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Co-op Management's First Entrepreneurial Work Term Student

Rocky Zhou displays cashmere fashions for client meetings

Third-year student Rocky Zhou’s first co-op management experience began a little differently than most. Rather than seeking out a work-term with an established employer, Zhou decided to become his own boss and embark on an entrepreneurial work-term.

“I saw a market opportunity of outerwear manufacturing in Canada because of our cold climate, says Zhou. While manufacturing seemed like an unrealistic first step, he decided to first focus on importing fabrics, and build a business that could one day involve importing, wholesaling and manufacturing.

Zhou discovered early on that most Canadian cashmere clothing manufacturers import their fabric from Italy. But Zhou determined that he could get the same quality of cashmere from China, at a less-expensive price.

He registered his import and wholesale company, Cashmere Classics, in May 2003, and talked to the manager of management co-op, Christine Arsenault, about doing an entrepreneurial work term. Arsenault was impressed with his “realistic idea  and arranged for Zhou to meet with professor James Howard, a part-time faculty member in management, who also works closely with the co-op program.

Howard provided Zhou with business advice and guidance on an on-going basis. “Rocky was the first student to request and complete an entrepreneurial work term at UTSC, says Arsenault.   “We wanted to ensure that his business plan was solid and that he had the resources available to him to be successful". 

Through class work, co-op tutorials and daily interaction with classmates the co-op management program allowed Zhou the opportunity to hone the communication skills he needed to succeed. Zhou also developed the organizational and time-management skills that are necessary in business – in part from balancing an unusually large course load.Being the first entrepreneurial work term student was not something Zhou set out to do when he originally applied to UTSC.

After working in China for three years, Zhou moved to Singapore and studied English. He lived there for one year, then came to Canada and began classes at York University. After completing one year at York, Zhou applied to York’s Schulich School of Business and the management co-op program at UTSC. When he was accepted at both schools, Zhou chose UTSC because of the practical work experience the co-op program offered.Zhou knew that real work experience would enable him to network and make contacts, as well as learn Canadian business customs and culture. He now manages the business full-time, putting in 60-hour weeks to ensure its success, while attending classes at UTSC part-time.

Cashmere Classics’ client base is now more than 40 manufacturers and designers in Canada and the US. In five years, Zhou plans to expand to manufac-turing cashmere products including jackets, blazers, sweaters and accessories. “Word spread quickly of his success, says Arsenault. “Other universities have already contacted us to learn more about the entrepreneurial work term process. 

To other students who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs, Zhou recommends to start slowly; “walk before you run and most importantly, find what you want to do and then find out how to do it.

© University of Toronto Scarborough