Founder of Pick Up Stix Charlie Zhang of Laguna Niguel kicks off new school year for School of Business
IRVINE, Calif. (September 12, 2016)—With only $20 in his pocket and no degree, 24 year-old Charlie Zhang emigrated from Shanghai to the United States in 1980 to escape the revolution in his native China. After hard work and a successful run as the founder of Orange County-based Pick Up Stix restaurants—and 18 other start-up companies—Zhang was recently appointed by the School of Business at Concordia University Irvine as its first Entrepreneur in Residence (EiR) to teach business students about real-world business experience.
As Entrepreneur in Residence at the private liberal arts university, Zhang will mentor and counsel students about new business ideas, guest lecture in undergraduate and graduate classes, and keep standing office hours. Students across all majors—not just business—will have access to Zhang’s counsel. The Laguna Niguel entrepreneur, who officially began his post on the first day of school—August 22—will also meet with members of the business student fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi, to discuss career options, and review students’ business plans for Concordia’s second annual Cornelius Business Plan Competition next spring. Zhang will also discuss business plans by MBA students for their capstone class. His first assignment will be as a guest speaker Tuesday, September 13 at 6 p.m. in the MBA entrepreneurship class taught by adjunct professor Art Carter, a vice president in the commercial banking group of a local financial institution, who was instrumental in helping Zhang launch Pick Up Stix when he worked for another bank.
“All the students love Charlie,” says School of Business Dean Stephen Christensen. “They admire his humility, expertise and availability.”
Originating primarily in venture capital firms, Entrepreneurs in Residence (EiR) roles today are usually temporary and have expanded to business schools and technology companies. EiRs bring an entrepreneurial perspective, providing guidance to business students who intend to go down the same path.
This is Zhang’s first time to serve as an Entrepreneur in Residence. “I see this as a job, an obligation and commitment,” he says. “I never attended the university in China. I want to learn from a Christian university in America, and hope to raise successful entrepreneurs.” This also marks a first for the newly-accredited School of Business at Concordia University Irvine to have an EiR. Plans include adding more EiRs who are experts in their fields, as well as men and women of faith, say university officials. Zhang hopes that students will walk away with one important lesson. “Even after all that success in so many different industries, at the end of the day, the Bible is the play book.”
To become an Entrepreneur in Residence at Concordia University Irvine, candidates must be a Christian business leader who has started a successful company, or companies, according to Christensen. “They must also have a servant’s heart to encourage, teach, inspire, and mentor students, and give back to the community.” Zhang will serve as EiR of Concordia the entire academic year—now through graduation in 2017. “Concordia is honored to have such a successful entrepreneur to mentor our students, a man of great faith and values who supplements classroom learning with his real-world expertise.”
But success didn’t come easily for the hard working entrepreneur after arriving from China.
After several jobs in the food service industry, Zhang opened his own restaurant in 1984 and five years later, he launched the successful restaurant brand, Pick Up Stix. After selling the casual dining Asian restaurant business, he established Zion Enterprises, a real estate company developing commercial, retail, and residential projects where Zhang today serves as the CEO of the Laguna Niguel-based company. His reputation has earned him several distinctions including Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young, the “Spirit of Life” philanthropic award from the City of Hope, and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor which honors the contributions made to America by immigrants. The Laguna Niguel resident serves on the advisory boards of Concordia’s School of Business and Chapman University’s Argyros School of Business. He is also a member of the board of directors of the Pacific Symphony and the Bowers Museum.
Prior to his Entrepreneur in Residence appointment, Zhang was already serving as a mentor to students at Concordia University Irvine. He has served as a team mentor for the university’s annual business plan competition, and as a business plan judge for the School of Business’ summer business academy for teens, Teen Entrepreneur Academy; and as a speaker for the Business Insights Series, a series with high-profile speakers sponsored by Concordia’s School of Business.
Internationally, Zhang subsidized the rebuilding of elementary schools in Szechuan after a massive earthquake and most recently funded the building of a series of elementary schools near Nanging. Domestically, he has helped fund church buildings on both coasts of the United States, and provided sponsorship to students and needy individuals through Zion Charity Fund, a non-profit humanitarian organization.
About the School of Business at Concordia University Irvine
The School of Business is home to the largest undergraduate program at Concordia University Irvine. Accredited by the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE), the undergraduate economics and business administration program offers emphases in accounting, business data analytics, finance, international business, management, marketing, and sport management. The MBA program focuses on business practice with flexibility for working professionals. Faculty include entrepreneurs and executives. The School of Business is home to the Center for Faith and Business, the annual Faith & Business Forum, the Business Insights Series, the Center for Public Policy, the Teen Entrepreneurship Academy, the Kid Entrepreneur Academy and the Institute for Strategic Marketing.
About Concordia University Irvine
Concordia University Irvine (CUI) is a private non-profit Lutheran Christian four-year liberal arts university that prepares students for their vocations—their calling in life. Concordia offers undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs in education, nursing, theology, business, and coaching/athletics administration. CUI’s undergraduate program is distinctive because of its nationally recognized core curriculum, Enduring Questions & Ideas, and its Lutheran heritage that provides a thoughtful and caring Christian community that lives out the theology of "Grace Alone. Faith Alone." Concordia is a U.S. News Top Tier Regional University and has been named by The Chronicle of Higher Education as one of the fastest growing private nonprofit master's institutions. Marking its 40th anniversary this year, the university enrolls over 4,000 students annually and is in its final year of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II Membership Process.