Leo Lu, at a library, standing beside a porcelain vase
New direction: Leo Lu, who is studying for an MBA at Ceibs in Shanghai © Una Zhu, for the FT

I’m from a very small place called Shenhou in Henan province, in the middle of China. My home town is famous for its jun porcelain — a very old type that stems from the Song dynasty about 1,000 years ago and is known for changing colour when heated in a kiln.

The secret technique of making jun porcelain was lost for hundreds of years due to war but, then, in 1879 my ancestors cracked the code after more than 30 years of trying.

I grew up pretty comfortably and, when I went to high school in a different town, I got into teaching myself things I liked, such as history and philosophy, as I didn’t have any parents around. But, then, at university, I lost my way. I got hooked on online games and somehow lost myself.

In 2014, when I finally graduated, I had no plans for the future — I just thought I’d go home, where I knew I’d be taken care of. But, at that time, our family factory faced a severe financial crisis and we had creditors constantly knocking on our door. The comfortable life I was used to was gone.

Seeing my parents so helpless made me realise they were not invincible protectors. I felt intense self-loathing and I knew I had to change. I cut all non-essentials from my life, both socially and financially — no more hanging out with friends, I just focused on learning and working. I taught myself English so that I could access more online learning materials.

This is when I started thinking about changing my life through education. It took me eight attempts to score 740 on my GMAT business school entrance exam, which I needed to get a full scholarship as I didn’t want to spend my family’s money.

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Around the same time, my older brother — who had been managing the family business — suffered ill health from working too hard. He wouldn’t be able to handle intense work any more, meaning I had to prepare myself to take over his responsibilities.

How could I prepare myself quickly? I chose to do an MBA programme.

I knew I couldn’t go abroad, as I needed to take care of the family business, Jun Kiln of Lu. I also wanted a receptive environment, where I could learn fast by allowing myself to make mistakes. Ceibs — China Europe International Business School, in Shanghai — is diverse and open-minded but also has strong fundamentals, such as quality of education and an alumni network that would help me when taking over the family business.

Mistakes mean improvement: the fastest way to learn is to make a lot of mistakes and reflect on what actions have triggered the result. Compared with other universities in China that are more bureaucratic and government controlled, Ceibs is more open-minded — a bridge to connect Europe and the east.

There are 120 full-time students on my programme, which stretches over six terms. About 40 per cent are foreigners and I’d say the average age is 28 — a bit younger than my 33 years.

My favourite classes are on marketing, marketing research and AI and financial markets. Finance and AI interest me as these are new fields for me. With marketing, the appeal is mainly the professor, who is very sharp and quick to catch any logical flaws.

Right now, I’m working on a business plan to help transition my family’s business. My plan is to launch a start-up in Shanghai, where I will market and sell my family’s art. Both marketing and negotiating will come into use here.

Once my family business has stable finances again, I want to go to Europe to study art. My life goal is to be an artist and philosopher, merging the eastern and western.

Today, China is prosperous. We have learnt from the west but, with the economic downturn, people are reassessing their lives, trying to find meaning and faith — maybe our society needs ideology that stems from traditional culture.

The porcelain that our family has been making for almost 150 years is about beauty and self-appreciation — that makes me feel overwhelmed with destiny.

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