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Limitless LaoWai Podcast Summary

Limitless LaoWai Podcast

Tess Robinson –

Setting children on their own path to success

“I believe that education is the right of every child.”
1. How did you get to China?
Tess came at the request of her husband. After 10 years, there’s obviously a love to China that’s holding them here.

Tess is an educational counselor. She helps families properly evaluate the educational landscape, understand/acknowledge their goals, evaluate their child realistically and help set a path to success for the child. Her counselors at TEAM Education Consulting supports families by teaching them about the different (overseas?) school systems, colleges and universities and help them evaluate their choices with a goal of making the best FIT choices for the child.

2. Lessons learned along the way: Setting up Business in China
·    To learn how to do business in China, empty your mind of everything you think you know and go with the flow.

·    Recruiting is hard when your business structure always put your clients above the bottom line; but when you find the right people, their passion and enthusiasm for the mission will match yours.

·    Get advice from experts instead of seeking anecdotal advice.

·    Plan for long-term survival; put down roots and do things the right way.


3. Definition of Failure

In her business, Tess says that she, “can’t afford to fail.” There’s simply too much at stake when a child’s future is put into your hands. We dove then into a conversation about how to help mitigate failure in your own business and I know it helped me immensely in mine. Tune in to hear for yourself!

4. Tess’ tips for balancing life
Tess establishes goals and prioritizes them monthly and daily. Make sure you’re able to schedule in time for everything that’s important to you. Secondly, definitely find something that energizes you instead of drains you and take time for that activity!

5. Entrepreneurial Toolkit: on books and success

1. China, Background, Project

(Written from host’s voice)
Tess came 10 years ago at the request of her husband. After 10 years, there’s obviously a love to China that’s holding them here.

Four years ago, Tess has re-ignited her calling as an educational counselor with TEAM Education Consulting in Shanghai, helping Chinese and international families evaluate the overseas educational landscape, understand their goals, assess their child realistically and set a tailor-made path to a successful higher education experience for the child. Tess’ passion has been helping students ferret out their full potential as college applicants since she was an undergraduate at Stanford University.

Through clarifying application procedures to numerous clients, Tess has developed her own counseling guidebook, which is used by TEAM’s counselors for college and boarding schools. The guiding principle of TEAM’s service is to use each student’s demonstrated strengths and interests to inform their application to potential educational institutions that will fit their needs best, because a school is only as good as it nurtures each student’s inner values and strengths fully.

This begs the question of the choices that are available to students who aim for an education in English speaking countries. In the US alone, there are 2700 four-year colleges plus several thousand community colleges. Likewise, Canada has 80 universities and the U.K. has 126. With this range of choices, there is bound to be a college option that would suit any student. Our goal is to help families align their goals and their child with the learning environment that best suits them by discovering the young person’s true interests and natural talents.

The discovery of a young mind’s true interests is an exciting journey. At the start, though, parents are often afraid, angry or simply nervous because they perceive their child as neither perfect nor competitive enough for an assured path to success. The child is sometimes trimmed towards a single narrow path the family knows to quality education, which could be destructive in the worst case. This stress could well stem from not knowing the variety of paths available for overseas higher education.

Solving this dilemma is what TEAM’s work is about – opening up new pathways for parents and child and showing them the variety of choice they never knew existed. Armed with that knowledge and feeling of security through our consultation, parents will eventually settle down and may become partners in helping their child discover and develop their brilliance.

To counter the stress and fear in her counseling process, Tess identified two mirroring factors that are widespread in current the education landscape in China.

One is the tangible measurement of achievement. These formal measures are often based on an outdated set of expectations. However, children are going into a world of tomorrow. If they are requested to fit into the criteria the older generation has designed for them, they will not have the chance to be adaptable, flexible, interested and passionate as the world will require of them.

Second is fear of intangible traits and non-measurable abilities. To extract oneself out of the fear for non-measurable factors, both parents and students need to be willing to take a degree of risk for unexpected choices in academics or extracurricular activities. They need to build up courage to embrace the freedom of choice yet unfamiliar to them.

