We sat down with Spencer Fung, CEO of Li and Fung, a leading consumer goods design, development, sourcing, and logistics company serving major retailers and brands worldwide, to reflect on how his experiences at D’Amore-McKim transformed his life. Fung is also a member of the Northeastern University Board of Trustees.
Q:When did you graduate from the D’Amore-McKim School of Business and with what degree?
August of 1996 with an MS/MBA.
Q:What’s your most interesting memory from your time at Northeastern?
My favorite memory, and there are many, is the fact that my Northeastern experience was the most intense academic experience in my life. I’ve gone to many schools that are considered tough, but Northeastern trumps them all. Part of that reason was because my classmates were so serious. Half were undergrads and half had already worked for a few years. There was a significant opportunity cost for them to leave work; they had families, they needed to get in and get out. That impacted the rest of class, making the whole environment very serious. I was in class from 8 a.m. till noon everyday, and I went straight to the library afterwards. Every day I studied till midnight, even weekends.
Toward the end, I came home and there was a birthday cake in the kitchen and I wondered, “Who is this for?” and then I realized it was for me, that’s how intense the experience was, I missed my own birthday. I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten my birthday except that one time.
Ultimately, it was a good 15 months. Receiving two degrees, it was all worth it.
Q:What is your current profession and what led you there?
I work for my family business; we manage global supply chains for retailers, and connect retailers to factories, globally, on both sides. I was an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley and I basically lost my job in the dot com bust. My father was kind enough to offer me a part-time job and that turned into a full-time job and here I am. I rotated between different departments and different countries and now I am the CEO of the company. It has been an interesting journey.
Q:How did D’Amore-McKim prepare you for this career in the global business world?
When I did my co-op it was in Shanghai. I think I was one of three students out of 60 with an international opportunity, so I was very lucky. At that time they weren’t common. I fought for it; I really wanted to do something international. So I got that concurrently confirmed before enrolling. It was my first really serious job and that really kick started my career. Everything started here basically. China was still very backwards during my co-op, it was not like today, 20 years ago China looked very different. It was my first time to China, and it was a culture shock. I knew it was developing. There were bicycles all over and almost no cars, there were rice patties next to high-rise buildings, even in the city, it was that undeveloped. It was quite an experience. It was an experience in a developing country, I had always lived and traveled in developed areas, but I was interested in learning more about those that were still developing, in global business you are always exploring opportunities in developing countries.
Q:What would you say to a prospective student considering D’Amore-McKim for their business degree?
This is the best and only school to be at. I have a reason for that: the world is changing too fast and being in a traditional two-year graduate or four-year undergraduate program is a big opportunity cost. If you are stuck in theory for that long, when you graduate the world has changed completely. The Northeastern co-op program puts you in touch with reality, allowing you to constantly reapply what you learn and test the theories presented to you. It’s a must. In today’s world I think it’s a must.
Q:What additional insight do you have for the D’Amore-McKim community?
(Note: This answer was transcribed from Mr. Fung’s D’Amore-McKim graduation speech, per Mr. Fung’s request)
One Sunday when my son was playing with his Legos, like many other kids, he had all the Legos on the floor and he was constructing this spaceship-like interior, this object. After a few hours I went over to him, took a look at what he had made and said, “Son that’s a great piece of creation, I love it.” After he saw me acknowledge what he had done, he took the Legos creation and dropped it to the floor and completely destroyed it. I was shocked. Without exchange and facial expression he started constructing the next piece of Legos. That’s when it clicked to me what zero-based planning really meant. We all have our piece of Legos that we have been building for many years, every year we put a few pieces here, subtract a few pieces there and sort of add to it and evolve it. I can guarantee that your piece of Legos might look nice on the outside, but its definitely not optimal from the inside. What you have to do is really break that piece of Legos completely from time to time in order to construct something new and ambitious. Now if you’re running a company or working for somebody I do not suggest you break your company down, because you will probably get fired. What you want to do is create a mental model, mentally think, “How do I create my whole mental model and my piece of Legos to really plan for the future?” Set an ambitious goal, break the Legos that you have today and then think about the steps you need to get there. I can guarantee you that you’ll have a much better time than not breaking that piece of Legos.