Ian Lee is the winner of the 2011 China Australia Excellence Alumni Award. He finished his Master of Management at UTS in nine months (12 subjects) while working full time with News Corporation, the world's second-largest media conglomerate. Rupert Murdoch interviewed him and he received the job offer with no experience in the industry.
It took Ian just two years to become the Deputy CEO at ChinaByte.com. He also became the Vice President at STAR TV. Ian caught up with us to reminisce about his personal journey and UTS’ influence in his development.
Life before he came to Australia
Ian was probably the youngest university student when he went to Sichuan University at the age of 14. After graduating from a Bachelor in Biology, Ian started his career in Chongqing Bureau of Parks then Chongqing Zoo. In between nine years’ studying and working in plants and animals, Ian also studied Wild Animal Management in England for one year. He became the Curator of Animals at Chongqing Zoological Gardens before he moved to Australia.
In 1995, with an intention to enjoy the blue sky and white clouds, Ian and his wife decided to go to Australia to start a new life. With a strong academic background in bioscience and wild life animal research, it wasn’t difficult for Ian to get a green card to move to Sydney. The start seemed effortless but the process was a long, slow two years.
What made you decide to study again?
“It took three months to realise that my background in wild life protection wouldn’t get me anywhere. I started my new studying life in Human Resources at TAFE. From zero experience in Business studying to the best student in class, I realised I could push my potential a little bit further. I started my Master in Management in UTS six months after. I also finished my whole degree, which was 12 subjects in nine months.”
Ian never had the time just to do one thing at one time. He was a juggler. From the minute he decided to start from zero and change his career, he was either studying in TAFE and UTS at the same time or he was working and studying full time at the same time.
How did the study at UTS help your career?
Ian reflected, “It benefited my career significantly. Firstly, it reorganised the knowledge I have learnt from the past. Secondly, UTS has a great atmosphere in practical teaching. At the same time, I have spanned my network through the masters degree. I have met some life long friends through the course. Also the combination of lectures and tutorials are great teaching methods that help me understand business in a fun and memorable way.”
How did you secure a job with News Limited?
“In 1997 I had just finished my TAFE course, but was still studying my masters in UTS. From a guide called Australia Who’s Who. I picked 30 companies and wrote 30 different cover letters and faxed them to the companies. It’s really a fantastic book with reference of the company names, scale, structure, and contact information.
One of them was a letter for News Limited. I can’t remember the content exactly but it’s something about I don’t have experience in accounting or business but I would really appreciate an opportunity to learn from them. I received a call from L.A. a few days later informing me Rupert Murdoch would come back to Australia in one month and would like to interview me then. I had one month to get ready before the interview.”
Do you still remember what the interview was like?
Of course I do! I did some research on the News Group including their business scales in Australia, India and China. I have been always very interested in history and politics, which was a great help during the interview. January 8, 1998 was the date I met Mr Murdoch for the first time.
He was called away by a phone call after a few moments. After the phone call, he walked back to the room and the first sentence he said to me was: "what are you doing here today?" I said I'm here to look for a job. He said, judging from your lack of experience, you need to start from the beginning; maybe market analysis would be a good start. I gladly agreed. He also asked me about my opinion about the Asian economic crisis and my perspectives on China's economic development.
The first thing they wanted me to do was accounting auditing - it took me a little while to adapt into this brand new working environment. I learnt everything from the beginning. Just like that, I was working full time during the day, always first in the office to read the papers and studying six subjects every semester at night at the same time. Two years later, there was another opportunity for me. I was designated to go to China and work as the CFO for the Chinese office in Beijing.
After working for News Limited, Ian has also worked as the CFO and COO at Omnicom Media Group. Just as we spoke, Ian joined 3R group and started a new stage in his career and is working as a CEO for 3R group.