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Chico State

Alumna Uses International Education, Business Acumen to Build Cascade of Success

A graphic of Linling Gan with a background of images of a mortarboard, sun, and constellation.

Raised in an impoverished community in China, when Linling Gan told her family that she wanted to come to the United States to pursue higher education, her mother gave her blessing—as long as Gan found a way to help bring more customers to the family’s clothing factory.

That success, she said, would help not only their family but other people through a cascade of impacts.

A few years later at Chico State, Gan (MBA, ’02) got started on her mother’s wish. Using what she had learned in her undergraduate studies and graduate coursework, she opened her own small business importing zippers. In between her studies, she started a website for sales, began storing her product in students’ rooms in the residence halls and off-campus garages, and sold a shipping container’s worth of product to clients in the international fashion industry—earning enough money to pay tuition, buy a car, and hire other students as her employees.

It was an auspicious start to decades of ensuing success working in global supply chain management, where Gan has thrived in industries ranging from fashion to aerospace, as well as managing businesses related to international education and real estate.

“You have to have no fear,” she said. “And you have to be creative.”

After graduate school, Gan accepted a job with Pentair so she could get her H1B visa and continue working and learning in the United States. Even though she had no experience in aerospace, she knew she could negotiate on behalf of the company to get better pricing and secure bigger deals as it pursued sourcing overseas. Soon, she became its top supply chain leader and eventually moved on to CIRCOR Aerospace, where she experienced similar success.

“In every job, I have found a skillset I learned from Chico State that was very helpful,” she said. “And in every interview, I was always very confident—even if other candidates were from Stanford—because of my skills and that I was a fast learner. It’s not about the ranking, it’s about how you get the soft skills.”

Meanwhile, she didn’t give up on her mother’s wish.

On the weekends, Gan would carry her family company’s catalogs to New York, Las Vegas, and other fashion shows to find potential customers. Often she’d ride the elevators of 30-floor buildings in the fashion district of New York just to give herself the chance to talk to someone, asking in her literal elevator pitch if they were having issues with their samples. She’d never get off emptyhanded at the ground floor—she was always invited into someone’s office to share her solution to their problem.

Before long, her new business, Yizhou International Inc., had a 500-square-foot office in Los Angeles. Today, its operations span more than 23,000 square feet and supply companies including Costco, Target, Macy’s, and Kohl’s. While Gan is still involved as the founder and trader, she stepped back in 2012 to focus more on her family (she has four children, ages 6, 12, 14, and 16) and her other passion—international education.

Gan left the aerospace industry to found Max Education Group. Its first program was summer camps promoted to families in Asia, offering children to come to the United States to go to school, just as she did.

Max has since expanded to provide K-12 online academic tutoring classes, extracurricular activities, college counseling, international recruitment, and educational partnerships with Southern California private schools—helping hundreds of thousands of international students every year.

“My mom believed that education can change your life,” she said. “I realized after all those years as an international student, I wanted to offer my experience to others.”

Her journey at Chico State, she said, was both dear to her heart and pivotal to her success.

During her MBA, Gan was offered scholarships, her faculty all knew her by name, and the dean would welcome her into her office to talk about her courses and career plans, she notes. She appreciated that her professors were also founders and CEOs of their own companies, bringing not just book knowledge but real-world experience. And the Career Center was especially meaningful, as it supported her in finding internships, polishing her resume, and interview tips. To this day, Gan likes to share the advice with others to never conclude an interview without asking the employer a meaningful question that shows you did your research.

At every company she has created, she has worked to create the best team.

“They will drive the success and operations and improvements,” she said. “It’s just a matter of how you can put a valuable person together to carry out your vision.”

Then, her vision expanded once more. After many conversations with international students’ parents who wanted to make real estate investments in the United States, she realized there was an opportunity there, too. Last year, her company JC Pacific Capital sold over $30 million in commercial and residential real estate transactions and is now working on property management.

“I want to tell international students to never give up on their dreams—you just need to do it,” she said. “If there is only 1 percent chance of success, put 99 percent of your effort to do it.”

Which takes us back to her mother’s dream. Not only did the Gan family’s small fashion factory continue to grow, eventually reaching 800 employees and providing stable employment to the community, they were able to invest their profits back, donating to local orphanages or building bridges for mountain communities that did not have safe, reliable roads. It was that spirit of helping others that led Gan to join the Tower Society at Chico State, where she now contributes to a scholarship to help international students or those who plan to study abroad to give them a sense that people are rooting for their success.

“You are far from home, thousands of miles across the ocean. You always feel like something in your heart is empty,” she said. “When school provides a family, it makes it easier to adjust.”