CEIBS MBA Director: ‘China Is Hot’

Juan Fernandez at the CEIBS 2018 job fair in January. CEIBS photo

HEC Paris just announced a new “strategic partnership” with a pair of Chinese schools. How does this differ from what CEIBS does with its many overseas partners? 

We have student exchange programs with many European schools: London Business School, INSEAD, IESE, many schools. At the moment, we do not have any partnerships or dual degrees of this type. We would’ve to in there future, if it’s possible. I tell people, I am originally from Spain, I have good connections with IESE in Barcelona, and we have discussed this possibility. The problem is, they have limitations in terms of the regulations in Europe. So it’s easier to do with American schools, and at the moment we have three agreements with schools in the U.S. for a dual degree. One is with Cornell, and we have an agreement with the Hotel Administration School — students spend the first year with us, second year with them, and we give them two degrees.

We have another one with Johns Hopkins in health care, the same thing, one year here, one year there. And the third one is the Fletcher School at Tufts University, near Boston, and that is diplomacy or international relationships.

We have those three arrangements with U.S. schools and we’d love to have the same with Europeans. Maybe down the road.

With Brexit and the situation with immigration in the United States, are you finding that more Chinese students want to stay in China as opposed to going abroad for their MBA?

I attended an MBA conference about two months ago in Salt Lake City, and one of the things they were talking about is that the number of foreign international students in the U.S. is declining. The reason is Donald Trump and his policies, and also the price — the degree is more expensive than other alternatives. And also the time: All the elite programs in the U.S. are two years, 24 months.

So many students see more options in developing countries, though China is becoming something other than developing. And here at CEIBS the MBA is 18 months. Also European schools are becoming more attractive. INSEAD is 10 months. In Europe you have more options that are one year — you start and you’re already finishing! We also have a 12-month option, but that is especially for students who already have a job, who are company-sponsored.

We are not yet seeing any uptick in applications as a result of the political situation in the U.S. But we see that the quality (of applicant) is increasing, especially among the international applicants. And we see more Chinese who are abroad and who want to come back to China. In terms of numbers, Western students are stable. This year the growth in applications has come from other Asian countries. Usually among our international students the biggest group are the South Koreans, Indians, and Japanese is growing. We’ve been working in the Japanese market, and it’s not an easy market, because they usually prefer to go to the U.S. But we are talking about small numbers, maybe five students per cohort.

The percentage of women in the CEIBS MBA has been very high in the last few couple of years. How do you explain CEIBS’ appeal to women, and can parity ever be achieved?

We don’t do anything special to attract women. There is no scholarship or anything like that. It just happens. A big part of it is China. Sometime you are surprised, but China is more equal in society. You see these Chinese women that are really strong. I’m not saying that in the West you don’t find the same type of women — of course you do. But I think that in Chinese society they are more welcome, it’s easier for them — I’m not sure how to explain it, but it’s more acceptable for women to work and even to own companies, and you see the big percentage of women in our MBA as a reflection of that.

Family support is very strong in China, and that could be another explanation. I can tell you from my wife, Hanning, my mother-in-law, if my wife travels and I travel, we know there is somebody taking care of the kids.

My wife’s example will tell you something about women in China. When she finished her studies, at that time, the government told all the graduates where to work. You couldn’t decide. You finished and they said, “You work there,’ or, “You work in this company,” or, “You work in administration,” or wherever. So they sent her to work at a university, and she didn’t like the job. That was the time of Deng Xiaoping, when China started opening, and they created Shenzhen as a special zone — meaning only in that city they could have some more Western rules.

So she escaped and went to Shenzhen, and she was like an immigrant because you have to use a passport to go to Shenzhen. She started working and from there she came to Shanghai. I met her and she started her own company, and now she drives a Mercedes Benz. Very simple origins, but lots of hard work. And that is something you see a lot of — and not only for women but for men, too. This is a land of opportunity for many, and the economy grows so fast, if you have a good idea and you work hard, it doesn’t matter what your origins are. You can be successful.

What will the next five years bring to CEIBS?

The market will become tighter, more difficult in the future, so we have to improve, keep innovating. Probably we will grow significantly the number of electives, so people have more options, especially experientially. New technologies will impact the way we deliver the programs — online program, blended programs, we have to think of all these new delivery mechanisms and the technologies that enable them, and incorporate them into the MBA. And that is a long-term proposal. And we have to grow our other options outside the MBA, other master’s programs, specialized, part-time, you name it. Diversification is something that is vital.

We also want to become more international in our student body. Even though 70-30 is good, I think in the future it should be closer to 60-40. Something like that. And we need to market our brand better. Even though we are there at the top, we are not that well-known, especially in the West. So there are many things to do!


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