Gabelli Student Makes His Own Road in China
By Nicole LaRosa
When Jim Lechleitner, GSB ’10, arrived at Fordham, he knew he wanted to challenge himself.
He grew up in Middle Island, N.Y., and for most of his life had “never really been exposed to much outside my comfort zone.”
But in high school, he traveled to Italy with the choir, and later went to Nicaragua. “I’d never seen so many stars,” he says. Traveling opened his eyes to new experiences and cultures.
“It made me want to try something completely different. As a business major, for me, that was Chinese.” He enrolled in a Mandarin course on the Lincoln Center campus and earned an A.
“The thing about Chinese that is so satisfying is that at first you see a bunch of lines on a piece of paper, but slowly it starts to make sense,” he says. “It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Now operations and development coordinator at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing, Lechleitner uses his Chinese daily. The center was launched three years ago as a partnership between the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Tsinghua University. It aims to find constructive solutions to global challenges, with a strong focus on U.S.-China relations, by bringing together top scholars and experts from China with their counterparts in the international community.
Lechleitner’s primary responsibility at the center is to manage its multimillion-dollar budget, for which he draws heavily on the finance skills he learned at Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business. But he also runs the center’s intern program and another program on U.S.-China relations.
“What I do is so unique. I run the business side of the center; I dabble in the policy side; I liaise with the CFO in D.C.,” he says, all while developing a working knowledge of a financial system that is very different from the one back home. “China is such a different animal from the U.S.”
The center’s office staff is small—just seven people—so they rely heavily on Lechleitner’s finance skills and other knowledge, says the group’s director, Paul Haenle.
“Jim’s understanding and familiarity with Chinese culture, as well as his strong Chinese language skills, are enormous assets for our center,” says Haenle, former director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolian affairs on the National Security Council staffs of presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. “Jim built [the intern] program from scratch, and it has grown to become a model for all Carnegie Endowment offices, attracting high-level candidates from around the world.”
During his junior year at Fordham, Lechleitner went to China with the Beijing Center, a study abroad program for Jesuit university students. “It was fascinating. I remember watching the [2008 U.S.] presidential debates in China. The financial crisis was at its height,” he recalls. He also participated in several of Fordham’s Global Outreach trips, traveling to Romania, Belize, and India. And he managed to find time to serve as captain of the squash team.
After all of his international travel, he couldn’t see himself following the traditional Wall Street path.
“I wanted to come back here [to China] and finish what I started.” So he packed up and headed for a small, rural Chinese province where he’d found a job teaching English. He wrote a blog, volunteered at a nonprofit, and built up a professional network. Soon enough, he was introduced to the Carnegie- Tsinghua Center’s founders.
“Working in China on the business side of an NGO is something that ties together my Fordham experience perfectly,” he says, though he does plan to return home soon. “As I look to pursue an M.B.A. in the U.S., my nontraditional path is my biggest asset and something I’m confident will differentiate me from the rest of the pack.”