Tony Shen

Tony is a Chartered Engineer, one of the youngest Fellows of the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) in the UK, and leads the association’s China branch. He is also the first and only Asian to receive full accreditation as a Certified Aircraft Appraiser from all three international certification bodies.  

Portrait photograph of Tony Shen

Tony’s experience working in aerospace spans the aviation industry in leasing, recycling, sales and marketing, engineering, and commercial services. It’s hard to know where to begin when summarising his achievements across these areas.  

Tony received multiple awards while at Rolls-Royce for his work and was named one of the British Council China’s UK Alumni 100 in 2014. He is now an influential voice in the aerospace sector in Asia and has been a keynote and panel speaker at many industry-leading conferences.  

Choosing his path 

When you ask Tony how he got into aerospace, he’ll say intuition told him it was the right area for him. After all, no one he knew had a background in this field, but the challenging nature of the industry appealed to him, and he wanted to do something a bit different.  

Many of his fellow Imperial classmates decided after graduation to apply their skills to the financial industry. Tony was unsure about taking this route, but out of curiosity applied to a consultancy firm. And, to his surprise, he got offered a place on a highly respected programme where he could enter as a junior associate (normally graduates start as analysts). 

But Tony had another job offer. One that was too good to refuse.  

I also received an offer from Rolls-Royce. How could I turn this opportunity down? I knew it would be a real honour to work for such a prestigious engineering company.

An unforgettable experience 

Tony joined the two-year training programme at Rolls-Royce in the UK, making the most out of every opportunity he was given. “I experienced different engineering functions, from design to operations.”  

Tony shaking hands on stage to receive his award

Receiving the Rolls-Royce President's Award

Receiving the Rolls-Royce President's Award

He decided to continue with performance engineering, which he says was the most challenging side of the business, but he was eager to build on his understanding of theory and boost his practical skills. 

Tony hit the milestone of gaining accreditation as a Chartered Engineer and, after seven years at Rolls-Royce, he decided it was time for a change of direction, and he entered the world of aircraft appraisal.  

Tony Shen
Tony Shen
Tony addresses an audience from a stage

Tony giving the opening speech at the International Aviation Supply Chain Leadership Summit

Tony giving the opening speech at the International Aviation Supply Chain Leadership Summit

A moment of realisation 

Following his decision to explore the commercial side of the industry, he returned to China to study for an MBA at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business

One area we covered at the Business School was social impact. It was something I’d never really come across before. It made me question how I could combine aeronautics with work supporting charity or welfare. 

Tony turned his attention to the professional body he was affiliated with. He explains, “I’d previously viewed the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) as a recognition body that could give me certificates to prove my level of expertise. But I suddenly became interested in how I could leverage that identity for social purposes and to promote opportunities in STEM. It seemed like a great platform.” 

RAeS launches in China 

Tony started a job at AJW Group, a company trading aircraft components that had been stripped out of mature planes. It was an interesting business model, but Tony knew it was having a positive impact too as the old parts were being recycled and waste was being reduced in the aviation supply chain.  

In parallel to this, Tony was preparing to launch the China branch of RAeS. The approval process through the local government was challenging, but Tony and another professor from the Chinese campus of the University of Nottingham persisted. Eventually, their hard work paid off and they received their certificate of incorporation, making RAeS the first foreign technology NGO successfully registered with Shanghai Municipal Government. 

Tony and colleagues on stage to launch the new China branch of the RAeS

The opening ceremony for the China branch of the RAeS

The opening ceremony for the China branch of the RAeS

Engaging the next generation 

With the China branch launched, they focused on planning events to encourage young people to explore opportunities in STEM. But then the unimaginable happened. The pandemic hit, and everyone was at home and unable to meet in person.  

During the pandemic, we launched an online STEM video competition which really inspired young people to showcase their knowledge and passion for aerospace. The videos got over 5 million views and we had over 2,000 people take part.

