Hellmut Schütte: ' ‘Why go to Philadelphia to visit the past when you can go to Shanghai to visit the future?’
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If there is one thing that Hellmut Schütte dislikes it is hearing Ceibs described as a Chinese business school. “We’re not a Chinese business school, we’re an international business school in China,” insists Prof Schütte, who has been dean of Ceibs since February. “I underline that.”

But then Prof Schütte is a master of counter-intuitive thinking, with a take on business schools that would send a shiver down the spine of many a business academic. “Business schools are also professional service firms,” he begins. “Professors don’t want to hear this – they hate it.”

It is a theme the tall, former business executive easily warms to. Business schools should emulate KPMG, he says – a single organisation, but one that operates in countries all around the world, bringing together global practice and local practice. “I can see no reason why business schools shouldn’t do this and why no one takes this up as a challenge – especially with the latest technology. The market is open to this.”

Instead, business schools spend all their time organising and sending students on overseas trips, he complains. “This is just scratching the surface. If we were not business schools, but schools for business, we would see this much more clearly.”

His logic is impeccable. Thirty years ago no one would have believed that consultancies would become global players and 20 years ago auditors were still locally based. Just 10 years ago it would have seemed incredible that law firms could have expanded across national boundaries. But these days all have become global players, says Prof Schütte. And like these firms, he says, “business schools are very much dependent on economies of scale.”

So, will Ceibs, which was set up through an initiative between the Chinese government and the EU, take on this mantle? In spite of the school having three campuses in China – Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen – and activities in the Ghanaian capital Accra, Prof Schütte has his doubts. “With our dual mind of Europe and China we would have a very good starting point. And we’re living in a time when China invests outside [the country]. But with China you don’t carry this idea of quality with you. China is not known for high-class goods – not yet.”

That said, Ceibs is no stranger to scale. It has arguably the largest Executive MBA – an MBA for working managers – in the world, with about 750 new students enrolling every year, making the EMBA the “cash cow”, says the dean. “In China students pay incredibly high fees and there are no problems with that.” Ceibs charges about €90,000 for the degree, in line with many top US and European schools. “When you look at the per capita income of people in China this is incredible. But it shows what is happening in China.”

And there is no sense that the school has difficulty filling its classrooms. The school could double its intake of highly qualified Chinese students, says the dean, though the strategy now is to recruit more international students. The school is not looking for MBA students who want to live and work in China, but those who want to study in China and return to the US and Europe, understanding the Chinese economy and culture. “Why do you want to go to Philadelphia to visit the past when you can go to Shanghai to visit the future?” asks the German-born dean, who has spent decades in Asia, most notably Singapore.

“To my mind, it is a fantastic opportunity.”

Ceibs in 2013 is in a very different place from where it was just a decade ago, believes the dean. The numbers tell part of the story: 10 years ago the school had only visiting professors; today it has 70 full-time academic staff. And the plan is to increase that number by 15 or 20.

With the full-time faculty Ceibs is also planting roots in research and rebalancing professorial workloads. But teaching will always be important, says Prof Schütte. “We have to earn the money we spend – we don’t get any subsidies.” Neither does the school have an endowment.

But with an income of more than €100m, and spanking new premises in Beijing and Shanghai, the expanded Shanghai campus boasts its own pyramid, designed by the architectural firm of Ieoh Ming Pei, who designed the pyramid at the Louvre in Paris – money seems to be the least of Prof Schütte’s problems.

Finding a central role in a world dominated by US business schools may prove more difficult. But Prof Schütte is up for the challenge. The role of Ceibs, he argues, is to challenge the “power of the dogma” from US business school research and practice. “I question the American model that so much assumes that working in the States is like working everywhere else. Very few things are comparable in China. China sucks you in. The intensity of China is completely different from Singapore. There are no holidays, no weekends …I love that.”

The shareholder model is also “rather one-sided”, he points out. “A company is more than just a balance sheet …What we can bring is a comparative perspective. Can a government-dominated economy be at least as successful as one driven by capitalist forces? One has to ask the question.”

Some state-owned enterprises are highly successful, he points out, citing the example of Singapore Airlines. “I’m always fascinated when people talk about state-owned enterprises and equate that with badly run. It’s not true.”

The point is not just one of academic interest, he says. “When you have senior leaders [in class], whether American or British, they are interested in these questions. If you compete in an open market it is definitely an alternative to shareholders that consist of hedge funds and other short-term providers of capital. I would like this to be much more openly discussed.”

Of course, Prof Schütte is well aware such a viewpoint might be counter-productive. “We don’t want to be seen as a proponent of Chinese culture and Chinese power but I think Ceibs would offer an alternative thinking to western schools. That at least would be my wish.”

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