California Meets Shanghai

With Jiao Tong University, USC's Marshall School seeks to leverage China while offering a Global Executive MBA that's similar to home

As a collaboration with the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, the Global Executive MBA Program is true to its name. Only 60% of its 52 students hold a Chinese passport, and it's one of only a few programs in all of China that require students to travel abroad.

Sixteen students in its first class set to graduate in January commute from outside mainland China, with the number increasing to 29 for the newest class -- including six students flying in from Southern California. Director John Van Fleet says that's one of the program's strengths, and he should know: he's studying toward his own EMBA degree right now. Van Fleet sat down with BusinessWeek recently in Shanghai to explain why he chose the Marshall program, and why other should, too. Following are edited excerpts of the conversation:

Marshall's Shanghai program opened in 2004, making it something of a latecomer to management education in China. What made USC decide the right time was now?

We're in a rare position here. We have the opportunity to do something that's good for USC -- a lot of fun, excitement, and growth for our faculty -- but also to help them develop one of the greatest business stories of the millennium. To be able to do all of that makes you feel pretty proud.

You've partnered with Shanghai's Jiao Tong University. How does Marshall make use of this relationship?

It would be absurd to be in China and not leverage China. So we have at least one lecture session in our five-day class sessions taught by a faculty member from [Jiao Tong's] B-school who presents not theory, but a real Chinese case that applies to what we are studying.

Visiting USC professors, however, teach the majority of your courses. Is the curriculum in Shanghai identical to the one in Los Angeles?

The curriculum is not only identical, but all the same faculty teach the same courses. There are several programs in China that have faculty flying in from the States, but we actually fly in two at a time for the integration component.

There's a lot of interaction between what the various professors teach, and you can't achieve that unless you have more than one professor here. So it's an expensive business model, but it's great for the students.

You even have students who commute from Southern California to participate in the program. What does Shanghai offer these students that they can't get at USC in Los Angeles?

We invite executive speakers from Shanghai. In August or September, we will host a commercial manager for GE Advanced Materials (GE ). Born and raised in China, she'll talk about her business in greater China.

We also take students to see how business is being done in China. Yesterday, we took them to Three on the Bund, a local real estate development. The general manager spoke to us about how they structure the business, how they started, how the properties interact. The HR manager talked to us about how to manage service quality in China, which is really hard. That's the way in which we get a local component to what we do.

At $49,000, your tuition is $10,000 more than almost every other program in Shanghai. Why choose Marshall over a local, less expensive program?

Getting a degree from a local school is great for those specifically focused on China. It's the difference between buying a Cadillac vs. a Rolls Royce. They're both great cars, but they're different.

I have a slide in my [admissions] presentation where I say to people if you are comparing on price, you probably not doing the best thing for yourself. You should really compare on return on investment.

Has Marshall run into any obstacles in its first year?

Most of our early problems were logistics and communications that we've been able to iron out. We did have, in the first two sessions or so, a reluctant cafeteria staff because they just hadn't served the kind of food we wanted to give our people, and we worked to develop a different menu. We actually bring in food from outside -- tomorrow we'll have lunch catered by the best Indian restaurant in the city, Petalia Pearl, and we'll also have Thai or Western food brought in some days.

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