Alvin Liow

Alvin Liow: Exploring entrepreneurship around the world

Master of Business Administration with emphases in entrepreneurship and innovation and general management, 2015 | Henry W. Bloch School of Management
Title: International Trade Assistant, Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City
Hometown: Singapore, Singapore

Portrait of UMKC Alumnus Alvin Liow

Tell us about your current position.

I work at the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City. I work on the international team and my supervisor, Narbeli Galindo, is actually my former instructor from the Henry W. Bloch School of Management. My primary responsibilities are in marketing and research, and also to assist my supervisor in international efforts of Kansas City, MO, in these three areas: assisting local companies with export and import resources, attracting foreign investments into Kansas City and hosting and managing international dignitaries who come to Kansas City.

Why did you choose UMKC?

I always wanted to do my MBA – it was a personal goal. I’m from Singapore, and I have a cousin who already lived in Kansas City who is actually a Bloch alumnus, too.

How did you choose your field of study?

I had originally applied for the MBA program with an emphasis area in supply chain management, partly because of what I had learned during my undergraduate degree and my interest in logistics. Having read about the Bloch School and its entrepreneurship program, I came with an open mind, looking for new knowledge and experiences. After I completed my first semester at UMKC and spoke with several faculty members, I changed my mind and decided to pursue the entrepreneurship route. Throughout my MBA program, my passion for entrepreneurship has been fueled by my exposure to entrepreneurial events and activities held in the city, and also by seeing how tight-knit the community is, and how they (we) are all willing to help one another.

What was your favorite thing about UMKC?

It’s a small campus with a big influence. It represents Kansas City culture and characteristics: The people are friendly and willing to help one another, and it’s really easy to integrate into the community.

Favorite thing about UMKC? It’s a small campus with a big influence. The people are friendly and willing to help one another, and it’s really easy to integrate into the community.

What did you learn about yourself at UMKC?

First, courage. Never be afraid to do something right. I have interacted with many entrepreneurs, and one of the qualities that brought them to where they are now is courage. I found myself stepping out of my comfort zone more often than before and pushing myself to do things that I would normally not want to do. I guess when you want to succeed or achieve the goals that you set out for, you keep going and keep trying, and don’t look back.

And second, a willingness to help. While I was one of the UMKC International Student Ambassadors, I became more selfless and was even more willing to help friends and international students who were having problems in school or looking for assistance.

Who was the most influential faculty or staff member at UMKC, and why?

This is a tough question, because there are at least three faculty members who helped me get to where I am today. It is just impossible for me to choose just one, so I would like to thank each of them here.

I took two finance classes with Narbeli Galindo (Henry W. Bloch School of Management) and also did an internship at the International Trade Council of Greater Kansas City while she was the president of the organization. She played a vital role in my career development and has always provided all the students she taught with opportunities to not only develop academically, but professionally as well. Because of that, I am currently working under her at the Economic Development Corporation.

Dr. Marilyn Taylor, the chair of the Department of Finance, Information Management and Strategy, is a very passionate professor who provides opportunities for students to achieve and excel. She is always approachable and has taken considerable steps to ensure her courses are of a high standard. She pushes students to produce a greater result than they themselves would have expected. I feel enriched, and yet challenged, during her classes. Dr. Taylor has been influential because of the comments and guidance she provided me while I was a student, and even after I graduated.

Finally, Dr. Kalpesh Desai is the department chair for marketing and supply chain management. I was Dr. Desai’s graduate research assistant during my last year at the Bloch School. He has been a mentor to me since the first day of that assistantship. Dr. Desai has provided me with timely reminders and advice, which I am very grateful for. We even had the chance to meet up in Singapore last year and catch up over dinner.

Portrait of UMKC Alumnus Alvin Liow

What advice do you have for students entering UMKC?

Step out of your comfort zone. Interact and work with as many people as possible. Be active in student groups to have a more holistic experience, you should be active — it adds vibrancy to your experience.

How did UMKC help you reach your current position?

While I was taking an international finance class during my last semester, Galindo mentioned the opportunity to learn more about international business in class. I approached her after class to find out more about this opportunity, and after my graduation, I was able to start as an intern with the organization that I am working for now, and was eventually offered with a full-time position.

Also, the classes I took in entrepreneurship and innovation allow me to better understand the steps and processes, as well as the mindset of many local and global entrepreneurs looking to expand their footprint in Kansas City. These courses exposed me to many organizations and resources available in this city for the growth of entrepreneurs.

And finally, the professors and faculty members were approachable and always sharing opportunities with students, in hopes of them succeeding in and out of school.

What are the challenges of your field?

My field requires me to understand different cultures and etiquettes. Every country is different, and it is unfortunate that people can sometimes be stereotypical. Therefore, it is very important to go in with an open mind, be impartial, and prepare before an initial interaction with a client. A wrong word or gesture can break the business deal immediately.

Another challenge is relationship building and patience. These are vital parts of international business. Trust and relationships are built over time, and business deals might take longer to complete than you would like.

Finally, you have to be flexible and adaptable. The world keeps moving, and you have to keep up with its pace! As such, one has to be prepared for last-minute changes, and be quick to learn and adapt, and adjust accordingly to the situation. More importantly, you have to be calm and think creatively for possible solutions during a situation.

What are the benefits of your field?

You get to see multiple perspectives and adopt a more empathetic view towards world issues, based on your interaction with businesses from around the globe.

It’s also fascinating to listen to and learn from global citizens who have traveled and lived in multiple countries. They have valuable insight about the way business is conducted in different parts of the world.

Finally, the work we do is always challenging, dynamic, and there’s never a dull moment. That being said, it also calls for great attention to detail. I have learned more about the city’s initiatives, incentives and funding available for companies to conduct business in Kansas City, and the countless resources available citywide, statewide and nationwide.

Dual Portrait of UMKC Alumnus Alvin Liow. Left: making a face. Right: laughing

What do you love about your job?

Every day is a different experience because of the nature of the work – international. In addition to helping local companies grow and expand globally, we interact with clients from different cultures, heritages and languages. I worked at the International Student Affairs Office as a student ambassador while I was at UMKC, and it really prepared me for this role. I recommend friends to do the ISAO ambassador program.

What is one word that best describes you and why?

Tenacious. Success is never easy – it is the product of many different factors, some of them being hard work and persistence. There have been many times in my life when I was tempted to give up on something I was pursuing. I struggled, I fought, and at the end of the day, I remind myself of the path I set off for at the beginning. I have also learned to always begin with the end in mind, and strive on even when times are tough.

What are your lifelong goals?

Lifelong learning — learning should never stop.

What makes you unique?

I can move my ears independently.

What’s your favorite place in Kansas City?

So hard to choose! First: West Bottoms—I’m a big fan of red brick architecture, which the Bloch School of Management also has. Second: Crossroads Art District (Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts) and First Fridays.

Portrait of UMKC Alumnus Alvin Liow