The Big Picture: China, Shanghai & CEIBS

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


CEIBS is an island in a fast-moving river. The glowing multi-story buildings that loom around the skyline on the school’s periphery would constitute the heart of a major city just about anywhere else; here, in massive Shanghai, they are just so many nameless apartment and office structures along Hong Feng and Jinke roads, the arteries that make up the school’s borders, far from the really impressive towers of the Bund and the Lujiazui District, the city’s financial center. Far? Thirty minutes by taxi at the swiftest, closer to an hour when traffic really congeals around 8:30 each morning.

It’s easy to forget the frenetic pace outside the school walls. Even when the daily schedule is in full flow, CEIBS’ ultra-modern campus is peacefully quiet. In the heat of the day, students island-hop between air-conditioned oases, dodging colleagues and faculty as well as custodial staff, food staff, clerks, gardeners, security, visitors, and others on their way to lectures, meetings, study sessions, luncheons, and countless other events — the campus is an ideal spot for conferences and gatherings of all kinds. At midday, in summer, as the temperatures rise to 100 and above, the perfectly kept lawns are empty in the sun, and the many bodies of water that ornament the grounds seem to come to a near boil. At night, when the heat drops into the tolerable 80s, students and visitors emerge to wander along flagstoned paths flanked by infinity pools — water is a major theme at CEIBS — walking under greenhouse canopies past secluded gardens, chatting, smoking on still-warm stone benches, and occasionally getting lost — the campus is enormous and confusing to the newcomer. A small soccer pitch abutting a pair of residence halls on the far north of campus lights up, and a pair of amateur teams in smart-looking gear shake off the daytime heat to emulate their World Cup heroes. Somewhere, students gather in small groups to watch a game.


Behram Irani on the CEIBS campus. Marc Ethier photo

Behram Irani, a native of Iran who grew up and attended university in Pune, India, came to Shanghai from Manila, Philippines, where he is chief representative officer for Thermax Limited, leading sales and marketing across Southeast Asia for the India-based engineering company that manufactures boilers for power plants and maintains and operates plants around the globe. Irani, 32, was deciding between a full-time and executive MBA, awaiting word on whether he will be admitted to INSEAD’s executive program; he recently discovered that he’s been accepted. He came to Shanghai to participate in CEIBS’ annual pre-MBA boot camp and check out its executive offerings, one of 70 would-be students hailing from across the globe and widely diverse walks of life. Unusual among the group, Irani has more than 10 years’ work experience, having worked across Africa and spent time in Cali, Colombia before settling in Manila five years ago.

It’s not just the length of work experience that sets Irani apart. It’s the breadth. Holder of a degree in mechanical engineering from Pune University, “I not only learned the manufacturing side, I also learned the sales and marketing side,” he says.

“I started thinking about an MBA in 2012,” Irani tells Poets&Quants. “But I got the opportunity to shift to the Philippines, and it somewhat died out. And then to be honest, when I turned 31, I realized that if I am to do an MBA, this is my last year.”


Irani is a perfect example of how a highly qualified, motivated student can be enthusiastic about a school — and still not be a good fit. Besides a deep resume, the biggest feather in Irani’s cap is his score on the Graduate Management Admission Test. After scoring 730 on his first try, he took the GMAT again and notched a remarkable 780. But regardless of GMAT score Irani, whose job will take him to Jakarta, Indonesia in October, is unquestionably at the upper end of the age bracket for full-time MBAs; time and again, he’s been urged to focus on executive programs instead. The persuasion has been effective: He’s decided against full-time programs at IE in Spain and HKUST in Hong Kong, both of which accepted him. While briefly waitlisted for INSEAD’s EMBA, Irani said his second choice was the Kellogg-HKUST EMBA.

His third choice, confirmed by a week in Shanghai, was CEIBS — but the EMBA program, not the MBA.

“In India, doing a part-time MBA or an executive MBA is looked down on, but honestly after doing a lot of research I’ve found that that is misplaced,” Irani says. “I applied for the CEIBS bootcamp to get a sense of being in China, and perhaps working in China. And I have gotten that. My thoughts on this school: This is a great school for Chinese students, and it can be a great school for international students. For Chinese students, this is the No. 1 school. For others, I think, if they are looking to be shifted to China, this is a very good thing. But if you are a U.S. or Canadian citizen looking to go back to the U.S. or Canada, it makes no sense.”


It makes sense to Tony Hsieh, a native of Taiwan who currently works and lives in Shenzhen for a large IT services company. Hsieh came out of undergrad with a political science degree and little experience in the business realm. Since graduating in 2011, he has worked as an office manager, analyst, and specialist for large companies, and even co-founded a nonprofit for healthcare startup training, incubation, and acceleration — yet he never acquired the managerial skills he says he needs to advance his career.

Currently, he’s leading a small team of five for the health care and life sciences business group of Foxconn, a company with more than 1 million employees, “and that is a little bit challenging for me,” Hsieh, 29, tells P&Q.

His first interaction with CEIBS was a couple years ago when he accompanied a colleague on a visit to Shanghai. Besides touring some locally based companies, Hsieh also got a view of the CEIBS campus. Back then he had no plans to pursue an MBA degree, because he never thought he’d need one. But that soon changed. 

“I remember being told that the best best way to learn more about the CEIBS MBA program was to join the bootcamp, and I remembered that,” Hsieh says. “Last year in my new job, the idea popped into my mind: Maybe I need MBA training. And because I plan to have my career here in China, I think CEIBS would be the best choice for me.”

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