BCG’s Lifelong Gifts

Minda Xu, chief commercial officer of high-growth regions at Honeywell, sat down with the alumni team to discuss her BCG experience (Shanghai, 1995 to 1998), career journey, and the role of women in the workplace.

Tell Us About your Career Journey.

After completing my undergraduate study in 1995, I was fortunate to join BCG’s Shanghai office as an associate. At that time, when management consulting was still in its infancy in China, BCG provided us novices with systematic training. Despite being a newcomer, I had lots of opportunities to work on projects with partners and senior managers, which was rare in larger, more established offices. My work experience with BCG enabled me to grow my skills rapidly and served as a good foundation for my entire career. It also gave me the confidence and methods needed to quickly learn about a new industry. After three years in management consulting, I decided to pursue an MBA in the United States.

Back then I was eager to dive into operations at McGraw-Hill Companies, a giant publishing, financial, and media service organization. While working at McGraw-Hill, I had the chance to go through global rotational assignments and gained additional practical experience. In 2010, I joined AECOM—the world’s largest design, engineering, and construction management company—to serve as its vice president of strategic development and marketing in China. The country was at the height of urbanization and infrastructure construction. Being able to work with top architects and engineers and seeing iconic projects completed one after another was fulfilling. In mid-2014, I joined Honeywell.

What attracted you to Honeywell? What is unique about working in high-growth regions?

The first thing that excited me was the geographic scope of the role, which covers almost all regions except the developed markets in western Europe and North America. The role provides global exposure to businesses beyond China and Asia; I wanted to be part of a leadership team that managed India, the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa. I looked forward to contributing to the leadership vision and gaining deep insights into emerging markets.

Countries in high-growth regions have their own characteristics, but, in summary, one distinctive trait is a booming middle segment with ample business opportunities.

In many tech sectors, Honeywell’s products and solutions lead the market, and we are confident in our ability to maintain this advantage. However, we see the middle segment as our next frontier in high-growth regions. There exists a quickly expanding, huge customer base with a strong demand, where the offerings—and even the service models—may be quite different from those found in the high-end market. Meanwhile, this segment is the most competitive, so it’s necessary to have innovative business models, highly effective supply chains, and local service networks. Those who win in the middle segment can sustain long-term vitality in the future.

Take China as an example. Honeywell realized a decade ago that to achieve long-term development in the region it had to stop resting on its laurels and move beyond a typical multinational company mindset. There was a lot to learn from local entrepreneurs in terms of their buoyant vitality, hardworking spirit, rapid response to market changes, and daring for self-reinvention. Guided by such thinking, Honeywell carried out its “East-For-East” strategy in China to locally develop and manufacture offerings that better serve Chinese customers as the country goes through rapid urbanization and industrial improvements.

You worked at BCG when the firm was rapidly developing its presence in China. What was that like? How do you think BCG has changed?

My three years at BCG were unforgettable. When I joined the Shanghai office, BCG had a total of 14 professional consultants in China. We associates were hired fresh out of college and worked, learned, and grew together every day. Everyone was brilliant and unique but also very friendly and supportive. Ultimately, I met a group of people who became my lifelong friends. We have stood together and witnessed important moments in each other’s lives. I also met my husband at the firm—what a precious gift BCG gave to both of us.

I think BCG offers a very supportive environment. Although I had done some internships before starting, I was still new to the world of work. Through BCG’s on-the-job training my colleagues and I learned how to do market analysis, build financial models, and even master such basics as writing business emails. But the most important things BCG taught us were critical thinking, communication skills, and the value of pursuing excellence in all that you do. Of course, I became a perfectionistic PowerPoint enthusiast!

What we Shanghai alumni from the 1990s really miss is lunch at the Hengshan Road office. Our chef, Aunt Liu, had a few treasures: two induction cookers and two superlarge rice cookers. A table full of authentic Shanghai dishes glued more than 20 employees together each day. Even project managers based in Hong Kong were quite willing to travel to Shanghai, just for lunch and a room full of joy.

Regarding the way BCG has changed, I applaud the firm’s investment in digital transformation over the past few years. The new digital demo center in Shenzhen looks amazing, and hopefully I will have the opportunity to visit it soon.

How important is it to have women in leadership roles? How can women in the workplace further their careers and exert influence in a wider range of fields?

Companies, especially large ones, have a responsibility to promote diversity and inclusion and to create more opportunities for female employees. Honeywell, for example, established a women’s council to develop employees professionally and give them an opportunity to implement fresh ideas in their lives and work. We invite high-profile guest speakers with diverse backgrounds to share their stores with council members.

My personal experience and observations tell me that regardless of gender, the most important thing in the workplace is to do your best. Know your interests and strengths, learn, fill in the gaps, and just do it. These are the top priorities.

There are bound to be several key turning points in everyone’s life. If women want to go further in the business world, they need to figure out what they want at these different stages. They must make personal choices, which are neither good nor bad. Once they have made a choice, they must stick to it firmly instead of worrying about gains or losses.

I see life as a dynamic balance. Women bravely pursuing career development are unlikely to ensure an always perfect balance between work, personal time, and family matters. In this regard, I think it is particularly important to have a good mentality and to be able to prioritize. Ask for help if you are too busy—no one is Superwoman. The helping hands from family and friends, as well as the support I have received from colleagues, has allowed me to carry on, for which I am truly grateful.