From an early age, William Hsu (BBA ’00) had a strong interest in finance and a passion for his family’s business, Hsu Ginseng Enterprises. He was fascinated by the complexity of the decisions his parents had to make to succeed in this challenging industry. They hoped he would eventually run the business, but first Will needed skills and experience.
After earning his BBA in finance at the Wisconsin School of Business with additional majors in Chinese language and East Asian studies, Will had several job offers. He accepted a position at General Mills, where he stayed for more than 10 years in the Financial Leadership Development Program, which sponsored his MBA at Harvard Business School.
Throughout all of his accomplishments at world-class companies and universities, the same question kept coming up: “Do you plan to go back to the family business?”
“Any time you have a first-generation, in particular Asian-American family, that starts a business, I think the parents hope that they can be successful enough to pass down not only the family and cultural values, but also the business and business values to their kids,” Will says. “But the ginseng industry peaked in 1994 when I went off to the University of Wisconsin–Madison. It was in a slow decline for the next five or six years. When I graduated in 2000, my dad and I agreed it wasn’t the right time for me to come back.”
Will says several key decisions by his father enabled the company to grow—even as the industry contracted—including investing in processing facilities in China, stabilizing farm production, and improving branding. Once the company had established itself as a market leader, Will decided in 2011 to return to the family business.
“There’s no typical day in a business like this,” he says. “One day I’m meeting with bank representatives, and the next day I’m in the field trying to figure out how the gardens are supposed to run. I may be in the warehouse negotiating bulk sales or working with our marketing team to ensure that our branding is correct.”