US and European companies recognised a decade ago that if they wanted to expand into overseas markets such as China or Brazil, then recruiting US or European-educated MBA graduates from those countries paid dividends.
Now Chinese companies are learning the same lesson. They are recruiting international MBA students from China’s top business schools to work in China for a period and then spearhead the company’s overseas expansion plans. Big Chinese brands such as Lenovo, the computer manufacturer, as well as the Chinese investment banks, are all converts.
However, as yet few companies are hiring non-Chinese graduates from Chinese business schools systematically, says Maximilian Johnson, vice-president of the British Chamber of Commerce in China.
As the first British student on the Tsinghua University MBA in 2007, Mr Johnson says more international managers are “having an international career with China as part of it”. However the immediate pay-off enjoyed by MBA graduates from top US schools is harder to achieve in Asia. The value comes elsewhere, he says.
“People look at my resumé and say ‘There is something different’.” There are benefits that are more difficult to quantify, he adds. “The working challenges are fascinating and you have to do them in a different language and in a different culture.”
Joo-Ohk Yi (South Korea). Ceibs, MBA 2010. Team manager, strategy and planning, Tencent Korea.
When Joo-Ohk Yi joined Ceibs in 2008, she had one goal. “I focused on networking with my Chinese classmates. I wanted to check out what it would be like to work in China.”
She was recruited by Tencent, the internet messaging and games company. After a matter of months working in China, she was relocated to Seoul to help mastermind the growing online games business.
Educated largely in the US, Ms Yi found a Chinese MBA an exciting experience. “It was the China environment, the China cases … it was just the exposure to Chinese professors.”
Elijah Degen(US). Tsinghua, IMBA 2008. WW digital marketing operations director, Lenovo.
For Elijah Degen, studying for an MBA in China was all about gaining some experience outside the US.
After graduating, he worked with Chinese start-ups before joining Lenovo at its Beijing headquarters, where he was the only non-Chinese member of a Chinese team. “I brought in a different perspective.”
Today he works for Lenovo in Raleigh, North Carolina, but believes that he will always have some perspective on emerging markets.
Studying for an MBA in China should be part of a long-term strategy, he says.
“What I realised was that it was not going to be an immediate pay-off. It was a life choice. It is really about what are your goals, who are you and what are your levels of curiosity and tenacity?”