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My ambition when I started my EMBA at China Europe International Business School (Ceibs) in Shanghai in March 2010 was to challenge my ways of thinking and keep my intellect going. It is easy to get stuck in modes of working and I want to be on the cutting edge of business.
I have been living in greater China (the mainland, Hong Kong or Taiwan) for more than 18 years and am fluent in Mandarin and some Cantonese. The way I think has become quite Asian.
I have been with Standard Chartered Bank, primarily based in Shanghai, for 12 years. Prior to that I worked for a Canadian bank in Taipei and the Canadian Consulate in Guangzhou. I graduated in 1995 from the University of Victoria in Canada with a degree in Chinese studies and international business. Chinese studies is popular with foreigners now, but even today there are relatively few foreigners who have lived in China for as long as I have.
You have to be flexible. In the west, things are much more black and white. In China they are still finding out where their line between black and white will be. You have to be prepared to go with the flow – entrepreneurs have to be prepared to take more risks. Everything here has rules, but at the same time, the rules can be very flexible. You have to get used to dealing in that sort of ambiguous environment.
One of the great things about Ceibs is that many students are Chinese. To succeed in China, you have to understand the Chinese way of doing things compared with other Asian countries, and being immersed with Chinese executives as classmates helps to sharpen your sensitivity and cultural empathy. At the same time, since I am in the international class, I have classmates from Europe, North and Latin America, and other parts of Asia. It is a great “learning lab” for cross-cultural leadership skills.
At Ceibs they have a strong focus on business in China and leadership development. My hope was that I would become a better leader – at work, obviously, but I also hoped learning such skills might help me in other areas of my life, even becoming a better parent and local community leader.
I had been thinking about doing the programme for about two to three years. But I had to make sure my husband was on board because it is so demanding – I have an 11-year-old son and I was worried about giving up even more of my time. Also, about halfway through the programme, I was promoted to country credit officer for wholesale banking for China, which was obviously great, but there was a worry that I would not be able to do everything well.
One of my motivations for doing the course was to prove to myself that I could manage my time and to try and create some kind of balance. And so far it seems to have worked. What I have found is that when you have committed to something, then you squeeze the time out. It has been a real boost to my confidence.
It might sound grandiose, but I also hope to apply the skills I have learnt and the connections I have made while doing my EMBA to make an impact not only at my company, but also in my husband’s birthplace, Zambia, in southern Africa. He works in the textile industry in east China. He started off with very little and has become successful – he has ambitions to return home and I want to be able to help him make a difference.
I am very lucky that my company is sponsoring me, though in some ways it adds to the pressure – if you have support from them, then you really feel you need to deliver on the EMBA programme and also at work. It sometimes feels as if I am being pulled in 10 different directions.
The Ceibs EMBA is an excellent opportunity for networking. Among the students are government contacts and people involved in state-owned enterprises who are making inroads into international markets. Making contacts in this sector is important.
I want to act as a bridge between Chinese and western business, and I have found that Ceibs gives me a good platform to develop that skill. It can be difficult for a westerner to find a way to truly connect with the Chinese, and Ceibs is a great place to try out how to do just that.