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Chinese business school spreads its global perspective

By Cecily Liu in London | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2016-12-30 07:12

The Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business is expanding into Europe to offer a Chinese market perspective to global executives at a time when the country's economy is increasingly engaging in the international business environment.

The school has been testing the European waters since it held a weeklong executive training program in the UK and Switzerland in 2012. It is now into the second year of offering a full dual degree executive MBA.

"With China's WTO accession, there is a need for China to have more global companies," says Xiang Bing, founding dean and professor of China business and globalization at CKGSB, speaking of the World Trade Organization.

In Xiang's view, it was precisely this need to help Chinese businesses successfully become global players, and to document their global expansion in academic research, that drove CKGSB's internationalization.

Chinese business school spreads its global perspective

European executives who are Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business students are on a learning trip in Beijing. Provided to China Daily

The rise of the Chinese economy and desire of Western businesses to expand into China offers opportunities for business schools such as CKGSB to offer Chinese insights to Western companies.

"For China's economy to become truly global China will need to have its own version of IBM, GE, Siemens and HSBC," says Xiang. "Truly global companies from China will become one of the key forces of change; therefore, introducing a global perspective to Chinese entrepreneurs is important."

Xiang says CKGSB's strategy starts with creating a 40-member full-time faculty with extensive overseas teaching and research experience.

The school then needs to form a global network with other universities to create knowledge-sharing and exchange platforms. Its international partners include Switzerland's IMD Business School in Lausanne, Harvard's Kennedy School, the Columbia Business School and National University of Singapore.

The school aims to send students abroad for short-term learning programs to give them firsthand learning from international universities and the business world.

Chinese business school spreads its global perspective

Established in 2002 with the financial backing of the Li Ka Shing Foundation, CKGSB prides itself on teaching China's business elite through its Chinese EMBA programs.

Xiang says internationalization has been a key focus of the school since its early days.

"When we devise our international expansion strategy, we look at which country is an important trading partner for China," Xiang says.

CKGSB has identified the US and Europe as important areas in which to expand its footprint, given that they dominate the trading volume between China and the West. Additionally, Asian countries, including Japan, South Korea and Singapore form what Xiang terms the Confucian Economic Bloc.

For this reason, CKGSB has established offices in New York, Hong Kong and London.

"In the coming two to three years, we will also have a focus for expansion in countries along China's Belt and Road Initiative."

The London office, established in 2011, initially focused on coordinating a three and a half day executive training program, taught at the University of Cambridge in 2012, and subsequently repeated at IMD.

It brought Chinese and Western entrepreneurs into the same room to discuss preconceptions of each other's culture and to correct them in order to reach a better level of understanding in the business world, according to Neil Selby, former director of executive education at CKGSB Europe.

"It is quite a shock," said Selby. "And from the shock, you then build. It's actually what eats away at the previous mindset you have. You probably have held that view for 20 years, and in the joint sessions you have something new."

After preconceptions are demolished in the initial encounters, students are asked to look at case studies of Chinese and European business interactions, along with conventional course materials.

The initial program at Cambridge attracted 30 European CEOs, including Tom Hunter, a well-known philanthropist who was once Scotland's richest man, and Charles Aldington, former chairman of Deutsche Bank.

Having successfully established its reputation in Europe, CKGSB embarked on the more ambitious project of launching a 22-month dual degree EMBA program with IMD, which includes teaching classes in London, Africa, Shanghai, Beijing and Lausanne.

Chinese business school spreads its global perspective

Launched in 2015, the program is now in its second year.

Course content includes the implications of Chinese businesses going global, the leadership of internationally recognized Chinese companies such as Baidu and Alibaba, and insights into how the Chinese state works with businesses.

Xiang says one key advantage for CKGSB is the insight it offers about China, derived from its professors' understanding of the Chinese business environment, and their research in the country.

For example, the types of competition faced by state-owned enterprises, multinationals and private businesses in China are all very different because their platforms are different. The knowledge of CKGSB's professors about competition among market segments is helpful to students' practical understanding of doing business in China.

Xiang says CKGSB's innovative thinking and teaching methods are key strengths.

"I often ask my colleagues to see earth from the moon," he says. It's an expression he uses to mean thinking outside the box.

A lot of CKGSB's business ideas and concepts are taught in combination with philosophy and history, so students can understand the deeper meanings behind business concepts.

In addition, Xiang says the high proportion of company CEOs and chairmen among its students makes the school unique as other business schools mostly focus on younger students and junior executives.

More than 50 percent of CKGSB's 10,000 alumni are CEOs and chairmen of companies that accounted for 17 percent of China's GDP in 2015.

"Today there are so many fast technological, social and geopolitical changes that I think there is a greater need for chairmen and CEOs to come back to the classroom to study," he says.

CKGSB has been praised by global business leaders, including HSBC Group Chairman Douglas Flint and Alibaba founder Jack Ma.

"It has brought a holistic view of understanding business, combining education with integrity, and value systems that are, I think, the foundation of the successful businessmen of the future," Flint says.

Ma praised the effort: "It is a daunting challenge for a business school to bring so many truly A-list business leaders together, but CKGSB has managed to hit another home run."

Looking into the future, Xiang is optimistic about CKGSB's European expansion, believing in a solid growing market for foreign executives to learn about China, and Chinese executives studying in Europe.

In addition, as China's economy continues to mature and become closer in structure and characteristics to European economies, Chinese executives can learn more lessons from Europe - as in, for example, how to improve social welfare programs.

"Economically we are doing well, but in social programs we are falling behind," Xiang says. "There is so much to learn from Europe, not just as a source of great technology and brands, and civilization and mobility, but also social programs. We place great emphasis on Europe as a source of learning."

(China Daily European Weekly 12/30/2016 page29)

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