China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) ranked 11th on the Financial Times’ Global MBA rankings 2007 – the first China-based school to join the ranks of elite MBA programs this year. Associate Dean Professor Lydia Price of CEIBS talks about MBA trends and offers advice for prospective MBA students looking to enroll in programs on the mainland.
Q: How has your MBA applicant pool evolved over the years?
A: There are really a couple of issues; one has to do with changes in the economy. As the Chinese economy changes, the people looking for an MBA education change, in terms of both their entry profile and their career goals. In the past, the economy was primarily based on manufacturing and very little else, so most of our candidates came out of manufacturing, or trade. Now there are more possibilities for people to work in services in areas such as finance, marketing, consulting, supply chain, and logistics. We are now getting people who worked in those areas for a couple of years and are coming into the program wanting to switch industries, switch careers or go out again into the same careers, starting at a much higher level than where they left off before the MBA.
Q: What industries do you feel have had the most significant impact on the increase in MBA applications?
A: Certainly the service sector, since it has been a later sector to develop in the Chinese economy. I’ve already mentioned finance and consulting, but we are also getting many more people coming in from retailing or fashion industries, media industries. All of these industries were later than manufacturing to open up for local and international investment and development. In recent years, we’ve seen the biggest changes there. Also going forward, you will continue to see big changes there.
Q: Has language been a barrier for MBA applicants?
A: Because our program is in the English language, in the past we often had to choose people who had either language training or maybe international business training from university. That meant we weren’t getting a lot of people from science and engineering, the technical areas, because their English language skills were not strong enough to be able to survive the English in our program. But that’s not really so true anymore. We are getting more applicants with undergraduate training or work experience in science and engineering, who have strong English language capabilities. So primarily the two things are the changes in the economy and the language ability of the overall population.
Q: Is there a lack of entrepreneurial programs in China’s MBA programs?
A: This is part of a development in our own management education industry. In the past, the understanding of entrepreneurial behavior was really centered on new ventures. Certainly in regions where you had a lot of new ventures based on technology development, e.g., Silicon Valley in northern California, the nearby business schools quickly embraced entrepreneurship and added it to their curricula, and the focus tended to be on the small business startups and venture capital, and the finance side went along with that. Business schools now, have a broader perspective: Entrepreneurship is not just in small firms and startups. Big firms, established firms, traditional firms need entrepreneurial managers.
Q: What should prospective students look for when evaluating schools?
A: The things that you are looking for are the faculty: Do they have an expertise and interest in the area that you want to know about? [Look at] the other students who are studying there, what is their background and interests, are they likely to be interesting classmates and can you learn from them? What is the job placement history within that industry? Look at what kind of recruiters come to the school, and whether they have a clear idea of what is going on there. Look at the curriculum: Does it really deliver the kinds of courses that they are looking for?
Q: What advice would you give prospective students considering an MBA on the mainland from either an accredited or non-accredited school?
A: I think [students] want to be clear in what is the strength and weaknesses of the school. One of the mistakes students make at all MBA programs, not just ones that are not accredited is that they really don’t understand that programs have personalities and profiles. They think an MBA is just an MBA. I would advise all students to first figure out what is the profile of the different programs that they are considering, and then see whether that matches what they are looking for in terms of their career.
Q: What does your school look for in an MBA applicant?
A: I think what we are looking for largely is long-run potential. We’re hoping our MBA admits will go on and be leaders in their industries or country. We are looking for the kinds of potential for skills and characteristics needed of a senior business leader or manager. The ability to solve problems, that means people have to be really able to identify the relevant aspects of a problem, have certain analytic skills, know what’s important. They have to be flexible and open-minded in searching for solutions, so they have to be willing to listen and hear what other people are saying. They should be able to lead, be willing and able to take managed risk, take charge of the situation, change it and make something happen.
Q: How do you assess the potential of your MBA candidates?
A: Certainly the ability to communicate is extremely important. That is partly language. For our MBA, we certainly pay attention to English language skill. But more than language, it is also the ability to hear what other people are saying, to present ideas in a way that they can understand, and to very rapidly get to the heart of the issue, very clearly state what’s important here so that people can catch you real thinking. General communication skills and the ability to work with people, the abillity to emphatize, read body language well as hear what people are saying, work in teams, compromise when it is necessary, but be firm when you really want to push an idea forward. Those are all long-run skills that people will need [in management].