Interviews with alumnae: Sixuan Ren

4 minute read

The road taken: Surviving the storm nearly 4 years out

I am not exaggerating when I say that my life would have never been as exciting as it has become had I never done my MBA at Saïd Business School.

When I finished my course, I was at a real crossroads in life as I tried to make a decision on where to go and what to do next. Not just for me, but also for my family; my husband left his favourite job in Beijing and came to Oxford with me and our son who just turned four when my course ended. Naturally, I felt responsible for the future of three people, if not more. At the time, there seemed to be three possibilities for me:

  • Route 1: Working to become a full-time employee at the financial services company where I did my summer internship in Windsor, UK
  • Route 2: Continuing interviewing for a role in the London office of an extremely impressive and successful Chinese company
  • Route 3: Going back to China and resuming my life before Oxford

As I was weighing my options, a fourth idea came to me: in the past few years I had realised that as the world embraced the social media extravaganza, there was still a huge gap between Chinese and international platforms – more often than not, I saw companies take pride in their global social marketing strategy without taking into consideration that China, with about 18% of world’s population, and the largest internet user base, operates in a silo on the social media scene, therefore could not be reached through their cookie-cutter strategies.

Hence, I teamed up with my best friend and long-time co-worker and started putting together a business plan to apply for a Graduate Entrepreneurship Visa, which required the university’s endorsement and would allow us to start our own company in the UK after graduation.

Just when I thought things might actually turn out as I hoped them to, I had a very scary episode when I suddenly got diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy, which impaired my speech, three days before we were invited to interview with the panel who would decide whether or not to grant us the visa endorsement.

Not ready to give up, I attended the interview back at Oxford, holding the left side of my face with one hand, which was the only way I could speak, and passionately talking about our business plans with the panel for about 40 minutes. The panel was professional, insightful, and very understanding. And yes, we were congratulated on the spot.

There began my journey, with my favourite colleague and best friend, of running our own company in the UK, which has now entered its fourth year.

At the start of my MBA, there were often polls on ‘who here plans to start your own company after graduation’, not once did I stand up and raise my hand, as I did not think I was brave or resourceful enough to do this. But Oxford Saïd proved me wrong, by nurturing and equipping my mind in ways I only began to fully comprehend years later.

Not only did my MBA prepare me for this new adventure, the school literally supported me from day one. As my company was being set up, the first retainer client I signed was Saïd Business School; then we earned more and more contracts from non-stop hard-working, networking, and always finding more opportunities to acquire more skills and make new contacts, which to me seemed like a natural continuation from my MBA days.

Soon enough, I had an office in London and a highly capable and dedicated team. Now, our company, ShapeD, has grown into a profitable business, working with world-leading brands and companies in various sectors.

Up until the lockdown, I was enjoying a very busy but fulfilling life: from interviewing the producers of BBC’s latest natural history documentary, to posting on Instagram from Paris Fashion Week for my client; from creating a large-scale winter lighting festival in Beijing, to taking museum partners to go on site checks in Xi’an; from working backstage at V&A’s 20-year-anniversary Fashion in Motion series, to rebranding the very first shopping centre in Guangzhou, and then back to checking the Chinese content of every single service offered at Harvey Nichols Knightbridge in London.

During the Covid-19 outbreak, many small businesses, not unlike my own, faced great challenges. We have also been busy dealing with our share of the problems but are staying positive as we develop a specialised yet still diverse scope of work.

Looking back, I genuinely appreciate every learning and every encounter that took place during my year at Oxford. The knowledge and insights I received while studying my MBA were very valuable, but the courage and determination that I gained from this experience was invaluable.