On Saturday night in Shanghai, a giant Northeastern “N” glowed on the roof of the Fairmont Peace Hotel, a symbol accentuated by a splash of bright green light atop the historic building. This aerial projection over the heart of one of the world’s great cosmopolitan cities, which has for centuries been a center of commerce and meeting place of cultures, served as a statement of fact as much as a symbol: Northeastern is here.
Shanghai served as the site of Northeastern’s second Global Leadership Summit earlier this week. The event convened the university’s global community, along with business executives, artists, and entrepreneurs, to discuss the transformational changes in business, technology, and education taking hold across the world.
Globalization has led companies to expand their operations internationally, and not confine themselves to one location. Northeastern has pioneered this approach within higher education. It has developed a globally integrated university system, with locations across North America and in London. Northeastern has more than 255,000 alumni in 179 countries worldwide; in the 2017-2018 academic year, students took advantage of experiential learning opportunities in 136 countries.
The university’s academic plan, Northeastern 2025, is the blueprint for a global network of people, programs, and experiences, that embraces lifelong learning, prepares learners for the changing nature of work, and brings together people of different backgrounds and experiences.
“The summit is a critical part of building our global university system, which goes beyond any physical location,” said Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern. “Our global approach to education ensures that we will always be with our learners, throughout their lives and wherever they are in the world.”
Rich D’Amore, chair of Northeastern’s Board of Trustees, welcomed attendees to the summit. He noted how Northeastern has transformed itself into a university with a global vision and world-class research enterprise, while still remaining grounded in its leadership in experiential education.
Attendees forged new networks, advanced global partnerships, and shared their innovative solutions for responding to disruptions in their industries. Executives at iconic brands such as Disney, Domino’s, and Lancôme discussed how they adapt to local customs and trends when they enter new markets, while still remaining true to their missions.
Spencer Fung, a member of Northeastern’s Board of Trustees and group chief executive officer of Li & Fung, is leading his 112-year-old family-run company through a transformation to create the supply chain of the future. Fung recognized the seismic shift happening in the global retail industry. He responded by implementing changes to make his company move like a startup, and its supply chain become faster, more innovative, and digitized. Li & Fung has shifted, for example, to prioritize analytics and use 3D renderings for rapid prototyping.
“Transformation is not easy,” said Fung, who earned his master’s in accounting and MBA from Northeastern. “Focus on one thing, and go all the way down to the details—and move fast.”
Chip Bergh, the president and chief executive officer of Levi Strauss & Co., said that companies need to be innovative to survive. He said that Levi Strauss has experimented with 3D knitting technology to make the jeans of the future.
He also shared his perspective on how he views brands. “I like to think of a brand as a person,” he said. “It needs to have character and authenticity, and it needs to have soul.”
Zhen Liu, senior vice president of corporate development at ByteDance, described how the Chinese internet technology company uses machine learning to deliver more personalized news feeds to its millions of users. Liu also offered some lessons in business and careers. She said that entrepreneurs should be hardworking, wear many hats, and have small egos. She stressed the importance of hiring people who are both innovative and collaborative, and who are both intelligent and humble.
Northeastern held its first Global Leadership Summit last year in Paris. The inaugural event inspired youth alumni to help plan and organize this year’s summit, which was attended by people from more than two dozen countries, across five continents, including China, the United Kingdom, France, India, Ghana, Japan, Guatemala, Thailand, Switzerland, Mexico, and Singapore.
At this week’s summit in Shanghai, Jian Fan, a Big Data chief scientist at China Unicom Group, said that “curiosity and critical thinking are the most important things for young people to have.” Tanya Chua, an acclaimed female singer and songwriter, said, “Do what you love, and maybe your hobby will become your career.”
Diane MacGillivray, senior vice president for University Advancement at Northeastern, said that the summit showcased a diversity of perspectives and approaches to innovation. She said the talks served not only to inform the audience, but also catalyze further discussion, in which attendees shared how the global transformations described by the speakers are having an impact where they live and work.
“Northeastern has an incredibly rich, diverse, vibrant global community,” MacGillivray said. “These summits allow us to bring that community together to network, to learn from each other, and to be inspired and motivated by the experts we hear from.”