GMAC Chief: ‘Go East, Young Man’

Wilson would encourage his son to pass on Harvard and go to Shanghai-based CEIBS, which is housed in a complex designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei.


“It’s not just the number,” says Wilson in an interview with Poets&Quants. “It’s the quality. You are starting to see some serious competitors to what was historically a U.S. dominated market. These international schools are becoming very serious competitors and they are doing it very quickly. I heard a comment at a roundtable discussion. A U.S. dean said, ‘We’ve been doing this for 100 years.’ And one of the European deans said, “I don’t think it will take us that long to get it right.’”

Wilson agrees. “You’ve got five schools in China and three or four strong ones in Hong Kong and three of four in Korea,” he adds. “You are seeing dramatic growth, and you are seeing these institutions become increasingly competitive. There are three legs to the stool: faculty, curriculum, and student cohort. You can buy faculty or develop them. You just can’t buy them all and it takes time to develop. You can import curriculum from somewhere else but it may not work. Once you get the faculty and the curriculum, the cohort will follow. Beneath that is if you use Socratic inquiry will they all participate? That is a very real issue if you are culturally predisposed not to participate but to absorb content.

“The Asian schools have figured out that these are the three legs and they are working hard at it. They are getting better faculty and developing them. They also are working at building more and more curriculum. That is a long construction project. It takes time to build your own cases and test them. On the student side, I think the visa programs in Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. have made it a lot more attractive for Chinese and Indian students to stay home. We have seen a significant decline in the number of Chinese students who send their scores to America — from 75% to 66%. They are not necessarily staying in China, but they may be going to Singapore and Hong Kong now. They are just not coming across the Pacific.”

As for his advice for a son or daughter, Wilson says he would do what his own dad did when he went to Berkeley for his graduate degree. “Let’s talk about what you want to do,’” he says. “’Let’s talk about your future. Harvard and CEIBS are both great schools.’ I would encourage him to visit both schools, spend time in their classrooms, spend time talking to other students. When all is said and done, this is probably the biggest single investment you’re going to make. You are taking two years out of your career and then there is the out-of-pocket cost so take the time to go and visit each school and ask yourself, ‘What do I want to do when I graduate? Which school is going to position me better? Are the recruiters for the places I want to go coming to CEIBS or Harvard?”

Ultimately, Wilson says he would not only encourage his son to study overseas today, he would do so himself. “If I were a young person again, I would go to school outside North America and learn more about other cultures,” Wilson says. “Studying in another country is a great asset. I think there is great value in living in another culture and learning another language. You don’t live in another culture when you drink cafe au lait on the Champs-Elysees.”