CEIBS MBA Director: ‘China Is Hot’

The view from the top of Shanghai Tower, China’s tallest building at 2,703 feet. Marc Ethier photo

Why does CEIBS have a yearly “bootcamp” when it could get the word out about its MBA program in myriad other ways — to the extent that it even needs to worry about “getting the word out”? 

It’s a great marketing tool. If you’re one of the future students and are thinking of taking up the MBA, it is a big investment in your life and your career. You can go to our institution and the bootcamp allows you to have a taste of the MBA in a low-risk way. They come here and they experience the school, the campus, the city, especially for those that are not Chinese, and they see what type of education they would get and they can make a better-informed decision.

I think the popularity of the event is due to a combination of things. China is hot — not as hot as before but it is still a great destination. People are curious about China and what is going on here. And of course our ranking is very high. These are the big things, but also word of mouth: People are talking about our school.

Let me ask you about the ranking. You must be pleased with your progress up the ladder, so to speak, in the Financial Times ranking. Three years ago you were in 17th place overall, then 11th, and now 8th. It’s always fun to talk with deans and program directors when the rankings are going well, so is there a sense of gratification, a sense of being rewarded for your efforts?

The ranking is a combination of things. It is not just one criterium, it’s complicated. China is playing a role there because it’s a growing economy and a big part of the ranking is salary increase, and if it’s a good economy you have more possibilities of having a good salary afterwards.

But on second thought, that cannot be the only reason, because if that were the only reason, you would have only Chinese business schools atop the rankings! And there is only one (in the top 10). So there are a lot of things that are important, yes? I think that our career services are top the world — they are doing a great job, finding good jobs, interesting jobs for our students, and we invest a lot in that. And that is also part of the ranking.

But also the education you get here at CEIBS: Our curriculum is very well-respected, and we are making changes in the curriculum adapted to the changes in business education.

What are some of those changes?

I’m glad you asked me about that! There are two areas where we are going. One is digital. Last year we launched a new concentration, kind of a specialization in the MBA: Digital Business. That is becoming so important for China. In the past, China was a follower, and when CEIBS was established in China (in 1994), the ideas the bring Western knowledge into China. But now China is creating knowledge. And China is state-of-the-art in many areas, like fintech, for instance. China is top of the world in fintech. Just to give you an example, I had some friends coming from Spain and they saw one of these street musicians, and they wanted to give the guy some money. The guy said, “No, no, no,” took out his phone and they gave him money digitally through their smartphones. It’s amazing.

This is one area, and of course as an MBA school, you cannot be behind what is happening in society. You have to lead, I will give you another example in this area. One of the core courses we have is a consulting project, so students have to go to a company that we find for them, and they work on a real problem. We have 40, 42 companies every year; this year, for the first time, around 70% of the project had digital content. So you see, it’s demand by the companies — the companies want this and we have to respond. So this is one area.

The other area where we are changing our curriculum or increasing the type of subjects in our curriculum is experiential learning. It’s a matter of demand from the students and from companies. They want graduates that can apply their knowledge. So for instance this year we launched real-situation learning: Usually what you have in business school is, students are in the classroom, and you bring the case, and they study the case and discuss the case in the classroom. In this new type of course, we take the students to the case. We go to the companies, we discuss the case in the company, we work on it all with the company, at the company. This is like a capstone but happens throughout core courses and electives.

For example, we did one on high-tech in Shenzhen, the technological hub of China. There are many high-tech companies in Shenzhen. So what we do is develop specific cases for companies there, and then we take the students there.

What about cryptocurrencies — blockchain? 

The challenge with some topics is, it’s difficult to find faculty because it’s so new and there’s no research. So we try to go over that area by having practitioners — companies that are in blockchain — as speakers. If you look around on campus there are some announcements about blockchain and other events and speakers.

The same with fintech — it is difficult to find faculty that have the knowledge or the experience.

Most of your MBAs stay in China, in large part because most of them — more than 66% of the current class — are Chinese. But a lot stay in Shanghai. What is it about this city that draws people in and kept them here?

Shanghai is the financial center of China, competing with Hong Kong, but it’s still not there because Hong Kong is very international. Even Hong Kong citizens studying here to do some fintech or other type of business in China, they stay here, too. There’s nothing wrong with Hong Kong — it’s very modern, very advanced. But it’s a limited market compared to China. And Shanghai is the business gateway to China.

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