Ross Alum Went From Startup Employee No. 1 To Growing a $3.2 Billion Dollar Company — We Asked Him 20 Questions
Michigan Ross Alumni — 20 Questions
When Anthony Chen, BBA ‘11, joined Flexport, he was the first full-time employee for the international logistics company with big visions for revolutionizing global trade.
Since joining in 2014, Chen has been central to the explosive growth of the company, which now employs more than 1,000 people across 11 global offices and was recently valued at $3.2 billion.
“It still feels surreal sometimes,” Chen said. “It seems like just yesterday we were only four people and a dog working in a garage and eating burritos in South Park. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still more.”
The ‘more’ that remains is continued disruption of what Chen says can often be seen as an “archaic and unsexy” industry.
“Most people either think of an old warehouse full of boxes and forklifts, but logistics is so much more,” he said. “It’s how raw materials are sourced, how the next iPhone is manufactured, how to make sure there are enough vaccines in hospitals... Logistics is the key to all global trade.”
Chen and the team at Flexport are using advanced technology, data analytics, logistics infrastructure and supply chain expertise to lead the way in the race to modernize the field not just for today, but for the future. And Chen, who was recently named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for his work with Flexport, said the time is ripe for big thinking around the way goods move around the globe.
“There is a rare opportunity right now,” he said. “We’re at a major inflection point and poised for a dramatic technological shift. If you want to challenge the impossible, innovate, and build the future, then you have to work in logistics.”
And, as it turns out, you also need to face our 20 Questions.
What's the most thrilling/adventurous thing you've ever done?
A deserted airport. A sea of military police. And protests until 3am. Exploring Egypt one month after the Egyptian revolution of 2011 was one of the most eye-opening and thrilling adventures I’ve ever been on.
Describe your first job.
I still remember creating my first employment contract using Microsoft Word when I was 11. I signed up as the stock clerk and cashier for my dad’s asian grocery store at an initial rate of $2.50 per hour. So everyday after school, until college, you could find me manning the store. Not the best contract I’ve signed, but it felt great to have some extra snack money!
Best business decision you've ever made?
Leaving the well trodden investment banking career path and jumping into the tech startup world by joining Flexport.
What is something on your bucket list?
Wingsuit flying. According to my wife, it’ll stay on my bucket list.
The one thing you learned in business school that you'll never forget is...?
I will never forget taking Sensory Marketing with Prof. Aradhna Krishna -- all the tricks companies can use to trigger and hook you! Imagine a cold winter Chicago night, you head to the bus stop and see a bright ad for Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. Suddenly the hidden radiator turns on and you’re warm -- how badly do you want to drink that soup?!
If you could pick up a new skill in an instant, what would it be?
My imagination feels so vivid and wild, but my dumb hands can only draw stick figures. I’d love to be able to make art.
Business or charity you wish more people knew about?
Sundara (sundarafund.org) is one of the most creative and impactful charities more people should know about. They are empowering women, saving lives and making communities healthier through soap! For bonus points, it was started by a Michigan alumna, Erin Zaikis!
First website you access in the morning
Reddit. Nothing like the news and cute animal pictures to start your day.
Favorite Ann Arbor restaurant or bar? Why do you like it?
The original Blimpy Burger. 0% bullshit and 100% deliciously tender & greasy burgers.
If you were a vending machine, what would you vend?
Lee Kum Kee Sauce Machine ™. I grew up using AND selling their iconic sauces, almost nothing would make me prouder than becoming a machine to vend their tasty tasty sauce.
Where is the most exotic or unexpected place you've seen a Michigan Block M?
Ever been to Jiuzhaigou? It’s one of the most gorgeous hidden gems in China’s Sichuan province. Usually filled with a flood of Chinese tourists and shimmering green ponds, I was exciting to see Maize and Blue too!
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
As a kid, I wanted to help save lives but knew I didn’t have the stomach to be a doctor. So I hedged a bit and decided to be a pharmacist -- dispensing life saving medicine. Instead today, we are able to help save and improve lives by delivering global aid through Flexport.org.
Do you have a pet peeve?
Absolutely hate it when people talk over others.
Favorite thing happening in the logistics industry right now?
From IoT sensors to blockchain to self-driving trucks, there are so many ways technology is improving logistics. As a student of efficiency, I’m most excited by the ways the industry is starting to tackle the inherent massive inefficiencies in the supply chain. Companies like Flexport are solving the misallocation problem in freight through data and visibility.
What job would you hate to have?
Do telemarketers still exist? That would be horrifying.
Must-have app on your phone?
I need Evernote to survive, it’s my second brain.
Most-cherished Ross experience?
Taking advantage of how new and badass the recently opened Ross building was. My friends and I would book study rooms to re-watch Kung Fu Panda while studying…
Favorite thing to binge watch on Netflix?
Toss up between Black Mirror and Psych. Hard to pick between my love of futuristic dystopias with subtle warning signs for today and comedic mysteries that rely on hyper observational skills.
What keeps you up at night?
My wife. We both love xiaoye (宵夜) or midnight snacks, so you can often find us hunting for late night food!
What aspects of your Ross education helped prepare you to be successful in your current role?
At Ross, I was so focused on the “sexy” classes like finance and accounting, that other classes tended to become background noise. And, while those classes made me sharper as a banker, it was actually all those “background” classes that gave me the breadth to be dangerous in so many areas and grow a startup wearing different hats. My balanced foundation was key.