China Dreaming: Would-Be MBAs Storm China

CEIBS Boot Camp participants mingle between lectures. Photo by Nathan Allen

CEIBS Boot Camp participants mingle between lectures. Photo by Nathan Allen

Temperatures rise to a sweltering 44 degrees Celsius as 63 potential MBAs, sporting red and yellow hardhats, strut along the rafters of a Shanghai steel factory. Below the iron walkways and dapper 20-somethings, molten blocks of freshly forged metal fling by at dizzying speeds. Cellular devices — mainly iPhones — rotate from capturing the sun-colored slabs to selfie grins.

Representing 23 countries, the 63 are the fourth cohort to participate in China Europe International Business School’s (CEIBS) preMBA Boot Camp, held in mid-July. “We took you to get your hands dirty, which MBAs should do,” Roy Chason, marketing director at CEIBS, announces over the speaker system of a towering charter bus as we navigate out of Baosteel’s monstrosity of a complex toward Shanghai center. The complex, which rests on the banks of the Yangtze River, on the northern fringe of Shanghai, would itself dwarf many Midwestern towns.

The sight was a microcosm of China’s emerging economic significance — and potential dominance. Driving its first pile in 1978 — the same year China opened its doors to the outside business market — Baosteel now has around 15,000 employees in five countries and is one of 98 China-based 2015 Fortune Global 500 companies. Its surge has come amid China’s rapidly burgeoning infrastructure, which is constantly hungry for materials to build it. Despite recent slowing, China’s economy has taken a similar trajectory.


The boot camp serves as a pitch for the Chinese economy as much as for CEIBS. A handful of the school’s most entertaining and thought-provoking professors give lectures. At Ford Motor Company’s Asia-Pacific headquarters, a half dozen recently graduated MBAs parade in front of the participants, explaining how a graduate of a Chinese B-school gets hired by an American company, and why an American car company would be there in the first place. Even the Shanghai entrepreneurship scene is lauded via a Saturday dinner in a co-working spot no different than any incubator space you’d find in California’s Bay Area.

“What happens in China matters to the rest of the world,” Bala Ramasamy, an economics professor, says in his lecture on the second day of camp. Despite periodic slowdowns, China’s economy continues to flourish, its GDP ticking up to nearly $11 trillion (compared to the United States at just below $18 trillion) after 6.7% growth last quarter. And here’s the thing: That was the slowest quarter China has reported since 2010, but it was still saltier than the 0.8% reported by the U.S. in the same period.

“You can get an MBA in many places. The U.S. has very good schools. But you want to look at the future,” CEIBS MBA Director Shimin Chen, Budweiser in hand, tells boot campers on the final night. “And I can assure you, the future is here at this part of the globe and nowhere else.”

There wasn’t much argument from the boot campers. “China is the factory of the world,” says Bhavishya Kanjhan, a 28-year-old from Dubai. Adds Susanne Fischer, a 26-year-old from Austria: “I really think this is where the business opportunities are going to be. Europe is going to be Disneyland for the Chinese and Indians. Europe is sleeping a little bit and that’s not where I see my future headed.”


If anyone needed any additional convincing about pursuing an MBA, Ramasamy gives it to them toward the end of his three-hour lecture. “If you’re just considering an MBA, I think you’ve got it wrong,” the Malaysian-born professor says from the front of the lecture hall full of wide-eyed participants. “Doing an MBA is no longer a consideration. If you don’t do it, you are dead. If you don’t do it, you are digging your own grave. Simple as that.”

Silence fell across the Shanghai lecture hall as Ramasamy intensely peered into everyone’s eyes. Even in a country as recently lucrative as China and a city where skyscrapers extend for what seems like no end, Ramasamy portrays a formidable landscape. “Forgive me when I say this. I don’t envy you,” he says, repeating, “I don’t envy you,” and letting the words sink in as the entire room sinks into their chairs. “Because the life that you’re going to face — I’m sorry to say — is not looking good. It’s not looking good.”

Ramasamy was referencing a recently published McKinsey study revealing about 70% of populations in 25 developed countries have seen stagnant or declining incomes compared to their peers a decade ago. Not to worry, Chen says — as long as China is where you’re headed. “The China economy is simply part of the global economy. And the global economy is slowing down,” he explains. “If you compare China economy with other economies globally, this is still a bright spot here.”


The CEIBS MBA, ranked 13th in the 2015 Poets&Quants international rankings, is an 18-month MBA program, with a 12-month option. Participants in the preMBA Boot Camp spent July 13-17 in the shoes of a full-time CEIBS MBA. For just under $1,600, they were put up in a swanky nearby hotel, bussed to campus and around the city, ate in the school’s cafeteria, and organized social events on the fly via the Chinese mobile app, WeChat. Chason says about 30% of the participants have already taken the GMAT. Over the past three years, he says, about 15% of boot campers have applied and enrolled at CEIBS.

China’s appeal is understandable for driven young professionals. After all, it’s a 1.4 billion-person market. Shanghai itself has around 25 million residents. Boot campers and CEIBS professors and administrators alike often compare the city to New York City. Many of the country’s Fortune 500 companies, as well as many foreign mega-companies, have offices in the city, which boasts more than 100 skyscrapers.

“(CEIBS’) location in Shanghai — the growing financial capital of Asia — is a compelling sell,” says Ryan Flamerich, the lone born-and-raised American to participate this year. “It feels like New York. It is very developed. It is a modern, developed city that you’re going to find in Europe, North America, or anywhere else. Its GDP is as much as most American states.”

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.