A standing-room-only audience of political science and business students had an enlightening experience hearing three industry leaders share their experiences on entrepreneurship, philanthropy and politics.
The guest speakers were Kevin Xu, CEO of MEBO International; State Assemblymember Phillip Chen, and Brian Calle, CEO and publisher of LA Weekly and Irvine Weekly.
Xu, CEO of the California and Beijing-based intellectual property management company specializing in human body regenerative and restoration science, also is the CEO of Skingenix, another California-based company that specializes in drug development for damaged organ regeneration.
“This company was co-founded by my father 30 years ago,” Xu told the students. “I was a neuroscience major in college but I had to take over the business when my father died. I was fortunate, however, that I had family support and the assistance of mentors.
“Mentors are very important,” he continued. “A good mentor teaches you to prepare for tragedy or failure and how to overcome the challenges you will face. Mentors want you to succeed — you may be the vessel to carry their message to a larger audience. The key is to find mentors who share your values and passion.”
For himself, Xu considers President Bill Clinton an important teacher.
“I worked with him on a program to help young entrepreneurs,” he said. “His idea was that when you are in a position to help others rise, you do so. The focus shouldn’t be on yourself. Instead, focus on being of service to others. I had to take on a leadership role at a young age but when responsibilities present themselves, embrace them. Don’t be afraid. When you are planning your future, do what you can to be useful to others; that will make an impact.”
Xu recalled an incident when he was pressed into service because a planned speaker’s flight was delayed. Former Gov. Jerry Brown was meeting with a group of Chinese officials to discuss environmental protections.
“I didn’t know anything about environmental protection but I spoke Chinese,” he said with a smile. “I started speaking in broad terms about social responsibility. Four years later, the leader of that group became mayor of Beijing. Because I stepped up to help years before, I was able to build new relationships, not just with the governor of California but with other leaders as well.”
Chen, a 2003 CSUF alumnus with a B.A. in communications-journalism, entered elected service as a member of the Walnut Valley Unified School District board, then was elected to the California State Assembly in 2016. He currently serves as vice chair of the banking and finance and environmental safety and toxic materials committees, as well as a member of the utilities and energy, and insurance committees.
He credits his years at Cal State Fullerton with setting him on a path to the state assembly.
“When I arrived here, I was a biology major,” he said. “But then I joined a fraternity and they were involved in student government. I was elected student body president. When I graduated, I applied for about 100 jobs … and heard back from three places.”
Instead of giving in, he reached out to Mike Antonovich, a former member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Chen offered to serve as an unpaid intern. “I got coffee, set up programs, walked precincts. I did whatever needed to be done,” he recalled. “Sure, I was overqualified but I got my foot in the door.”
Before long, he landed a job with the public health department that helped launch his political career.
“The thing to remember about mentors is that they’re often experts in one particular area, not everything,” he said. “That’s why it may be good to have mentors for specific purposes. Also, use mentors responsibly. They’re making time for you. Be prepared. Show up on time. Have questions for them.”
In 2014, Chen decided to run for state assembly. He oversaw a healthy fundraising operation and enlisted volunteers who put in thousands of hours of work. Then he lost.
“It was the most difficult thing I ever experienced,” he said. “It was like going to your own funeral. I felt like I let people down. When you succeed, you think it’s because you did everything right. But failure gives you an opportunity to go back and look at what you could do better. Embrace the struggle. It’s part of the process.”
Two years later, he ran again. This time and won.
Calle, a former opinion editor of the Southern California News Group, is executive director of the Chapman University Center for Freedom of Expression and Media Integrity.
He knows what it is like to grow up in a family where it’s a struggle to pay the bills, he said. For a time, his family was dependent on welfare and food stamps. But his mother was determined that her son would get an education. When Calle first arrived at Mt. San Antonio College, he became involved in student government and joined the debate team. Eventually, he transfered to USC.
Along the way, he had mentors, such as astronaut Sally Ride, who hired him while he was still in college.
“She noticed me because I pitched in at a program she was sponsoring to encourage students to consider STEM fields,” he said. “I think she saw that I was a good worker and willing to help wherever necessary. We both had a passion for education.”
He started writing press releases for her, then working with the media. He became director of sales and marketing for Sally Ride Science — and those experiences led to his journalism career.
“I’ve tried to develop relationships with my employers or people that I admire,” he said. “Of course, it works both ways. You need to provide service to them, too. That’s why I encourage students to volunteer. The people that I’ve developed relationships with helped create opportunities for me.
“Here’s what you need to remember. Seize the opportunities. Once you believe in yourself, others will believe in you. Second, understand that people will criticize you. It goes with the territory. And finally, how you treat people matters. Your classmates today could be CEOs tomorrow. Developing good relationships is the key to every facet of life.”