February 16, 2009 12:04 am

Access to a superpower

In March 2007, I was accepted by Tsinghua University, Beijing, to study for my business masters. I will shortly graduate with a Tsinghua MBA and a certificate in management science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology . I believe I am the first UK citizen to study for an MBA in China.

I am 23 with a degree in Russian and Polish from Oxford University and have worked in finance in London and Moscow. In 2006, I was in Beijing and decided to visit the famous university of Tsinghua. As I sat in my hotel lobby browsing the university’s website, I came across a link to Tsinghua’s international MBA programme, the IMBA. The rest, as they say, is history.

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Why an MBA? Why China? Why Tsinghua? I knew I needed the professional skills and training an MBA would give me. Looking at the courses on offer, I saw that I could build on my passions for finance, strategy and entrepreneurship. Some friends had set up a successful consultancy business in China. Could that be me in a few years?

Maximilian Johnson

Maximilian Johnson is flying the flag for China as he outlines the benefits of studying for an MBA at Tsinghua University in Beijing

More importantly, what would the Chinese MBA experience offer me over a typical western one? The more I thought about it, the more obvious it became.

China has the world’s attention. Its double-digit growth in gross domestic product last year is statistical proof of the ongoing changes. And what better way to get to grips with the next superpower than to rub shoulders with its future business elite, learn the etiquette and demonstrate my commitment to China than to take my MBA at a Chinese university?

As I head into my fourth and final semester, I can look back on my year in China and my semester on exchange at Stern School of Business, New York, and make some comparisons. The structure of the two MBA programmes is identical. Core subjects are replaced by specialisations by the end of the first year. There are finals, group projects, case studies, company visits, recruitment events and countless networking opportunities. At Tsinghua, which has AACSB and Equis accreditation, all communication is in English and Chinese. On one side of my name card is my English name and on the other my Chinese.

The dedication of the students is of the highest degree, as is the quality of the professors, who pair knowledge from their working lives with modern theory.

Every effort is made to facilitate class discussion and interaction. I might be in a team with people from Hong Kong, mainland China, Japan or Korea. As well as the techniques of group discussion, we learn how to adapt to different cultures, what is polite and what is appropriate – whether it is winning a business deal or a lifelong friendship. The western way of doing business is not the only way.

Opportunities

In short, the Tsinghua MBA offers everything you need and something extra – that ability to bridge a communication gap and be a successful businessperson in multicultural surroundings.

In spite of the gloom hanging over recruitment this year, I am optimistic. From internships in private equity and investment banking in Hong Kong last summer, I learnt that Asia continues to grow faster than the west, and opportunities are still there for the taking.

Whether it be in finance in Hong Kong or consulting in Shanghai, companies are looking for talent with regional knowledge, language fluency and a western educational and professional background.

If you want to go it alone in business, you have a network of classmates and alumni, people you can trust. In Asia, personal relationships must be strong before a business relationship can develop.

For my Chinese classmates, the opportunity cost of studying in the US for two years and losing networking time in China is too great. And many international students who graduated this year have found jobs in the branches of multinational corporations in China.

Return on investment

This is in part thanks to career services and in part thanks to the individuals’ networking abilities. With drive and passion, you can network your way in, but you have to put in face time.

Recruiting is significantly easier if you speak Mandarin. Tsinghua offers lessons and I studied with a private tutor for one hour each day. If you can master Chinese, you will not only make more friends but business people will also respect you. Few recruiters would interview you without the language ability.

When I asked myself if an MBA from a US school would address my needs, I found that it would not and I predict that many more international students will come to Tsinghua for their MBA.

It offers a fantastic return on investment. In a year I have built up a network of global business contacts. It is also a truly international MBA. I have studied in Beijing and New York, and done internships in Hong Kong and Bangkok. As companies look to expand in emerging markets, they will need MBAs who have both the business knowledge and the ability to navigate multicultural situations. This is the advantage of an MBA from a business school in China.

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