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Alumni to Alumni Connections

Ricky Li

Shows Wang Mingyang the Ropes
 

WANG Mingyang, Ricky Li, and ZHANG Jian

1 November 2007

Wai Lam was nominated for the Distinguished Alumni Award by a group of recently graduated alumni who, after seeing the positive effect he had on students and alumni during Planet Stony Brook 2003, knew he made a perfect role model. One of their peers had just committed suicide, (Asian women under the age of 25 have the highest rate in the US; on college campus' it is Asian men), and they understood all too well the need for positive role models who were successful. Wai agreed.

Unfortunately Planet Stony Brook was an experiment that only happened in 2003. After that it was back to small scale alumni to alumni connections and alumni to student connections for the Alumni Association and everyone else. But the reality is, those small scale connections can be the most important. They are the ones most likely to change the direction of someone's life.

And just as often that does not need to be in a role model way. An alumn giving a graduate their first job. Helping them make a career change. Partnering with another alumn in a business venture. Helping with a major business decision. All life changing. Even introducing them to someone of the opposite gender could create a lifelong relationship. Both Wai Lam and Ricky Li are married to alumni!

Sitting in the Congee Village Restaurant with China alumnus Dr. KOU Fuping this past summer was because it had been recommended by Ricky the previous fall when he took WANG Mingyang, another China alumnus, out to dinner at its partner restaurant, Congee Bowery. What Ricky Li did is a perfect story for how the alumni to alumni connections work successfully and a fitting story for this issue.

Ricky had gone to the Distinguished Alumni Awards dinner in 2005 and that is where we met. We talked about alumni helping alumni in the Asian American community and he offered to help. The next summer the first China Alumni Reunion in Shanghai happened and the alumni there began helping each other. It was a first for them - not just meeting but seeing that hey, he is with the Bank of China and my company is expanding and needs... and even though he is in a different province, does he know someone who could... and yes he did... and with that came the understanding that they could have connections all across China and the US as SB alumni connecting to each other. It was eye opening for everyone.

So when WANG Mingyang came to the US for a conference with ZHANG Jian, the CEO of his company, Sunyard, to research if they wanted to start outsourcing in the US, he asked if there were any SB alumni he could connect to here who could help. Ricky Li was taken up on his offer.

But Ricky wanted to do more than just talk to them about their plans. He wanted to show them, in a subtle way, that Americans operate differently. He knew that in Chinese custom, since they were asking for his help, they would expect to pick up the tab for dinner. He wanted to make sure that they understood that he was not doing this because he was looking for something from them too. He was doing it because he believed in it - and to show that as the one from the 'host' country, he would also be the real host.

So he ordered the most amazing food imaginable! Dish after dish of exquisite - and expensive (yes, even in Chinatown!) food, knowing that they were calculating what it was going to cost them.

I can't tell you what the business part of their conversation was. Ricky's wife Christine and I had our own conversation in English while the three of them went on in Mandarin, not even Ricky's first language but his third. But I can tell you the result. Wang Mingyang went back to the drawing boards on whether Sunyard was ready to expand. In just two hours Ricky had shown them all the areas they needed to work on first.

Mingyang said it was the best meeting they had ever had and he wished it had happened on their first day rather than their last. 

And then when the evening was over, Ricky Li picked up the tab while Jian's and Mingyang's jaws dropped. You are my guests in my country, Ricky told them. This is not a business dinner. Mingyang and I are from Stony Brook and should be helping each other out.

Alumni to alumni connections. In a later conversation, Ricky said that doing that had been a worthwhile sort of thing he would love to do often - when he was retired and had the time. I sent Mingyang an email after he got back and asked how he felt. "I think alumni networks is important. Most time it is loosely networking. This is the first time I'm related with alumni union so closely. I have felt its power. The power is there since it is organized, and it is a formal organization."

Well, we are not quite that organized! But if we all got involved and helped each other - in conjunction with the Alumni Association so that we were a real "alumni union" - just imagine what having graduated from the Brook could be like!

Ja Young
Alumni Editor

Christine and Ricky Li at the
2005 Distinguished Alumni Awards Dinner

 

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