Tony helps run site visits and arranges engineering challenges. His efforts are also tackling the gender imbalance in STEM. “I remember in my class there were only about six girls out of 80 students,” he shares. “There have always been campaigns to attract young talented girls, but there isn’t a lot of action. I want to provide programmes that really help them explore the possibilities.”

Under his leadership, RAeS China launched a series of STEM programmes, including ‘Introduce a Girl to Engineering’ in partnership with China Women’s Development Foundation and leading aerospace companies. The programme aims to encourage girls to value and pursue STEM-related courses in school or college and provide resources for volunteer, leadership, and employment opportunities to support them pursuing degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

Tony and event attendees pose for a group photo

Tony and attendees at the 'Introduce a girl to engineering' event

Tony and attendees at the 'Introduce a girl to engineering' event

Despite being thousands of miles away from London, Tony is still rooted in the Imperial community and believes in giving back to current students. He was a founding member of the Imperial alumni network in Eastern China and is still an active part of the community today. From 2009-2012, Tony was also the Rolls-Royce Imperial College Career Ambassador, which involved giving career talks and supporting graduate recruitment. 

What’s next 

Tony’s current role is at Pratt & Whitney, an American aerospace manufacturer. In his role as customer business director, he's in charge of providing and overseeing sales and marketing support to airline customers in China. However, as a face of the business, customers often reach out to him with engineering or technical problems too.  

Tony stands on stage with a microphone

Tony giving the keynote speech at the China International Import Expo 2021 as Sustainability Ambassador of Pratt Whitney

Tony giving the keynote speech at the China International Import Expo 2021 as Sustainability Ambassador of Pratt Whitney

Where will he be in ten years' time? He says starting his own business is a possibility although the industry could see big changes in that time. He explains, “There’s a lot of possibilities in aerospace around electrification. We can see how it’s changing the automotive industry – the structures are getting simpler and neater. Eventually it will change aviation too, but we don’t know how just yet.” 

If you can come up with good engineering, you can make people’s way of getting around greener and more sustainable. There’s a lot of research and development going into batteries and generators.

According to Tony, “We’re already starting to see a convergence between cars and planes. It’s maybe not that far-fetched that in the future you’ll have electrical vertical take-off and landing vehicles parked outside your door and take you to your destination.” 

Tony is committed to facilitating the transformation of aviation to a sustainable future. His RAeS China team launched the Advanced Air Mobility International Conference in China primarily focused on emerging technology in smart and green aviation.

Sharing his career advice 

For students following in his footsteps, he wants to tell them, “Aerospace is a long-cycle industry. Nowadays young people want a quick return. In this industry, you need to be patient as nothing is going to happen overnight,” he laughs. 

Eventually you’ll realise that it’s patience, dedication and consistent commitment that deliver excellence.

His other advice is to engage with professional networks as early as possible. Tony believes by doing this, students can understand their options, see what their future could be like and make the right choices. 

Equal opportunities for every student  

Tony is grateful for all the opportunities he had as an international student, “Imperial is truly international and offers equal opportunities to their students. University offers a wide range of development opportunities for international students including academic exchange programmes, careers services and industry events .” 

“My career aspiration in aerospace started from my first internship at Airbus UK in the last summer before my graduation,” he shares. “It would have not been possible for me to secure this type of rare opportunity without support from the university’s careers services.” 

Tony in front of an Airbus plane

Tony at the Airbus Open Day during his internship

Tony at the Airbus Open Day during his internship

Feeling proud 

Receiving this award means a lot to Tony, “I spent 15 years in the UK away from my family. I moved here with no friends and no family. It all started when I joined Imperial. I thrived, grew and became the person I am today.” 

You’re often so busy with your day job that you don’t look back. This award has given me a chance to reflect on my achievements.

When Tony heard he would be receiving the award, he was overwhelmed with emotion. “It’s a real honour. It feels like all the small things I’ve done matter. It’s a reflection of my life and where I am today.” 

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Tony Shen