UC Davis Graduate School of Management (GSM) and pursuing an MBA in their full-time MBA program, I knew I could open doors that were previously not available to me.

The GSM strengthened my skills and helped me switch my career. Was it a risky move? Sure, but it turned out perfectly.

Group of people smiling for the camera
Justin Chen MBA 17 (pictured far left) attending AT&T's Leadership Development program with colleagues.

Exploring Possibilities with AT&T

A year into the MBA program, I joined the AT&T Leadership Development Program. During my tenure here, change was constant.

It started after earning my MBA when my family moved to Dallas, Texas. I was also moving up within AT&T, managing our network operations center. After three years and four different positions, I was now working in a field that some might call part of the fourth industrial revolution: the Internet of things in AT&T. I managed a $25 million revenue supply chain, and I was responsible for product development and go-to-market strategy. With these advancements, I needed to take bold and calculated risks. The skills and knowledge I acquired at the GSM made that possible.

The pandemic changed a lot of things, including my life path. I spent so much time working that I started questioning my lifestyle, and so did my wife. Instead of finding another job, I decided to take another leap of faith and become an entrepreneur.

After being a corporate citizen for a long time, I opened my business: The Tutoring Center, in Round Rock, Texas.

It wasn’t until then that I realized how much the GSM had prepared me to make big changes like this.

I’d like to share some of those lessons.

Three Tips to Start Your Own Business

  1. Vision: Having your business is not just about your interest or skill set. It’s a combination of enthusiasm, experience, and well-done research. More importantly, you need to have a vision of how your business will develop over time and play a role in the community.

That requires research such as K-12 tutoring business strengths and weaknesses and local geographic/demographic trends. The product management experience I developed helped me lay out the marketing playground based on different “product life cycles.” The foundation of this knowledge was laid in my MBA courses.

  1. Leadership: I cannot get everything done myself. I learned this lesson on day one at UC Davis. Being an entrepreneur also means being a leader. And this has two aspects: leading directly and indirectly.

I have a team of instructors who work with students, and they require mentorship and collaborative management. I also have the power team of attorney, CPAs and advisors to help me structure The Tutoring Center and help it grow. 

C4C Volunteering
  1. Network: I enjoyed the GSM networking events, and they were in-person. The pandemic made it more difficult to network, but that also makes us reconsider the means and quality of networking. I prefer quality over quantity. Even though I might not have met as many people as before, I spent more time with everyone I met and built stronger relationships.

As a novice entrepreneur, there are so many moving parts along the way to opening my business. These people I met during networking provided invaluable advice, and I am grateful for that.

As you get set up with your new idea, business or invention, take time to listen to your network and lean on them in times of need.   

Whether you want to make a change or change comes to you, all you can do is prepare for it. Thanks to the GSM and the many lessons I took from my MBA experience, I found my passion for helping students reach their potential. I hope you find yours too.

Feel free to connect with me and my business on LinkedIn.