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June 6, 2011 12:07 am

Dean brings a different brand of leadership

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John Quelch

‘Global dean’ John Quelch was eager to take on his new role at the helm of Ceibs as quickly as possible

When John Quelch was named the new dean of Ceibs, he was eager to get on with the job.

“There was no point hanging around,” he quips. While a gradual transition might be suitable for a university, he says, it is totally unsuited to a global and competitive business school. Waiting months before assuming the deanship would carry a risk of losing momentum.

With this in mind, the winds of change are already blowing around the school’s Shanghai and Beijing campuses. Prof Quelch, a renowned marketing and branding specialist, now refers to the school by spelling out the acronym rather than the until now traditional pronunciation of “seebs”.

The natural question is to ask what the letters stand for, he says. China Europe International Business School encapsulates everything that the school represents – a partnership between Europe and China.

Prof Quelch has also come up with a phrase that he says underscores the school’s positioning: China depth, global breadth.

“No international school can match us in terms of Chinese depth and no Chinese school in terms of global breadth,” he says.

Prof Quelch has been described as a global dean, having served at the helm of London Business School before returning to Harvard Business School as senior associate dean. Now he is working on his third continent.

Although in his role at Ceibs, Prof Quelch describes himself as “the new kid on the block”, he says having had so much previous experience does give him a certain authority.

“There is a sense that someone with such broad experience in excellent institutions should be able to offer a broad credibility,” he says. He works closely with his Zhang Weijiong, his co-dean, as well as Pedro Nueno, the president, and Zhu Xiaoming, executive president. “The level of support has been absolute,” he says, and he finds it a huge benefit to be able to air ideas freely with them.

Another advantage of having a wealth of leadership experience, he says, is that he is well aware of not only where there might be potential “booby traps” but also how to avoid them.

But he is clearly relishing his new stewardship. “Business schools, like soccer teams, are global in scope and reputation and it is fascinating to be in a leadership position in a business school in China ... the most exciting growth is in Asia, it is really tremendous.”

Prof Quelch takes on the deanship of Ceibs at a time of enormous change in China. Chinese government policy to encourage more state and privately owned enterprises to expand internationally and invest overseas dovetails well with the school’s mission, he says. If China is to succeed, then a large cadre of well-trained Chinese managers – managers with a global perspective – is needed, he says.

And, just as China is making the transition from a production to a knowledge economy, so to is Ceibs moving from being an “idea disseminator to an idea creator”. As part of this, Prof Quelch says the school will be placing an increased emphasis on research – applied high-impact research that has managerial relevance. To borrow a phrase from the new dean of Harvard Business School, Nitin Nohria, Prof Quelch says he wants to “chase ideas, not volume”.

The thirst for management education in China is so great that he says it would be a straightforward task to add large numbers of students to the school’s EMBA and MBA programmes, but this is not the route he wishes to travel.

His job, he says, is to help the school and give it the necessary confidence to change from a teaching-focused institution to becoming a teaching and research-focused institution. Any research “will be broader rather than narrower”.

On the teaching front, “carefully designed modules of case studies” will be on the agenda but, given what Prof Quelch describes as “the increasing skittishness of many global companies in terms of the level of analysis”, the dean envisages obtaining case studies from those Chinese companies listed on the Hong Kong, US and UK exchanges where “there is a measure of disclosure and data in the public domain”.

The increased emphasis on research will mean an increase in faculty numbers. Currently, the school has about 60 full-time faculty for 1,000 graduates, compared with Harvard’s 200 faculty. Although Ceibs does have visiting faculty, he says “you cannot build on and expand long term if you have that imbalance between visitors and full-time faculty”.

Ceibs faculty (data collected from the Financial Times MBA surveys from 2004 to 2011*)

* data collected in preceding year

The data include tenured and tenured-track professors, full-time lecturers and joint appointments with another department within the university. Part-time, temporary, adjunct, administrative or visiting faculty are not included.

How to do this? Prof Quelch believes that Ceibs is in a strong position when it comes to attracting well-known names. The most recent appointment is George Yip, the marketing and strategy expert and former dean of the Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University in the Netherlands. Advertisements have been placed for an additional 30 professors that might well bear fruit. At the very least, says Prof Quelch, such advertisements create a buzz within the business school community about what is happening at Ceibs. Moreover, the recruitment drive has prompted many existing faculty to “up their own game”, he says. But, nevertheless, there is “a collaborative atmosphere [at Ceibs] and considerable un­animity”, he adds.

When it comes to attracting renowned professors, part of Prof Quelch’s armoury lies in Ceibs’ executive education. Open and tailored programmes account for $30m of business, with custom clients such as IBM and Novartis. Custom education is especially important, he says, because it allows faculty to immerse themselves in projects and provides deep insights. There will be renewed emphasis on executive education. “We are making strides internationally to ensure the attractiveness of these opportunities to faculty,” he adds.

In his quest for high-calibre faculty, Prof Quelch anticipates casting a wide and proactive net. There are many faculty willing to move with their families from Europe and North America to China. “I believe there are more faculty who have the wisdom to live and develop their careers in Asia as the role of the global economy [in Asia] grows. We have to do some serious academic train spotting.”

. . .

But, although faculty numbers will swell, the dean has no intention of increasing the school’s footprint outside China. Ceibs already has a foothold in Ghana and Prof Quelch acknowledges that some of the Ceibs faculty “cannot see the point of Ghana”. However, ever the branding expert, he says that when he reels off the school’s locations and mentions Africa, “there is a dramatic difference in recognition, especially to Europeans”.

But expansion inside China is another matter. Prof Quelch is mindful of Harvard, which ignored California, thereby allowing the development of Stanford Graduate School of Business. “It would be foolish of Ceibs not to recognise the importance of the west [of China] by offering EMBA programmes, but this will be the only expansion on the degree side.”

Energetic and focused, Prof Quelch clearly relishes the challenges ahead. He first visited China in 1981 and brings a 30-year perspective on the country to his role. “Having been there [China] many times, I have a very good comfort level with the culture as well as with the school,” he says. And the time is now right for change. “Ceibs is open to change; the appetite for change is palpable.”

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