Part of TEAM’s mission is to help students discover their multiple intelligences, determine their places in the world, release their motivations and let themselves drive their own paths in their search for personal best achievements. Once Tess and her counselors ignite that spark, it is the students’ own initiatives that would get them into the school of their choice.

2. Lessons learned along the way:

Setting up Business in China

(Written from Tess’ voice)
Setting up business in China is not an easy undertaking. One key mindset for foreigner entrepreneurs is to think flexibly by emptying ones mind of prior knowledge and assumptions and accept the current situation. One cannot compare the Chinese business environment with “back home”, as China requires different ways of thinking.

We have intentionally armed our knowledge base with the broad context of establishing a business in China by consulting lawyers. By asking specifically for professional advice from the start, we were able to avoid possible blunders and thus successfully set up our business in China.

Business stability was especially important because we have long-term clients. These families’ children went to college under our care. Eventually, they asked us to help the students plan for graduate school. Our business must, therefore, be sustainable in order to provide consistent service to our clients.

Being handed the responsibility to guide and grow young people on their educational path is a formidable responsibility that we cannot simply hand over to another party.

On a personal level, we are committed to China, as my family is established and happy here. My children are in school here for ten years and one of them will not graduate for another five. These factors enabled us to put down roots and plan for a healthy business.

3. Definition of Failure

The vast majority of families TEAM serves have one child. These clients hope that their child will obtain competent pre-college guidance and personalized, high quality care from our counselors that will ensure well-fitted, individualized educational decisions. Our responsibility is we cannot fail our clients, because the penalty for failing cannot be measured in monetary terms; it is the hopes and expectations of our clients. So how would we define failure?

Our consulting philosophy and guideline is designed to navigate away from our definition of failure. First, not getting into any school would be an obvious failure. Fortunately, that has not yet happened to us.

Another type of failure would be if a child gets into a school, but is emotionally ill fitted there. That would mean we were not thorough enough in our counseling: we did not root out who that child is, what he or she needed, or we did not evaluate that school to establish if that institution would be the proper environment for that child to learn in.

The last kind of failure would be if a child gets into a school, but cannot handle the academic work, nor balance social and emotional demands successfully. (Combine the two last kinds of failure?)

All these scenarios would be failures for our company because our staff members are vested in the long-term success of each student. We do not stop at the metaphorical school gate. We follow up on students after admission into their new school or college and inquire about their well-being. Our definition of failure stands in stark contrast to other college counseling companies, as their only failure would simply be a rejection from colleges – when students are left standing in front of the college gates.

Our counseling process is designed to take that individual child step by step on a path that will best enable them to achieve their goals. All that has been built into our counseling, because we cannot afford to fail, as failure affects the life and hopes of a family.

Although college application is reiterative – one can repeat and improve on the process year after year – it is very hard for people in this market to process rejection.

Turning around the discussion, our definition of a successful educational match is when a child can maximize available resources to make the most out of that academic experience. Success is borne not of the name of the school, but of what transforms that individual within that academic environment. With the right academic and social fit, the child will not only gain from an education, but they will gain the tools that will take to make that education really work for them.

Therefore our counselors pay attention to ensure students are learning about themselves and developing their strengths under our care. Once children understand themselves and achieve realistic college goals they have set for themselves, they are ready to be successful wherever they are accepted to.

Holding firmly to our company’s central philosophy makes recruiting much harder, because our counselors need to be equally passionate about sharing knowledge and helping people find their paths. But the end satisfaction is irreplaceable: seeing students and their families learning, changing and growing throughout our counseling process as we reveal new possibilities to them. We enable our clients to actively participate in their future.

4. Tess’ tips for balancing life

I ask myself every day, “ What are my goals?” I then prioritize those goals within the limitation of our day, and in a broader context, our lives. On a monthly basis, I reprioritize my plan of action to achieve a set goal.


