Taking the Risk: Alumna Veronica Li on the Path from Laurel Springs Grad to Stanford Student-Athlete to Investor
When was the last time you took a risk? How did it turn out? What’s your risk-meter—are you a dice-roller, a line-toer, an all-inner? Can risks be successful even when they’re a failure by your original goal’s terms?
Risk is an interesting thing,” says Veronica Li, a Laurel Springs School alumna, Stanford University grad, international tennis athlete, globetrotter, investor, and—perhaps synonymous with a number of those titles—risk-taker. “I think when you first graduate from college you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Veronica is one of our Career Showcase speakers for this month. She will present to Upper School students on March 24. We caught up with Veronica to reflect a little on her time with us, talk about her success, discuss navigating risky waters, and get her to take on how to pursue prosperity in the most spirited and authentic way possible as bright, young graduates.
The first match: Veronica’s early tennis career
Veronica was born in Guangzhou, China, and moved to the U.S. at eight years old. A 2008 Laurel Springs grad, she attended Stanford University on a full scholarship and graduated with a BA and MA in four-and-a-half years
Veronica says she was passionate about tennis practically since the day she moved to the States. She took to the sport early on, drawn to its independent, challenging, and competitive nature. She competed locally, regionally, and nationally for six years until she attended the International Tennis Academy, a top tennis academy in Florida, at 14. After training with some of the sport’s leading coaches and looking at competing on the international level, Veronica and her parents knew some flexibility was needed in her schooling if she wanted to achieve her maximum tennis potential.
Veronica and her parents wanted independence in scheduling for international travel without sacrificing a top-notch education. Laurel Springs stood out to the family and the young tennis athlete spent her four years of upper school with us while she played first international juniors and then, as an upper school junior and senior, international professional tournaments as well.
A lot of the opportunities I’ve had in my career can be attributed to some of the skills and experiences I had through high school,” Veronica says. “The ability to set my own goals, manage myself independently, organize my own schedule, priorities, and plans.”
Looking back on her senior year at Laurel Springs, Veronica remembers being at a fork in the road. Professional tennis extended in one direction, and in the other direction—a career-focused college experience. Veronica’s tennis prospects had gained momentum over the last several years. On the other hand, her academics were stellar and recruiters from first-rate universities had come knocking for that reason.
Veronica managed to find a way, as she had in her younger years, to have the best of both worlds. As she says, Stanford was offering both: “top academics and also one of the best NCAA tennis teams in the country at the time.” At Stanford, Veronica attended a prime university full-ride and played tennis for the school for four years, eventually captaining the women’s team.
“I think, in some ways, what drew me to tennis is that it’s quite mental,” Veronica says. “There’s a lot of strategic planning involved in tennis. You’re always thinking a few shots ahead or setting up for the next point. You really have to adapt very quickly to what your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses are, and that is very intellectually stimulating as a sport.”
While Veronica certainly has an impressive list of tennis-related accolades, she says one of the most memorable of her tennis memories was, in fact, a loss.
She played in Junior Wimbledon as a junior during her time at Laurel Springs, for example, and on the cold and drizzly night before her second-round match she came down with a terrible fever. On the day of the match, she could barely walk onto the court. Somehow, she found it in herself to just focus on playing the next point, and then the next point after that. Despite walking off the court after that match with a loss to the girl who eventually made it to the finals, mustering up the strength and drive to get there after being so sick the night before has stuck with Veronica through the years.
“It ended up being one of the best matches I’ve ever played,” she recalls. “Moments like that were pretty incredible. I don’t think your achievements in a sport are always highlighted by just the numbers, but really those moments where you learn the most and you find something within yourself that is a little bit more than you imagined was there. Those are the moments that stay with me.”
