You wouldn’t understand it unless you’re here. That’s one way to think of Shanghai. Picture Medici’s Florence or Pericles’ Athens: a mix of cultural influence and economic might — a center for growth and innovation teeming with energy and possibilities. A modern day Byzantium, Shanghai is considered the ‘Gateway to the East.’ After all, the city sits near where the East China Sea and Yangtze River converge — an apt metaphor for the city’s eclectic mix of East and West.
Alas, the city is sometimes compared to Paris: sophisticated and international, commercial in purpose and artistic in sensibility. The world’s largest port, Shanghai has set its site on becoming the world’s financial center, the East’s answer to Wall Street and Canary Wharf. The city is also home to nearly 800 multinationals and 500 R&D centers. Even the city skyline — punctuated by the Shanghai Tower and Shanghai World Financial Center — signal a city on the rise with its destiny still yet to be fulfilled. It is here where you’ll find the China Europe International Business School (or CEIBS for short).
CHINA ACCESS AND UNDERSTANDING
A 16 month MBA program, CEIBS is considered to be the top business school in the East. This year, the program ranked 7th in the world according to The Financial Times, topping out at 5th a year ago. That’s quite an achievement considering the program held down the 92nd spot 20 years ago. CEIBS now boasts five campuses in China, Switzerland, and Africa, with its Shanghai campus highlighted by a glass pyramid that harkens back to Paris’ Louvre. At the same time, CEIBS now counts 26,000 alumni, many of whom drive decisions in China’s top firms. Among them, you’ll find JD.com founder Liu Qiangdong, Sun TV co-founder Yang Lan, Beijing Zhongkun Investment Group Chairman Huang Nubo, and Gree Electric chairwoman Dong Mingzhu. In other words, CEIBS — by virtue of its Shanghai location and influence — offers an intangible that few business schools can match: access.
“The difference between CEIBS and other top schools in Asia is that CEIBS is really well positioned in China,” explains Radina Arnaudova, a first-year MBA who grew up in Bulgaria and last worked at Ernst & Young. “CEIBS’ strengths lie in its connections with both local and multinational companies in China. Every week, there are at least two industry talks and company presentations where students get to hear from top executives about their strategy in China. The Career Development Center organizes numerous networking opportunities with western multinational companies operating in China, and Chinese companies that are expanding globally.”
Access — to top companies and thought leaders that can provide internships and partnerships — is just one of the big advantages to CEIBS. The school’s trajectory also reflects its home country. After all, China is a nation on the rise, best known for policies that lifted 800 million out of poverty over the past 40 years. Economically, China has emerged as the premier economic force across the globe. Last year, 124 Chinese companies made the Fortune 500 list, topping the United States for the first time. To put that total in context, China placed 69 companies on the list in 2010 — and zero in 1990. That makes China “an engine for growth” for international firms in the words of first-year Archie Preston. It is a dynamic he has witnessed first-hand, working as a vice president for a merchant bank that facilitates cross-border transactions with China. As important as access is in China, Preston asserts that understanding is equally crucial.
PARTNERING WITH ELITE COMPANIES
“The China market is extremely complicated to navigate and so companies need people well-versed in both cultures to help them strategize, communicate and execute,” he tells P&Q. “It seems obvious to me that as a (relatively!) young person that we should always try to position ourselves in high growth areas, be it industry, location, or function. Choosing China as a foundation for my future growth therefore seems sensible. Also, on a more subjective level, I find it a fascinating and exciting place to live even after being based in Greater China (on and off) for seven years.”
That understanding comes in many forms at CEIBS. One is the Integrated China Strategy Project (ICSP), whose past business partners have included Alibaba, AstraZeneca, British Petroleum, Coca-Cola, General Electric, and Nike. Here, MBAs gain real world business experience with Chinese business practices with the top companies in the market. The ICSP was a major attraction for Agnes Wen, a Shenzhen native who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in mathematics at the University of Oxford.
“We will be working with our sponsor firms, experienced faculty advisers, and senior company executive mentors to work on group consulting projects tackling real problems companies are facing. I believe this hands-on experience will help me adapt to the China business environment rapidly, equipping me for my post-MBA career in China.”
CASE STUDIES FOCUSED ON CHINA
The ICSP is just the start. CEIBS also provides an ongoing mentoring program to provide career guidance and deepen students’ mastery of Chinese business etiquette. “All of the mentors are CEIBS alumni and come from various industries and functions,” explains Jeina NA, a Seoul native and Samsung senior accountant who joined the Class of 2023 this fall. “As a middle-level manager hoping to continue my career in the same function, I’m looking forward to listening to real work experiences from those who have been in my situation. Also, I’m hoping to create value for the mentor by sharing my experiences in different cultures.”
