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Enlin Zhou
Graduate School

Class of 2013

Bakers quickly learn why careful measurement, accurate timing, and quality ingredients allow bread to rise.

But rising bread does not satisfy an artisan. Building on the basics, learning from trial and error, and pulling from a deep well of passion, an artisan constantly strives to create the sublime.

Enlin Zhou ’13, a graduate student in the School of Hotel Administration’s Master of Management in Hospitality program, says he hopes to be an artisan one day; however, his self-discipline, strategic choices, and drive to achieve his dream tell a different story—artisan is a title he could claim now.

Ingredients of success

Without a serendipitous sequence of events, opportunities, and childhood exposure to the hospitality industry in Hangzhou, China—his hometown—Zhou would not have discovered his career path, a combination of business, hospitality, and service.

Today, as he prepares to graduate from Cornell, Zhou has a business plan to help achieve his goal: help the underserved through hospitality social entrepreneurship.

“The gap of wealth and knowledge is significant in many of the regions I’ve been to,” he says. “There is a huge need for help. I want to find a way to use business to help improve living conditions and provide further education.”

Growing up in a popular tourist destination, the hospitality and service industry became a “root that’s grown deep in my heart,” he says. “I knew that hospitality and serving others could be a rewarding career.”

Like a baker preparing to try a new recipe, Zhou began with the basic ingredient for success—education—and earned a bachelor’s degree in international economics from Beijing Foreign Studies University, a renowned Chinese university specializing in language and culture studies.

“Although I was studying economics, the exposure of the international campus was something I was able to take away with me,” he says. “It expanded my global horizon.”

After graduation, when Zhou would have begun a career as a business consultant with The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), he took a gap year to work for Teach for China, the Chinese equivalent of Teach for America. At that time, the program was in its early stages. Zhou worked with the founding team to recruit the first volunteers and took charge of campus recruitment initiatives.

But when the year was up, the global financial downturn deferred his hire date. Rather than wait until he could officially begin his business-consulting career, Zhou turned to his love for hospitality and service. He began a two-month pastry class in Hangzhou to become a certified pastry chef.

After certification was complete, Zhou joined a start-up café with a friend and taught pastry classes. He gained hands-on experience running a culinary program, and when BCG called him to work in 2009, Zhou found food his focus once again. His task: help international businesses develop plans to market and sell food and beverage products in China.

“It was a coincidence,” Zhou says. “But it was very challenging and exciting.”

With experience running a patisserie, and with his BCG work as a marketing, management, and business consultant, Zhou looked for his next challenge. In 2010, he joined a boutique advisory company that provides market insights on the Chinese commodity and mining industry. To better understand the industry and conditions, he traveled to rural China mining towns one week every month.

“I was astonished to see the level of poverty that people were struggling with. It was hard to believe that next to the village there was a mine producing precious metals. You’d think its output would have helped people live better lives,” he says.

When he discovered, time and time again, that mom-and-pop shops, inns, and food kiosks provided more economic viability to the underprivileged, Zhou decided to make a career change.

“I realized the power of the hospitality business in eliminating poverty,” he says.

Opportunity rising

Building on his pastry and teaching experiences, his desire to serve, and his existing knowledge of the Chinese hospitality industry, Zhou applied to Cornell.

“I arrived here last May, and for 99 percent of the time since, I haven’t left Ithaca,” he says. “I found myself acting like a sponge, busy absorbing all the hospitality know-how.”

During his one-year graduate program, Zhou carefully chose his extracurricular activities, internships, and classes with his end-goal in mind. With such a short period of time to earn a master’s degree, passion and focus were essential, he says.

“When you’re trying to create opportunities, you’re not aware how many opportunities can emerge at the same time. You have to stay focused and live your life like an artisan,” he says. “You have to spend time or put emphasis on something you’re very passionate about, something that you think will make the maximum contribution to society.”

To learn more about business models that could provide economic stability to the less fortunate, Zhou completed an independent study with nonprofit businesses in Cambodia during winter break. In an effort to understand their challenges and social impacts, he interviewed the managers and business owners. Upon his return, he worked to develop a report on the topic, while asking himself how he could leverage the business model and apply it in developing Asian countries.

At this point in his crafted recipe for success, the effects of each ingredient, Zhou says “are hard to tell.” But, he adds: “there is this kind of magic attraction principle. Once you tell the world your dream, the world is going to help you.”

“With passion and the compassion to serve,” says Zhou. “I know I can do a great deal to help.”

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