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CEIBS MBA Director: ‘China Is Hot’



Wednesday 11 July 2018, by Marc Ethier

Juan Fernandez, MBA program director at China Europe International Business School. CEIBS photo

China Europe International Business School is in a prime spot to figure prominently in the major economic and cultural metamorphosis underway in China. Its location in Shanghai puts it at the nexus of rapid change, economic and otherwise, and its status as one of the top (and rising) B-schools in the country gives it the prestige to effect change by example. One key way it’s doing that: gender equality. The percentage of female students at CEIBS has risen from 37.1% in the Class of 2017 to a high of 44.5% in the just-graduated Class of 2018 — tantalizingly close to parity, which no elite school has achieved — before dropping to 40.2% in the Class of 2019. Greater than 40% enrollment of women has become a hallmark of elite schools — all of the top 10 schools and half of the top 25 in the Poets&Quants 2017 ranking have achieved it.

Women on equal footing with men in the classroom reflects the philosophy, if not necessarily the practice, in the Chinese boardroom. According to Catalyst.org, 63% of women in the country are in the labor force, including 72% of mothers between the ages of 25 and 34 — but in management positions, the picture is murkier, data being harder to come by. One CEIBS professor points out that while equality of the sexes is built into the DNA of the Communist Party of China, the reality is, the country has a ways to go before achieving gender parity in business. He estimates that women in senior management probably mirror the numbers in the CEIBS executive MBA: low to mid-20s, and much less at the highest levels. According to another source, about 6% of company C-suite officers in China are women — which actually compares favorably to the U.S., where the figure has been estimated at roughly 2%. The example CEIBS sets for China is driven home by the fact that 82% of the women in its Class of 2019 cohort are Chinese.

Juan Fernandez, CEIBS associate dean and MBA program director, knows all about Chinese businesswomen: He married one. The native of Spain came to China in 2000 and met his future wife, Hanning, an entrepreneur and — as fate would have it — eventual CEIBS EMBA. He’s not sure why exactly CEIBS has been so successful in attracting women to its MBA ranks, but he suspects it’s a cultural thing.

“We don’t do anything special to attract women,” Fernandez tells Poets&Quants. “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.”

CURRICULUM SNAPSHOT: A 67-CREDIT, 18-MONTH MBA PROGRAM

CEIBS does not disclose its acceptance rate of either men or women, but it has been estimated at between 33% and 25%. The school attracts roughly 680 applicants per year, so, if we assume the higher acceptance rate and considering the latest cohort numbers 179, we can peg CEIBS’ yield at about 80%. 

The 67-credit program includes compulsory courses totaling 49 credits and 18 credits of electives. There are four concentrations to choose from: Finance, Marketing, Entrepreneurship, and the brand-new Digital Business. The program, which has an August intake, offers five overseas electives to the U.S., Germany, Japan, Malaysia, and Israel. There are also overseas exchange opportunities to 36 top B-schools in 13 countries around the world including Wharton, INSEAD, London Business School, Chicago Booth, and Northwestern Kellogg. 

The curriculum is currently undergoing a bit of upheaval, Fernandez says. A new concentration, Digital Business, was added last year; some 70% of the all-important consulting project had a digital component. In fact, the school is doubling down on experiential learning, with capstone-like courses spread around the curriculum as both core courses and electives. “It’s a matter of demand from the students and from companies,” Fernandez says. “They want graduates that can apply their knowledge.”

RANKINGS GLORY: CHINA ECONOMY GETS CREDIT, BUT CAREER SERVICES STRONG, TOO

CEIBS boasts a 94.5% job offer received rate, an 81.2% career switch rate, and a 108.7% average salary increase for its 2017 grads (new data on the just-graduated 2018 class is expected to be available in about a month). But it is in academic background that CEIBS’ student body has undergone the most interesting evolution. In the current cohort that will graduate in spring 2019, students with a science academic background comprised 41%, only slightly more than those with a business or general management background (37%); two cohorts ago, it was 51%-32% science-business, then in the recently graduated cohort business leapfrogged science, 43.5%-42.9%.