CEIBS’ case method is another edge it holds, albeit with a twist. Here, the cases focus more on Chinese business experiences, replete with Chinese protagonists operating from Chinese vantage points. As a result, students can experience the complicated and ever-evolving variables and tradeoffs inherent to doing business in China.
“MBA professors at CEIBS make sure that students not only learn about Chinese business mindsets and approaches, but are also instilled with the wisdom to embrace diversity and inclusiveness to achieve win-win outcomes,” adds Agnes Wen. “It has been only one week since our studies officially started, but we have already stepped in the shoes of the protagonists of many case studies to experience how situations differ in a China context.”
LEARNING “FROM” AND NOT JUST “ABOUT”
Perhaps the most important part of the CEIBS MBA is living in Shanghai and working alongside students from every region and walk of life. Jan-Peter Boeckstiegel, a 2021 CEIBS graduate, extolls the school’s “raw, first-hand exposure to and experience with Chinese perspectives and approaches,” which comes from “living alongside Chinese students on campus, meeting Chinese business leaders and companies, and experiencing what it means to be a customer, co-worker, and manager in China.” At the same time, courses are taught in English, making it easier for non-Chinese students to acclimate quickly. While the program may involve a deep immersion into Chinese business culture, it is not an MBA about these facets. Instead, it is a program that lives up to its moniker: “China depth, Global breadth” — a program that integrates the Chinese viewpoint and values its business practices. Or, to borrow an axiom that Morgan Fourdrigniez learned from a previous boss: “There is a lot to learn from Chinese companies, not just about Chinese companies.”
The best way to do that is being there in person. “China already influences or has taken a leadership position in the worlds’ current and future major developments,” adds Iñaki BERASATAEGUI PASMAN, an Argentine business development manager. “You can always learn from others’ experiences…you can read, have a good chat, or surf the internet, always thirsty for new inputs, but nothing will compare to having your feet on the ground and seeing things with your eyes. For me, that was the biggest appeal of earning an MBA in China.”
Looking at the CEIBS Class of 2023, one word stands out: Accomplished. Take Archie Preston. Last year, he led a team spread between London and Shanghai that completed three $100 million dollars cross-border deals…not counting many below the nine figure threshold. “It was a very high pressure period of time,” he admits. “Combining the soft management skills with the technical execution skills, without any employee turnover during that period, is something I am very proud of. “
CLASS INCLUDES APPLE AND GOLDMAN SACHS ALUMNI
That’s just the start. At IQVIA, Iñaki BERASATAEGUI PASMAN’s Singapore research team was awarded a Global Center of Excellence in 2021. Chris YUE Yi and Christopher Ku shepherded important projects during their times at Goldman Sachs and Apple, respectively. At the same time, Agnes Wen has already been promoted to partner level and led teams responsible for marketing, business development, and consulting. Such experiences make for rich classroom discussions. The same is true for Jing LI, who headed up the international cooperation department for the Shanghai Petroleum and Gas Exchange.
“I have worked in nine countries and with colleagues from more than 40 countries, engaging with stakeholders including international/national/private companies and regulatory bodies. These experiences fostered my flexibility to work in different cultures.”
Sometimes, achievements are harder to quantify. That was the case for Karen Xi Manqi, who majored in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Oxford. She moved from country-to-country as a business director, interviewing and selling to over a thousand CEOs and industry leaders. By the same token, Stella Jin, who holds engineering degrees from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the University of Michigan, learned soft power diplomacy in the hot seat.
“I was responsible for promoting sales performance in the real estate industry, in which I needed to cooperate with 40 sales managers, most of who were male, aggressive, and senior to me in terms of age and job grades,” she writes. “Instead of asserting dominance, I approached the team in a more skillful way. I aligned the goal of the whole team from the beginning, leveraged cross-functional resources to empower the team, utilized my analytical skills to provide a strategic view, and built a close community in which they had healthy competitions. At last, the program was successfully completed with a growth rate four times the original target. Thanks to this task, I had the opportunity to learn about leadership, to drive a large program and to cooperate with senior team members.”
Next Page: Interview with Michelle Zhu, MBA Administration Director at CEIBS
Page 3: Profiles of 13 Members of the Class of 2023