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Jack Liu

Portrait of Jack Liu

My name is Jack Liu. As part of the awesome MBA class of 2019, it is my privilege to be graduating together with the wonderful family of JSOM undergraduate, master’s and PhD graduates today. Congratulations my friends!

Now, what if I tell you, none of the stuff we learned here, nor the degree we just earned, matters? Let me tell you why.

I began as a student at UT Dallas 10 years ago — not what it feels like. I was actually an engineering graduate student. UTD did not look and feel the same way as it does now: Parking spaces were 90 percent green, much cheaper and always available; there were only four fast-food restaurants should you choose to eat on campus, and JSOM did not have the high rankings nor the letter J.

Thanks to UTD’s management, faculty, staff, students and alumni, this school has taken a rocket-ship trajectory. So much so, when I decided to pursue an MBA after working for eight years, the bar was so high I was not sure if I could get in. This is a university that grows faster than its graduates, and I have no doubt that its growth will continue in the years to come.

“As we all go forward in our careers, accumulating titles, credentials, promotions, recognitions, fame, monetary gains and success, please remember our business school days. Maintain the humility, diligence, consciousness and courage it takes to ask ourselves: ‘So what?’”

Ten years changed many factors in my equation too: I got married to my beautiful wife, and now we have three children, two car loans, one mortgage and zero free time. I must admit, kissing my paycheck goodbye at this stage was no easy decision, even with my extremely supportive family. In other words, my beta (or opportunity cost) is much higher now. To my delight, JSOM not only exceeded my high expectations, but also kicked my butt. As a good quality education is designed to do, it pushed me and many others out of our comfort zones, down the river into the middle of the ocean where we learned to swim as sharks do.

We learned much: NPV and IRR, P-value and R-squared, supply and demand, depreciation and amortization, Porter’s Five Forces and BCG matrix, strategy and garbology. But I felt the true value of business education is none of these. Instead, it all boils down to a question someone asked me on day one.

It was a mock interview, and I was given a question that I call the M.A.I. (Mother of All Interviews, aka “tell me about yourself”). I went on and on: solved problems, handled customers, achieved synergy and optimized processes — like a boss. But my interviewer smiled and said: “So what?”

Now depending on the genre of movies you like, that question could be the beginning of a very bad day. Imagine someone asking this question to Mr. John Wick. “I took your dog. So what?”

I presented myself professionally, but went through all five stages of grief internalizing his message before he explained — none of the stuff I did matters if I cannot connect the dots and convince him that I will create value in this position. And if you think about it, “so what?” is the way we evaluate subconsciously.

“I have a master’s degree. So what? I can get one online from the University of Phoenix.”

“I worked at a Fortune 500 company. So what? Big companies retain many underperformers.”

“I know data analytics. So what? I can learn that on YouTube.”

“I am a problem solver. So what? Everybody and their uncle is a problem solver.”

So when I said earlier that none of the stuff we learned here, nor the degree we just earned, matters. I meant it does not matter if we cannot answer the question: “So what?”

The question of “so what?” is extremely powerful. It reminds us that the story we want to tell is not necessarily a story that the others want to hear. It reminds us that the goods and services we offer to sell are not necessarily the needs and wants of the market.

To answer the question of “so what?” is not easy. We must remain conscious, travel the extra miles, sit down at the other side of the table, ask the right questions, listen and hear the voices of the stakeholders, and be willing to deny our own beloved work, change it a few times, and again, and then again.

I challenge us all to always ask the question, “so what?” To always choose to take the path less traveled on this painstaking journey of idea refinery and product creation.

I challenge us all to always answer the question, “so what?” To always present solutions, not just observations; to make recommendations not just data analysis; to cure a pain point, not just to make a thing; and to bring net present value, not just to predict future cash flow. Only then will our voices be heard, our opinions taken seriously, our efforts rewarded and our leadership followed.

So, out of our pyramid of knowledge learned in this fine business school education, let’s put the question of “so what?” on the very top.

As we all go forward in our careers, accumulating titles, credentials, promotions, recognitions, fame, monetary gains, and success, please remember our business school days. Maintain the humility, diligence, consciousness and courage it takes to ask ourselves: “So what?”

I wish you all health, happiness and success. Thank you.


Jack Zhengjie Liu is graduating summa cum laude with his MBA. He returned to UT Dallas after working in the telecom industry for eight years. He studied information engineering at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications and later earned his Master of Science in telecom engineering at UT Dallas. He received an MBA Cohort Academic Excellence Award and served as MBA Ambassador and social representative. After graduation, he plans to focus on product management, strategic leadership and leveraging his problem-solving skills in technology.