Deeper Knowledge for Senior Execs

The China Europe International Business School gives managers an opportunity to perfect their skills -- and reflect on the purpose of their lives

With more than 550 students, the China Europe International Business School prides itself as having the world's largest executive MBA program. CEIBS, a collaboration between the Chinese government and the European Union, has been training executives in private, state-owned, and joint-venture enterprises since 1995.

With academic tracks in finance, marketing, global business, and general management, the EMBA offers something for everyone. And since 4,000 alumni are in top executive positions at leading companies throughout China, students who enroll in the program become part of one of the most powerful and influential networks in the country.

Neng Liang, director of the program and a professor of management, sat down recently with BusinessWeek to talk about what makes a student CEIBS material. Here are edited excerpts of the conversation.

Your students are often senior executives at China's biggest enterprises. Why should these busy people give up valuable time at the office to study at CEIBS?

Our students manage multibillion-[yuan] businesses, but I hear all the time from them how coursework helped them evaluate decisions better on a daily basis. For companies as big as theirs tend to be, there are cases when making one decision better is going to save them the cost of our tuition. So, in the long run, being here is bringing in more than enough to compensate for any time lost.

Still, if students are already running the show, what can CEIBS teach them?

Students come with rich personal experience, but they don't have the theoretical guidance for self-reflection. They need to know the latest management theories before they can understand why they've succeeded in the past, that it's not just a chance event. Or maybe they've made it but can't see what it's cost them. Success and quality of life don't go hand in hand, so we give them the tools to ask: "What is my life for?"

How does such self-reflection improve them as business leaders?

In China, education is traditionally seen as an end, not a means to an end. CEIBS prefers to see education as a way of life. We emphasize finding out how you fit in the world. Students get better insight not only into China's system but into what China means to the rest of the world. There's also the social benefit of meeting other executives, finding comrades with the same values.

What are the values a CEIBS student finds in his or her peers? What importance do these traits play in the admissions process?

In selecting students, we look at leadership potential. Candidates must be competent, have accomplished a lot, but also must look beyond personal achievement. They should have ambition to do something for the country. To have some sort of commitment beyond personal wealth.

Have you seen these qualities come to fruition after students' two years at CEIBS?

Definitely. One of our classes donated over 1 million [yuan] to start a development zone in Inner Mongolia to foster small businesses there. Another donated money to a local primary school. But they know that money is only one element of education, so they continue to make sure that the school is truly improving, has better teachers, a stronger curriculum.

Is life in your EMBA program always so serious?

We have plenty of social activities. Some are related to learning, including business forums or visiting companies. Others are purely social, such as hiking or karaoke. In 2003 we went on a European study tour and got to go to the Chinese ambassador's house. We met Prince Felipe of Spain, and the students got to ask him all about royal life.

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