Lucia Huang – MBA Candidate at Stanford (P.2)
Lucia Huang just completed her first year at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Prior to that, she led finance and operations at Verge Genomics, an early stage AI-driven biotech startup in San Francisco. Lucia started her career in healthcare investment banking and then healthcare private equity. She is a native Bay Area resident and loves all things California, including the ocean – swimming, scuba diving, and surfing – and Asian food. Embarrassingly enough, Lucia hated “ethnic” food growing up and only realized her mistake when she studied abroad in China!
Part 1 of Lucia's interview is available here.
11. I've heard people say, “Business school is a just bunch of networking” or “You don’t need an MBA to work in business.” How would you respond to those comments?
Honestly, I would agree with that to some degree. You don’t need an MBA to work in business, but I think it makes it a hell of a lot easier if you basically have an alum from your school at almost any organization you would want to join, every venture capital firm you’d ever raise money from, and every company you would partner with. The Stanford network has proven super strong already. I don’t think there’s been a single person I’ve cold e-mailed from Stanford business school that hasn’t responded to me.
I think the personal development piece gets understated in these stereotypes of business school. In just this year, I’ve already done so much reflection on what my personal leadership style is and have had the chance to hone that in so many ways in business school (whether it’s in class, leading a club, or even organizing fun international travel with my classmates).
Another piece I haven’t touched up on yet is that business school is such a great place to really try anything you want with limited downside risk. This past year, I was on a team that formed an early stage femtech venture; I’m living in Australia for a month in summer to try working abroad; the list goes on for the things you get to try. In addition, we students constantly get inbounds from entrepreneurs/alumni looking to add a business person to their teams, so many of my classmates have these “side hustles” as well. I don’t think it would be impossible to accomplish any of this without business school, but it would mean incurring significant risk and set-up costs, so business school is a great way to try new things, iterate, and “fail fast.”
12. What advice would you give someone trying to be better at networking based on what you learned in business school?
I don’t know if I’m a networking expert by any means, but my advice would be to think of networking not as an episodic event but as a continuous flow. I think humans innately like to help others and not feel like they are just being temporarily used. Stay in touch with the people who have helped you and send them periodic notes. I like sending life updates (e.g. on a new job) or sending them a relevant news piece stating that it reminded you of them. Holidays are another good time to shoot a warm note. At first it felt like I was bothering them, but I realized that they actually enjoyed the updates and wanted to build a longer-term relationship.
That also means you should pay it forward and help others who are seeking advice from you! I try to do some kind of call or coffee with someone seeking advice on startups, business school, the like at least once a week.
13. What has been your best decision in business school? Any big mistakes you feel you've made? What been most rewarding part of attending business school?
My best decision in business school has been to become intimately involved with the healthcare community. Aside from working on a femtech venture, which was part of Stanford’s Biodesign entrepreneurship program, I’m also involved with our school’s Healthcare Club. It’s really cool being a liaison between alumni and interesting healthcare companies and the student body. I’ve learned a lot about leadership and about healthcare through these avenues, and it’s been rewarding to try to mold something so big at the school.
I’d like to think I haven’t made any glaring mistakes in business school…! Probably the times I’ve strayed away from my “true self.” It’s easy to succumb to FOMO (fear of missing out) and do the things you think make up a quintessential business school experience, like drinking and partying all the time. However, I realized that excessive drinking and partying weren’t necessarily quality time with people I wanted to get to know. I’ve tried to strike more of a balance (for example, I skipped our end-of-year formal to go camping in Yosemite – no regrets!).
Along those lines, traveling with my classmates has been the most rewarding part of business school. It doesn’t matter where we go – just the chance to get to know a small group of classmates with very different backgrounds has been incredibly eye opening and rewarding. I’ve never traveled with the same group of people more than once, which has helped in getting to know new people.
14. How do you maintain balance in business school? What are your Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand in terms of how you prioritize your life?
That is the quintessential question for business school students. I think you are just going to have to accept that you aren’t going to be able to do everything. My current top priorities are around professional (gaining more experience in healthcare tech) and forging deeper connections with my classmates. I also have really enjoyed actually caring for myself and spending a lot of time outside (I’ve been able to achieve the ultimate workout week: swimming, hiking, cycling, running, and surfing). Unfortunately, that means some aspects of my personal life (like dating!) have fallen a bit by the wayside, but that’s OK to me. I’d rather focus on my rocks and pebbles and bring my best self to the things I do prioritize rather than spreading myself too thin.
15. What are your plans after graduation? What do companies look for when hiring business students?
No plans yet! Definitely staying in the healthcare startup space, but TBD on what sub-vertical and what stage of company. It’s nice to have an internship between years one and two and even time during the school year to work part-time if you want to explore multiple things.
I think the value of the MBA depends on the industry and type of company. Some jobs (e.g. investing) require you to have an MBA, while some can potentially assign only a little credit to it (e.g. some startups). What’s valuable is the value of the network – you’ll tend to find MBAs hiring lots of MBAs from their school at their companies. As mentioned before, it’s definitely easy to just reach out to an alum from your business school and get a very high response rate. They’re pretty willing to help you find a job.
It’s important to demonstrate some credibility / interest in the industry you’re working for, so employers will definitely look for that in your MBA work experience.
16. How many business students in your class have started or will definitely start their own business after graduation?
My class is about 420, and I’d say about 100 have toyed with entrepreneurship in some way, either via Stanford entrepreneurship classes or on their own (but everyone still leverages Stanford resources). About 20 have probably seriously started companies already (some have co-founded companies, some have dropped out) and I’d expect that number to rise to 30 by the time we graduate.
17. How do you define success in business school?
Again, it depends on your priorities. For me, I define success as 1) having started or worked on a very early stage venture by the time I graduate (which I did this past year), 2) pivoting or having the option to pivot into health tech (which I hopefully will after I complete my summer internship in health tech), 3) pivoting into a more strategic functional role (which I hopefully will after I complete my summer internship in corporate strategy), and 4) making at least a handful of very close friends.
18. What advice would you give someone who is seriously considering business school? Who is on the fence? How about someone who just started business school?
I definitely don’t think it’s for everyone. The major, valid reasons people go are to: 1) make major career changes, 2) build a network, especially helpful if you’re starting your own fund or business or want to be C-level someday. I’d say personal development is a good goal as well but shouldn’t be the sole reason you go. I think my profile was already on the borderline of not “needing” to go because I didn’t make a major career pivot (#1), but I had some level of #2 and the personal development piece to drive me to go.
My advice would be that you really need to know what you want to get out of it, otherwise you may waste your time. I saw some of my classmates enter without a clear sense of their priorities and end up recruiting for jobs that they weren’t actually interested in and only realized a few months later that it wasn’t relevant. Be intentional about the experience and clearly think through your top three priorities before you start.
19. If you could turn back time, would you still choose to go to business school?
I’m pretty sure I would, yes. I think the value will only accrue more over time too, so that makes me feel confident in my answer.
20. What are you currently reading? What book has been the most impactful on your business school career or life?
I’m currently taking a break from business books! My bedside read is The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I’ve found incredibly beautiful and human so far. I also have a pretty far bike commute to work, so I’ve been listening to Educated in audiobook format which has just kept me on the edge of my (bike) seat.
For business books, one that actually impacted me a lot was the book on Theranos, Bad Blood. It hit especially close to home having worked at an early stage biotech company and was a good reminder of the special responsibility we have working in healthcare to put the patient first and foremost, despite pressure from Silicon Valley.