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Joanna Kan '00 addressing the Ascend Greater PHL conference in November 2023

Assembling a Career, One Story at a Time


April 17, 2024

Throughout her career, Joanna Kan ’00 has sought to connect the global and the personal, often bridging that gap by using numbers and stories.

A native of Hong Kong who came to the United States to study at Drexel, she later worked globally in corporate tax planning before founding Blue Story, which designs custom wine collections for individual and corporate clients.

Her connection to numbers and stories, and where they intersect, goes back even further than her time at Drexel, back to her early exposure to accounting during high school, which not only fed into her chosen major but into a deeper connection to numbers and how they’re used.

“I have always enjoyed storytelling, and I always feel like good stories are rooted in numbers. Numbers give you credentials, and so accounting is creditable storytelling in a numeric format, and it gave me a foundation to focus on how investors assess risks and opportunities to guide their investment decision-making.”

While at Drexel, Kan was focused on academics, receiving scholarships, and graduating magna cum laude. American English and culture were new to her then, and she was also a commuter, coming to campus from King of Prussia, where she lived with her older sister. An organization for Asian students was her main outlet to connect with peers.

“Building relationships and networks wasn’t my strong suit back then, but I valued the time on campus and treasured my exposure to different people,” she says.

Storytelling and numbers remained at the forefront in her early professional career in tax preparation and tax analysis roles, focusing on compliance. Working on thousands of tax returns for a single corporate client, she says, “gave me breadth and depth of the client’s planning strategies.”

A later role with Trinseo, a Berwyn-based company formed as a carve-out from Dow Chemical in 2010, turned out to be the key to gaining the skills that would allow her to start her own business.

“I oversaw a large footprint in Latin America to bring value to the company and enacted my role as the miniature CEO and CFO above my tax-management role. It propelled me to craft winning traits to formulate transformative questions and answers for the C-suite as my priority.”

That role created for Kan in managing Latin American operations was high-risk, unstructured and highly entrepreneurial, requiring her to work across business functions inside and outside the company, changing their processes to unlock benefits.

“It was a perfect storm to pioneer system automation in my region that later extended to other regions for global adoption,” she says.

Before Trinseo’s 2014 IPO, it was a privately-owned company valued at $5 billion, and during that period, Kan was able to shadow the company’s executives, observing their complex decision-making in working to increase shareholders’ value more than fourfold in four years after the IPO.

Also during her time at Trinseo, Kan worked closely with Global Tax Management, an advisory company headquartered in Wayne, Pennsylvania, and with the company’s founder and managing partner Joseph DiBianca ’75.

“Joanna had a strong drive and dedication to accomplish whatever task was given to her,” DiBianca recalls. Each task then led to an insight for Kan to formulate new winning paths.

Her vision for what would become Blue Story was apparent to him back then as well.

“You could tell she had a strong interest in wine as well as a vast knowledge in the area. With her dedication, as well as her interest to educate others, Joanna will be sought out by anyone that wants to know more about wines.”

Kan calls launching Blue Story “giving myself a real-life MBA,” combining her business ideas with expertise acquired throughout her career. She sees understanding high-quality data and how to interpret them as key — just as it was when she started out in corporate tax planning.

“For twenty years, I felt the wine market didn’t serve me the way I wanted it to, and so I had to identify what the problem I’m trying to solve was.

“It was always in the back of my mind, and to solve this part of the puzzle, I had to go out and execute all the things that I acquired at Trinseo and try to make it happen.”

To design this wine-focused business, Kan needed to validate her understanding about her consumers: what they want, how they make decisions, what information they need to feel confident in making a choice.

“Each experience a consumer has builds on the previous one, just as for me, studying accounting taught me a lot of foundational thinking processes and how to build upon each one and branch out.”

Five individuals against a backdrop reading Ascend Greater PHL
Eric Degenfelder, CEO, UC Coatings; Roderik Alewijnse, VP, Corporate Development, Kymera Corporation; Joanna Kan '00, founder, Blue Story; Jerry Martin '77, Drexel Trustee; and Robert Laiacona, MBA '92, CFO, ADP Atlantic, LLC

Blue Story’s collections range from six to 12 wine selections matching her client’s criteria, with a collection label reflective of her client’s objectives, and Kan takes care to think through her client’s lens and to approach each collection individually.

Kan’s next milestone lies in leveraging her deep consumer insights and implementing her design thinking into a technology platform. These challenges are balanced by what she calls the most rewarding part: meeting people and making connections.

“Part of my job is to go out and understand clients and how they assess the qualities of people and businesses. It’s especially important to build connections with the younger generations as well, because they think differently about what drives decisions.”

This newfound emphasis on relationship building has prompted her to reconnect with LeBow and to grow more involved with Ascend Greater PHL, a nonprofit business association supporting Asian American and Pacific Islander professionals. In the past year, she’s taken part in LeBow BRIDGE’s welcome reception in September, Ascend Greater PHL’s Inspiring Across Generations conference in November and Drexel’s Lunar New Year celebration, co-hosted with Ascend Greater PHL, in February.

She’s taken a particular interest in mentoring Drexel’s international students.

“When I came to the U.S., I had a lot of cultural differences to overcome, then I stayed and have now spent half my life here,” she says, adding that her experience in Latin America and working with international clients brought additional knowledge of how to work effectively across cultures.

“If these students have doubts about how they’re fitting into Drexel life, I want to encourage them to stay involved and engaged in co-op.”

Elaine Cheong, Senior Vice President at Bank of America and president of Ascend Greater PHL, calls Kan “a servant-leader: someone who has the vision and courage to influence other people and doesn’t put herself on a pedestal.”

“She’s not afraid to speak up and challenge prevailing attitudes or to reach out to key decision makers. She really makes things happen.”

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