Woodland, an American who runs a Beijing-based consultancy, says she loves China’s adaptable people and continual changes.
"It’s an incredibly dynamic environment," she says. "It’s the excitement and the constant challenge."
Woodland’s first China challenge came two decades ago. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 1986, she taught in the northeast Chinese province of Heilongjiang. There she witnessed hardship in China firsthand.
"During the winter, the only food available was cabbage, onions, potatoes, carrots and flour," she recalls.
After earning a master’s degree in business administration back in the U.S., Woodland returned to Asia in 1995. The next year she joined consulting firm McKinsey & Co. in its Beijing offices. She spent nearly a decade at McKinsey, primarily coaching the consultants who helped firms ride China’s rapid economic growth. She also took a sabbatical to develop basic skills in speaking, writing and reading Mandarin.
In 2005, she launched her own firm focused on leadership matters and organizational development. So far, WuDeLan Partners (a variation on her last name) has four multinational clients.
Woodland is at once critical of and hopeful about Chinese leaders. On one hand, she says hasty promotions of local managers are hurting the quality of Chinese operations. But Woodland is optimistic China is breeding a new generation of leaders that eventually will be ready to tackle complex global problems, such as social inequality and climate change.
Woodland’s interest in China is about to get more personal. The single 42-year-old just filed papers to adopt a Chinese baby—a process likely to take a year.
As she prepares to start her own family in China, Woodland says Chinese attitudes toward family are part of what hooked her on the country in the first place.
Beginning two decades ago, many people in China have impressed her with their gumption and commitment to children.
"You see a lot of sacrifices made for kids," she says. "And that’s neat."