Certainly, my family is at the core of importance: the relationship with my husband and the kids. Then come our church, my business, and my friends. All those things get their individual time for priority through goal setting and prioritizing. I am lucky: I do not need a tremendous amount of sleep. Also, I love my activities so much that it energizes me. Instead of draining me, each activity I take on fuels me on to do a number of different things!


I evaluate what makes me feel happy and valued. An important value for me is to give back to society. I am lucky that the work I do inherently incorporates the essence of giving back.


I take care of my well-being by putting on the “oxygen mask”. Work itself can be draining. One needs to have time for exercise, eating well, human relationships and a relationship with God. With those things in place, I do not need anything else.


Lastly, I set aside half a day every week for myself, when I usually cook for my children as it gives me great pleasure. I cannot do it everyday, but because I am an entrepreneur, I can block out a morning, like a Friday, when it is generally pretty quiet. I make sure I do those things that make me feel great. It is the simple things that really matter.

5. Entrepreneurial Toolkit: on books and success


Of the many books that share thoughts on how to do business (in China), there are two books that I find incredibly helpful.

The book “Seven Habits if Highly Successful People” puts known factors in perspective, in another framework. The book helps me re-consider factors I find important.

Then there is  “Execution” by Larry Bosiddy. I love the book’s focus, which is on the execution of ideas. An entrepreneur, who is not able to execute ideas, will encounter hard times. I find Bosiddy’s book illuminating. In every chapter, there are ideas on organization. The different concepts presented are incredibly clarifying.

5 Tools of Success

Because we are in the education business, the first and most important entrepreneurial tool for us is knowledge. Our clients would need to learn about schools and their criteria for acceptance as well as which types of students would thrive in a particular academic environment. Our counselors’ responsibility is to identify each student’s key strengths and weakness and to work on them. It is multifaceted knowledge. We do a tremendous amount of reading. We are constantly doing additional education.

In order to facilitate first hand experience of school choices for our clients, we conduct yearly college and school tours. Simultaneously, we are updated on the academic and physical knowledge of specific schools, and could thus recommend suitable schools for prospective candidates in the interest of the students and families. Our intimate knowledge of campuses turns out to be incredibly important during counseling as families are far away from the destination they are sending their children to.

The second tool is critical thinking. When working with a population who has not had personal experiences of an overseas education, it requires critical thinking to immerse ourselves into their positions, in order to close the gaps in our clients’ existing knowledge versus what they should be informed of. To an extent, we need to think for and with our clients, although the final decisions will rest with the client himself.

Add to bridging the gap of knowledge, as counselors, we have to ferret out cultural gaps and expectations in our conversations. For example, independent living for an American is entirely different from independent living for a Chinese. We then fill those gaps with practical steps by thinking critically and sensitively, so that our students can use our advice well for the best transition into a new life yet unfamiliar to them.

A third tool is the ability to listen. When we are working with students and their families, we have to listen carefully to their stories and hear their viewpoints and motivation to decipher the students’ true identities, needs, abilities and realistic goals. While aiming for a prestigious college is an admirable goal to have, it is our duty as service providers to decipher insightful profiles of candidates and their motives for a successful strategy.

We also need to listen to each school’s and college’s admissions officer. Some students’ grades are nowhere near what the school is looking for. Yet, when students hear things a little differently, that might lead to their acceptance at the school.

Organizational skills are key. We help students and families manage the educational schedule. We provide an overview of the educational process to avoid rushed or ill-informed decisions. As we organize each student differently, we personalize each of their schedules by developing a timeline that is achievable for individual cases. This personalized service is an important formula to success as each student receives our individual attention.

My last tool would be passion. I feel lucky that I have been able to work on something that I am incredibly passionate about. It feeds and drives me to look for new information, or look for a way to turn an idea so it works well for a certain student. This passion pushes our team to do the work that keeps us at the top of our game, which only benefits our students. There is an energetic buzz in the office, which is positively motivating.

My final thought is to spend some time figuring out and owning up what you want, and then aligning your behavior and actions with your goals. If that happens, nothing can go wrong.


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