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Sportsman to CEO: How tragedy shaped one man's life

A shocking and tragic event prompted Joe Baolin Zhou, then 36, to rethink his life.

Now the chief executive officer at Bond Education, a private education company in southern China, Zhou credits the accident that made him a paraplegic for his passion for education.

Zhou came from a "very ordinary family," he said. "When I was very young, they educated me to be a nice person, to be helpful to other people... People of my generation were brought up with the strong belief that we should become a patriot and devote ourselves to causes of the country."

At the time, Zhou said he didn't really understand what that meant. But later in life, after earning an MBA at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, his true calling came to him in the intensive care unit of a hospital at 36 years old.

"I became a parapalegic overnight," recounted Zhou. It wasn't clear he would survive.

He began asking himself, ‘What value have I created and what should be my dream?’ if he survived.

Like many people in dire situations, Zhou said he made a promise to God that if he survived, he would take life seriously and become an educator — especially to young people.

Zhou did survive, took a post with Harvard Business School's China team, helping the prestigious school expand in the country. Later he did the same for MIT's business school, returning to Harvard to found its business centre in China.

But his true calling came into sharp focus amid  the financial crisis of 2008. "I'm sure a lot of troublemakers in Wall Street graduated from top business schools, but what really makes them so greedy, creating... such a big mess?" he recalls wondering. "I began to realise it's probably that they did not have the right values for themselves and the work."

What could Zhou do about it, he wondered. He joined Bond Education in 2011 with a mission: to "lead this company into a globalised, diversified company... Not only after school tutoring services, but also whole person development programmes to help local kids improve their personal qualities."

Click the arrow above to hear more about Zhou's philosophy's and mission as CEO.