Tennis tallies: A quick trophy lineup of Veronica’s tennis accomplishments
- Won NCAA national championship with Stanford in 2010, 4-3
- Runner-up with Stanford in the 2011 NCAA national championship
- Played in tournaments all over the world, including Venezuela, Colombia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Germany, and Croatia
- Achieved a Top 30 world ranking in the international juniors, competed and won matches at international professional tournaments
Business beginnings: Tennis athlete turned global businesswoman
Veronica’s global opportunities flourished again after college, this time for her career rather than tennis. After working for an education technology company in Washington, D.C., she seized an opportunity to start an education technology company in Beijing, growing the company to reach tens of thousands of students across China.
During this endeavor, she met Dr. Fred Hu, founder of the Primavera Capital Group investment firm and the former Chairman of Goldman Sachs, Greater China. Veronica was inspired by Dr. Hu’s vision for growth and innovation in the global economy, and she’s now been with the investment firm for five years, most recently promoted to Executive Director.
At Primavera, Veronica invests in early-stage and growth-stage technology companies across the private sector. She has invested in Artificial Intelligence, Computer Vision, Climate Tech, and Robotics, among other technical verticals.
Veronica says the best thing about being an investor is that she learns something new every day.
“For example, right now, I’m learning about AI and machine-learning software for medical imaging, simulation software for R&D speed-up in large enterprises, and also humanoid general robots for manufacturing. And that’s just this week” Li says.
The greatest reward in Veronica’s work is being able to surround herself with brilliant people who are driven to innovate in their fields.
“I have so much respect for what entrepreneurs do and the effort and energy it takes to build something from scratch in this world where everything’s changing so rapidly,” she says. “To meet and become friends with and have the ability to support and partner with brilliant founders to help them achieve their vision, that for me is the single most important thing in terms of a reward that keeps me going.”
But working in investments is a risk—just like sports, just like tennis, just like...well, nearly anything. Veronica could be working on a deal for months and in the end, see it fall through for any number of reasons. In those times of a failed endeavor, Veronica is reminded of lessons learned on the court.
“You’re not going to win every match,” she says. “Even the number one player in the world has plenty of losses. The really important thing is to understand what is to be gained from that experience and absorb that as another tool in your toolkit and quickly move to the next opportunity.
“For those high school students who are doing anything competitively, believe that it's a skill that you'll continue to build on your whole life.”
The ultimate opponent…
Veronica says the most prominent challenge she has faced over her years so far has not been even the most difficult classes at Laurel Springs or Stanford or even a match against a boss-level tennis player. It’s not a lost investment deal or even any challenges that exist on paper, such as being a minority woman in business. For Veronica, the biggest adversary has been much more personal. It has come from within herself.
“We only have so much time in our lives,” she says. “It’s our responsibility to make the most of it and push ourselves to do more, to work harder, day in and day out. Maybe that’s a little bit of my tennis mentality; every day you step onto a court and there’s something more that you can do to improve yourself."
“Some days you don't feel right. You know, you're not always 100 percent. And I guess for me, in those moments, I remind myself of what is important and that I don't have that much time and you want to make each moment count.”
Veronica’s advice to Laurel Springs soon-to-be graduates is to not just go forth but run forth, head-on, at opportunities, at risks, at life. She didn’t take the traditional path in her field—having joined a startup right out of the gate instead of settling into a cubicle at an investment bank or a consulting firm—and encourages young people to peer down many paths at this stage in life because you never know what opportunities you will find.
You're not risking anything,” Veronica says. “There is nothing to lose. You actually are just starting out, you're starting from scratch. So there's really no real heavy risk there to try to build something new, trying to take a ‘riskier route.’
Veronica’s final parting wisdom? Be a rounded human outside of your profession, too. Read good books, travel to new places, meet people who are different from and smarter than you.
“It's really important, especially in today's world, to take a little bit of time to let yourself just enjoy something very, very wholeheartedly,” she says. “So any activity that brings you joy, I think you should definitely spend a little bit of time, every week, giving yourself that to continue to stay inspired and motivated.”
Veronica remains connected to the Laurel Springs alumni community as a member of LSS Alumni Connect. Join today to network with Veronica or any of your fellow alumni.
Current full-time Laurel Springs students and families, visit our Social Happenings calendar to RSVP for the Career Showcase and other upcoming events.
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