ABOUT TODAY’S GUEST | MARK BAI
Mark Bai came to the U.S. from China at age 6, settling in Omaha, Nebraska. As a child, he was nudged down a traditional path to success … get good grades, attend a first-rate college, and then on to medical school and a lucrative career. But as Mark ventured through his experiences with Cutco/Vector and attending the University of Pennsylvania, he found himself moving towards a different path, one that led him into the Recruiting industry. There, Mark has quickly found remarkable success. He has become one of the youngest people ever promoted to Principal in one of the fastest growing firms in his industry, and he has found an ideal new home in San Francisco. At age 27, Mark Bai is well on his way to building the life of his dreams.
Q&A WITH MARK BAI
Q: Tell us about your background.
- I’m a first-generation immigrant from China. My parents and I moved to the US when I was 6, and we landed in Omaha, Nebraska.
- I grew up as one of the few Asian kids in Omaha, in the entire community. I’m from a traditional conservative family, and my parents wanted me to be either a doctor or lawyer. That’s the path I took when I was studying in school.
- I joined Vector when I graduated from high school. I had taken all these classes in natural science and mathematics, basically the classes you’d take to pursue a career in medicine.
- I had never done anything entrepreneurial or business-oriented and that was the gap in my experience. I got a call from Vector, and they were advertising a job. I had no idea what it was about, I took an interview, went through the process and immediately got the job on the spot.
- I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but I took a leap of faith, and ended up having an amazing summer. That was ultimately an incredible experience and it led me to become a branch manager and later to my current job in recruiting. I still use a lot of skillset and experiences I was able to develop from the Cutco days.
Q: Tell us about the experiences you had during those 2 summers with Vector that stand out for you
- My first summer as a rep, I was able to sell over $10,000 in 2 weeks (SC2 Push Period). The first time I had ever made that much money in such a short period of time.
- That 2 weeks period showed me what I was capable of and pushed me out of my comfort zone. That’s something I still do today. I’m always trying to find ways to push myself beyond what I think I’m capable of.
- It’s not the work or money that stands out for me. it’s the fact that every difficult circumstance or obstacle I come across, I can go back to those 2 weeks as an example of overcoming something which is ridiculously hard. And me knowing if I did that, I can do this.
Q: Any other experiences or lessons that stand out?
- My first summer being a branch manager, I worked 16+ hour days, waking up at 6 am to prepare for my branch manager calls, training my reps all day, interviewing, recruiting and coming back home exhausted, but feeling good about myself.
- It was also a real impactful summer. I was managing a team of around 30 reps at my peak. It was such a wide-ranging experience beyond just recruiting and teaching people how to sell knives. That left a big impression on me.
- Even if you’re 19, 20 or 21, you’re still having an impact on other people. You really are able to change someone’s life.
Q: You reference Dane Espegard and say he’s still your mentor to this day. Anything you could share about him and his impact in your life?
- I would say if it wasn’t for Dane being my manager, I probably wouldn’t have stayed with Cutco. He is someone I admired from day 1 in terms of how he carried himself and communicated with others.
- He was someone who was an antithesis of what my parents taught me. You must study hard and do well in school. He wasn’t an academic, but he played his natural strengths and he created the life of his dreams. He made a strong impression on me.
Q: You went to a great school, very prestigious; the University of Pennsylvania. What were some of the key experiences while you were at college?
- It was less the academic side of things I learned in school, but more what I learned outside the classroom environment.
- I think it’s the people I was able to meet, the discussions and conversations I was able to have. When I moved to Philadelphia, it was my first time been in a big city outside of Omaha.
- Been able to explore the city, the level of exposure I got felt like seeing what is achievable, what is possible. Penn really helped me expand my horizons of what’s possible in life.
Q: Expanding your horizons … Could you unpack that a little more, how that happened for you?
- One of the things I was able to see was there were multiple paths towards success. I was able to understand there are different definitions of success.
- I grew up in a conservative Chinese household where there was only one path to success. Going to Penn, I met folks that came from very different backgrounds.
- This broadened my horizon on what was possible, and made me be more comfortable in taking risks in life as opposed to pursuing the safe path … graduate from high school, graduate from college, go to medical school, get a job as a doctor and be a doctor for the rest of life.
Q: Tell us about your path after college.
- I joined an executive search firm. This industry involves advising companies on placing future leaders into their organizations.
