Integrity 101, Shanghai-style

As the first English MBA program in China, CEIBS has set the pattern for others to follow, says Dean Rolf Cremer

CEIBS's MBA program welcomed its first class in 1994 under a partnership between the European Commission and Shanghai's municipal government. Its educational partners are the European Foundation for Management Development and Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Classes are taught on CEIBS's own campus, which was designed by famed China-born architect I. M. Pei and includes numerous high-tech touches, including high-speed Internet connections in virtually every room and a 300-seat auditorium with simultaneous translation technology.

CEIBS aims to be among the world's top five business schools in 10 years. The school's dean, Rolf Cremer, sat down recently with BusinessWeek in Shanghai to talk about what it is that sets CEIBS apart from other b-schools in China.

CEIBS was the first English MBA program in China. What advantage did this head start give you?

In the early 1990s, China decided 'We're back' after 300 years in the doldrums, embarking in no time on what the rest of the world took the entire 20th century to accomplish. With no concept of modern education, they hit solid granite very fast.

The country's leaders had three choices: develop a domestic university system, bring back people you sent overseas, or borrow the capacity to grow future business leaders. They quickly decided Option Three was the most feasible, and CEIBS became the official model for modern management education and research. We are the benchmark, and this is our raison d'etre.

You advertise your program as an international MBA. If domestic programs are now emulating yours, how does CEIBS distinguish itself?

By international standards, our curriculum is rather conventional because China is still very undersupplied in generalists. But I often have deans from schools in other parts of China calling, asking 'Why did you do this this way? How could I improve that?' We also have our faculty, 70% of whom are from overseas. And we always have visiting professors, all from overseas.

There are numerous U.S. business schools now offering degrees in collaboration with Chinese universities, including several right here in Shanghai. Why should students choose CEIBS rather than an American university degree program in Shanghai?

A lot of the international business schools in Shanghai have no local content. Their professors don't live here and they're really not interested in China.

We're at the opposite end of the spectrum. We have courses that are obviously China-related, like Chinese Accounting Practice or Chinese Economy. But more important is a softer concept. We have 29 full-time faculty members who live here, work here, teach and research year round here. Our students are going to run companies in China. They need to understand China.

What is the most important lesson that CEIBS teaches China's future business leaders?

There's a strong undercurrent in China that businessmen don't want to hear about ethics. They just want to get on with it and make money. But business is the real driving force of a modern society, and business leaders must understand how important integrity is.

Our task is to prepare our students for this enormous responsibility they're taking on. If we don't succeed, things could be quite brutal. Twenty percent of your students are from abroad. Why have such a quota?

Our Chinese students have sheer intellectual firepower. They've all gone to the best universities in China and have GMAT scores that top 688. What they don't have is management experience. So the foreign students' GMAT scores are lower, but their management skills are superior. We always take into account class dynamics so we interview every candidate.

What can CEIBS offer foreigners that they won't find at a university back home?

People outside China in the academic world seriously underestimate what is happening here. Picture this: There is a big pool full of water and children swimming. The problem is that on top of the 3-meter platform, there is a very fat boy. Well, that boy is China and he's jumped. It's going to affect everybody else in the pool....

It's to the detriment of foreign countries to underestimate China's potential. It's happening whether we like it or not, and saying it's not fair does't solve the problem.

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