Making Her Mark at Apple's Core
Kayla Zheng ’21 plays a key role at tech giant’s largest manufacturer of iPhones.
Tingyi “Kayla” Zheng has gone from taking classes 10 minutes from “the Big Apple” to playing an integral role for one of the oldest and largest suppliers of a different kind of big Apple.
A 2021 graduate of the Stevens School of Business finance master’s program, Kayla currently performs a dual role with Foxconn, one of the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturers with a factory in her hometown of Zhengzhou, China. On the business side, her team negotiates commercial deals with the tech giant. She also reports directly to the CEO as an analyst.
“As the biggest manufacturer of the iPhone, our only client is Apple,” she explained. “We negotiate all these commercial deals, and the most important thing every year is the manufacturing cost. We spend three to four months calculating it and negotiating with Apple. With our CEO, I help to analyze our competitors and the market. I get resources from our internal teams, generalize it and present it.”
While not ruling anything out, Kayla’s original career aspirations did not include the manufacturing sector. She was leaning toward investment banking because “the numbers change every day and every day is a fresh start.” An internship at a consulting company also sparked her career interest.
Working in the manufacturing sector has involved an adjustment, but the analytic skills honed during her time at Stevens helped flatten the learning curve, whether she knew it initially or not.
“I never expected my academic experience at Stevens to help me at a manufacturing company, but it does,” she said. “I do a lot of financial analysis, reading the financial statements of my company, Apple and our competitors, and it has really helped me. It’s not just about the numbers but understanding what is behind them. I don't think I learned that anywhere else.”
The lessons she learned as part of the finance curriculum are part of her everyday work experience, but it was another subject that drew her to Stevens in the first place—geography. Located just 10 minutes from New York City, many Stevens students are attracted by the internship opportunities and world-class cultural amenities available to them. The balance of big-city vibes and close-knit community is a hallmark of the Hoboken experience.
“When I was in China as an undergraduate student and thinking of my life in the United States, the first thing I thought of was how Stevens was so close to Manhattan,” she said. “I majored in finance, so I thought about how cool it would be to study in the center of the finance world. I also remember some information on the website about being a small campus but making a big difference. It’s not a big campus, but it’s beautiful, and being able to have that view of Manhattan really attracted me.”
The thought of exploring career and cultural opportunities in a new city and country while pursuing a master’s degree from a top business school is certainly exciting but can also be daunting.
“I really received a lot of encouragement from my professors,” she remembered. “At the beginning, I was not very confident. As an international student coming to a new country, even though I always knew I wanted a job there, it seemed like there was such a long way to go.”
Not only did Kayla find support from the faculty, but she also was able to find solace in her favorite place on campus.
“The library was absolutely my favorite place,” she said. “I really loved to spend a lot of time there. I lived in the area between Jersey City and Hoboken, so when I drove to campus, I would grab a coffee and just go to the library. I could spend the whole day there. I just really liked the atmosphere.”
Kayla’s relationship with her academic advisor and mentor Emmanuel Hatzakis, teaching professor and director of the master’s programs in finance and financial engineering, also began to bolster her confidence on the professional front. Admittedly nervous while preparing the first version of her resume for his review, “Manos” quickly put her mind at ease with his approach to mentoring and networking guidance.
“I received a lot of advice from Manos, not just about my resume and career path, but also the way he taught me to get ready for my career,” she said. “He taught me to not think of myself not as a student, but as a professional, even though it was my first year of school. It inspired me a lot.”
“I started reaching out to people on LinkedIn, but at first I only dared to talk to Chinese people,” she continued. “But I'm not afraid of trying anymore. I started to gain this confidence and was able to reach a lot of very experienced people who are working in the center of finance in New York City. Our alumni are working and having very successful careers.”
Just two years removed from her Stevens experience, which also included the COVID-19 pandemic, Kayla’s journey is far from over. Her future may not be determined, but she has no regrets about her past.
“My personal experience is that it's definitely worth it,” she said of her time at Stevens. “With the location and alumni network, it is just really convenient to meet people, set up interviews and have the opportunity for internships. This degree can definitely bring you what you want in your career.”