- Before I joined this firm, I had no previous exposure to people at the executive level. It was an opportunity to get exposure to people who had been at the top of their careers for longer than I’d been alive at this time.
- To get that access at an early age, that’s what appealed to me. it was an awesome experience.
- I joined them fulltime after I’d interned with them during my senior year in college. I spend 2 ½ years at this firm, before I was recruited by True Search.
- One of the reasons I joined True was their focus on technology. It also has a strong position with venture capitalists and equity firms which were 2 assets classes I wanted to get more experience with.
- I took another leap of faith, and joined True, which at that at the time was an upstart. Over the last 3 years, it’s been a tremendous ride. We’re now the 7th largest executive search firm in revenue, and we’ve also been the fastest growing in the lot.
Q: Tell us about what you feel was a transformational moment along the way in your career which led you to this.
- It was working away from a safe, well-established career path towards a company that was getting started.
- That bet really paid off and here I am today. I’m very happy with that decision.
Q: What gave you the courage to take that leap?
- First it was preparation. Before I took that leap, I took it upon myself to find every single person that used to work at True. I did my due-diligence on that move.
- Secondly, I felt I’d gained skills and I was ready to apply those lessons in an environment where I was accountable for delivering results.
Q: You have in particular done a lot of amazing work at True. I understand you set various records in the recruiting space and you’re one of the fastest people to be promoted to Principal at the firm, and you’re only 27 years old. What have been some of your success factors?
- My goal whenever I go any organization, I try to find the people that are the best in what they do. I chat with them to understand what they do and try to absorb their best practices into my own workflow.
- I was lucky to have a good mentor, Shane. He was the principal when I was just an associate. We kind of grew up together.
- The other is having a strong “why.” The last years haven’t been easy. Recruiting in general is a rollercoaster business. Having a strong why to fall back on is pretty important.
- Having a real strong work ethic. I may not be the smartest person in any room I walk into. But I’ll be for sure the hardest working person in every room I walk into.
Q: What does your day to day look like at this point?
- I’m a principal right now. It’s the hardest role in this industry. You’re basically responsible for everything an associate or partner would do.
- My day to day typically starts making back-to-back calls from 6 am until 6 or 7 pm. Then I take a break at 7 pm until 9 – 10 pm to work out or cook dinner. I come back to work at 10 pm until 1 am to get all my administrative tasks done.
- I do this from Monday to Friday and also work on Sunday afternoons too. So, it’s a lot of work these days.
Q: What are some of the reasons for putting in such a rigorous workweek?
- I grew up really poor and it’s one of the reasons for being motivated to achieve financial success. I want to repay my parents for the sacrifices they made, coming to a new country, giving up on their careers I order for me and my sister to have a better life.
- I want to make my younger sister have the best life she could possibly have.
- Ultimately, I want to help other people that grew up the way I did.
Q: What other advice would you have for young Vector reps, young managers or alumni?
- Surround yourself with great mentors.
- Find your why and work hard.
- Don’t just bang your head against the walls working hard, try and work smart whenever possible.
- Optimize your workflow and work smarter than your competition.
Q: What’s the vision for the future for you in the long term?
- Right now, I’m really enjoying what I’m doing.
- There’s a realistic path towards being a partner here at True, and I would like to pursue that.
- There are a number of paths I’d love to go back and try something entrepreneurial again. Whether it’s my founding my own executive search firm or starting a company with some of my friends.
- Beyond that, I’d love to get into philanthropy, give back and be that mentor to other people.
Q: Are there any other core philosophies/principles in your mind?
- Always devote some time to pursue something of interest to you beyond your everyday job.
- For me, last year I devoted my free time to learning personal finance.
- This year, I’m devoting my free time to learning real estate.
- Perpetual learning is something that pays off big dividends in the long term
- Mark described feeling a gap in his resume that led him to Vector and Cutco. Wanting to gain that particular experience Vector offered. Wanting to diversify himself from someone who was academically strong to having these people skills that come along with the Cutco/Vector experience.
- He also talked about wanting to push beyond his comfort zone and learning the lessons from that. Every difficult experience you encounter prepares you for future challenges in life.
- I also liked when Mark talked about going to college, and seeing multiple paths and definitions of success. Understanding there are different paths to get where we want to be is a very important concept that helps you to create the path which makes the most sense to you vs. traveling a path of someone else’s vision.
- Lastly, allocating time for learning is an important part of being able to develop well-rounded skills in life.
Show Notes for this episode were provided by Brian Njenga.
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