And what about the rankings? Here, too, there have been mixed signals, though you wouldn’t know it to hear Fernandez or any other CEIBS official talk: All the focus at CEIBS in recent weeks has been on the good news of The Financial Times ranking, which put the school at No. 8 globally (and No. 1 in Asia). That’s a nine-point jump in two years to make CEIBS the only Asian school to crack the top 10, enough to make any program director giddy.

“The ranking is a combination of things. It is not just one criterium, it’s complicated,” Fernandez says. “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.”

CEIBS also was named the No. 3 program overall in Forbes’ 2017 Foreign 2-Year B-Schools ranking, behind only London Business School and IESE. Elsewhere, however, CEIBS has been less dominant, landing only third in Asia and 26th overall (down two spots) in the latest Bloomberg Businessweek ranking, and 16th overall (down one spot) and second in Asia (behind No. 13 Singapore) in the 2017 Poets&Quants ranking of international business schools.

On the campus of China Europe International Business School. Marc Ethier photo

OPPORTUNITIES ABROAD & FACULTY WITH INTERNATIONAL FLAVOR

HEC Paris recently signed a strategic partnership deal with two Chinese universities, SUSTech in Shenzhen and Tsinghua University in Beijing, aimed at strengthening academic research, developing executive programs, and creating world-class degrees in such fields as innovation management, entrepreneurship, and creative industries. To which CEIBS’ Fernandez responds: Check out our school’s opportunities abroad before you get too excited about what other schools are doing.

CEIBS offers 120 exchange program spots annually at 30 schools including Wharton, Chicago Booth, Dartmouth Tuck, Northwestern Kellogg, Michigan Ross, Duke Fuqua, London Business School, INSEAD, and IESE, Fernandez notes, as well as coordinated degree programs with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School (MBA/MPH), Tufts University Fletcher School (MBA/MALD), and Cornell University School of Hotel Administration (MBA/MMH). The school has career reciprocity programs (use of resources) with Harvard, LBS, INSEAD, IE, and IESE.

Additionally, despite having a mostly Chinese student body, CEIBS likes to emphasize the international flavor of its faculty, two-thirds of whom are non-Chinese. It’s a faculty with a strong pedigree, with professors hailing from Harvard, Yale, MIT, Wharton, Columbia, LBS, Cambridge, Michigan, and Northwestern, among other elite schools.

EYE ON ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Fernandez says the 18-month MBA program at CEIBS emphasizes the experiential. Terms 1 and 2 (August to December) include foundational instruction, basic functions and skills, optional Mandarin training, and an overseas elective; term 3 (January to March) is basic functions, China module, integration and specialization; term 4 (March to June) is a China module, integration and perspectives; term 5 (June to August) is the internship or specialization, dual-degree option, and an overseas elective; term 6 (September to December) is specialization or exchange; term 7 (January to February) is specialization.

In addition to a raft of other programs like the Program for Company Chairmen, the Sports and Leisure Industry Management Program, and programs tailored for CMOs and CFOs, CEIBS’ MBA director is proud of the school’s entrepreneurship offerings. The school has four dedicated entrepreneurship faculty teaching the entrepreneurship concentration and seven electives, an “eLab” and an Entrepreneurship & Investment Camp, and overseeing two investment funds worth a total 80M RMB ($12M). There’s also an Entrepreneurship Club, entrepreneurship faculty advisor and mentors, and $100M in available funding through Chengwei Venture Fund/HGI Finaves Fund. Among the 22 scholarships CEIBS offers MBAs is one focused solely on entrepreneurship.

“We are very entrepreneurially oriented here at CEIBS,” Fernandez says. “Entrepreneurship and innovation are a big part of what we do. Entrepreneurship is so important to China that it must be important to our school.”

All that is without mentioning CEIBS’ highly ranked executive MBA program, hyped by the school as the “largest in the world” with 750 students annually, which The Financial Times ranked No. 14 in 2017. Part of that annual crop of EMBAs comes out of the small CEIBS campus in Zurich, Switzerland; another part will be based in Accra, Ghana starting this fall.

See next page for a Q&A with CEIBS’ Juan Fernandez, professor and director of the MBA program. It has been edited for length and readability.

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.

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!

DON’T MISS CEIBS OFFERS MBA BOOTCAMPERS ENTRY INTO VAST CHINA BIZ LANDSCAPE

The post CEIBS MBA Director: ‘China Is Hot’ appeared first on Poets&Quants.


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