Alumna uses international education and business acumen to build a cascade of success
Growing up in an impoverished community in China, her mother gave her blessing when Linling Gan told her family that she wanted to come to the United States to pursue higher education — as long as Gan found a way to get more customers for the family’s clothes win factory.
That success, she said, would help not only her family but other people through a cascade of impacts.
A few years later, Gan (MBA, ’02) started at Chico State at her mother’s request. Using what she had learned in her undergraduate studies and thesis, she started her own small business importing zippers. In between college, she launched a sales website, began stocking her products in student dorm rooms and off-campus garages, and sold a shipping container’s worth of products to clients in the international fashion industry – to earn enough money for tuition pay, buy a car and hire other students as their employees.
It was an auspicious start to decades of successful work in global supply chain management, where Gan has thrived in industries from fashion to aerospace and has led companies related to international education and real estate.
“You don’t have to be afraid,” she said. “And you have to be creative.”
After grad school, Gan took a job at Pentair so she could get her H1B visa and continue to work and study in the United States. Although she had no aerospace experience, she knew she could negotiate on behalf of the company to get better prices and bigger deals if the company continued sourcing overseas. She soon became their top supply chain manager and eventually moved to CIRCOR Aerospace where she experienced similar success.
“With every job, I’ve found a skill that I learned from Chico State that has been very helpful,” she said. “And in every interview I’ve always felt very confident – even when other candidates came from Stanford – because of my skills and because I’m a fast learner. It’s not about the ranking, it’s about how you acquire the soft skills.”
Meanwhile, she didn’t give up on her mother’s wish.
On the weekends, Gan carried her family business’s catalogs to New York, Las Vegas, and other fashion shows to find potential clients. She would often ride the elevators of 30-story buildings in New York’s fashion district just to give herself a chance to talk to someone, and in her literal elevator pitch, would ask if they were having trouble with their rehearsals. She never went empty handed on the ground floor – she was always invited into someone’s office to share their solution to their problem.
Soon their new company, Yizhou International Inc., had a 500-square-foot office in Los Angeles. Today, operations span more than 23,000 square feet and serve companies like Costco, Target, Macy’s and Kohl’s. While Gan is still involved as a founder and trader, she stepped down in 2012 to focus more on her family (she has four children, ages 6, 12, 14 and 16) and her other passion – international education.
Gan left the aerospace industry to found the Max Education Group. The first program consisted of summer camps for families in Asia, where children came to the United States to go to school just like she did.
Since then, Max has expanded to offer K-12 online tutoring, after-school activities, college counseling, international recruitment, and educational partnerships with Southern California private schools that serve hundreds of thousands of international students each year.
“My mother believed that education could change your life,” she said. “After all these years as an international student, I realized that I wanted to make my experience available to others.”
Her journey in Chico State, she said, was both close to her heart and essential to her success.
During her MBA studies, Gan was offered scholarships, her faculty knew them all by name, and the dean welcomed her into her office to talk about her courses and career plans, she notes. She appreciated that her professors were also founders and CEOs of their own companies and brought not only book knowledge but also practical experience. And the Career Center was particularly important, helping them find internships, brush up on their resumes, and offer interview tips. To this day, Gan is happy to pass on the advice to others to never complete an interview without asking the employer a meaningful question that shows you’ve done your research.
In every company she has founded, she has worked to form the best team.
“You will drive success, operations and improvements,” she said. “It’s all about how you can put together a worthwhile person to achieve your vision.”
Then her vision widened again. After many discussions with the parents of international students who wanted to invest in real estate in the United States, she realized that there was an opportunity there too. Over the past year, her firm, JC Pacific Capital, has sold over $30 million in commercial and residential real estate transactions and is now engaged in property management.
“I want to say to international students never give up on your dreams – you just have to do it,” she said. “If there’s only a 1 percent chance of success, put 99 percent of your effort into doing it.”
Which brings us back to her mother’s dream. Not only did the Gan family’s small fashion factory continue to grow, eventually reaching 800 employees and providing stable jobs to the community, they were also able to reinvest their profits, donate to local orphanages, or build bridges for mountain communities that lack safe, reliable roads. It was this spirit of helping others that led Gan to join the Tower Society in Chico State, where she now contributes to a scholarship to help international students or those planning to study abroad feel like they do to give that people root for their success.
“You are far from home, thousands of miles across the ocean. You always feel like something is empty in your heart,” she said. “If the school offers a family, it makes adjustment easier.”