Helping Those Who Will Benefit Most

The China Europe International Business School's elite executive MBA program helps execs make their outfits even more successful, says Professor Weijiong Zhang

The China Europe International Business School, a collaboration between the Chinese government and the European Union, runs one of the most selective executive MBA programs in China. In 2005, it rejected 1,000 applicants -- two out of every three that applied. Those who win the admissions lottery at CEIBS are an elite bunch. Their average GMAT score is 640 and 70% are CEOs and the rest are senior-level managers.

These aren't just any CEOs, though. Weijiong Zhang, a CEIBS vice-president and a professor of management and entrepreneurship, says the school carefully studies each applicant's company to determine who could benefit most. CEIBS chooses managers who lack the skills to take their fast-growing companies to the next level -- regional, national, or global -- but who meet all other admissions criteria. Weijiong sat down recently with BusinessWeek B-Schools Editor Louis Lavelle in Beijing to talk about what it takes to make the cut.

Why is there so much demand for executive education in China?

Many years ago there was no business education in China. Those people at the top of the company never had any business education. Right now they have problems. They face lots of issues and they need to learn. This is why they come to school. Many American CEOs have some kind of business-education experience. That's the big difference here in China.

With so much demand, how does CEIBS decide who gets in and who doesn't?

The companies that need us most, we help. If the company is going into bankruptcy, we're not going to save it. If the company is successful, but doesn't know how to do the next step, we will help.

How do the teaching methods used in China differ from those used in the U.S.?

They [Chinese students] pay high respect to professors. This is not the case in the U.S. Anything the professor says, that's the law. The people here think the faculty is always right, so we tell faculty here that you should be very careful, you should be well-prepared. People look at faculty as the authority.

If the faculty perform well in the class, the students will talk. Here I'm just a facilitator and I lead [them] through the discovery process. 'You guys know more than I do because you are all CEOs. I know only one thing: You know everything.' This is my way of teaching, and I think many professors teach this way.

With 550 executives graduating from the CEIBS program each year, and many more graduating from other executive MBA programs, what will be the impact on the Chinese economy in the years to come?

Obviously it's huge. Before the transition, people still operated the company but the way they operated the company was different. Now, because of the shift to a market economy, those people have to learn how to run the company with a market orientation. They have to learn. The old way of doing things is no good.

Right now those companies [that send students to CEIBS] are key players in China. Not only are they competing domestically, they're competing internationally. That's 550 companies that have a new brain, a new thought, injected in the company. That changes their business practice.

How so?

[In the past] they were told what to do. The government told them you are going to produce 10,000 TV sets. Where will the materials come from? The government says you build these TVs, the government will give you the materials. How many people will I employ here? The government tells you: This is the quota.

Now it's different. The government is saying the company is in your own hands. Sony (SNE ) is coming in, Panasonic is coming in -- you have to compete with Sony and Panasonic. If you cannot compete, the company dies. They have to really think about how to get to market -- branding, distribution channels, materials, technology. All those things they have to think about.