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While European business schools continue to investigate ways of moving into the China market, one Chinese school, Ceibs, which was set up in Shanghai 20 years ago, has turned the tables by acquiring a European business school.

Ceibs has bought the Lorange Institute in Zurich, which was established in 2009 by the eponymous Peter Lorange, who was the leading light of Lausanne-based IMD for 15 years before setting up his own school. The acquisition has been rumoured since the two schools announced a strategic alliance based on executive development early this year.

The move by Ceibs into Europe is particularly ironic in that the school was set up in Shanghai by the European Commission, under an agreement with China’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation (Moftec, now called The Ministry of Commerce).

Ceibs has paid CHF16.5m for the Institute, the money coming from alumni and friends of the school, including Pan Xueping, a Ceibs EMBA, whose Jinsheng Group has acquired the property that houses the Zurich school.

Ding Yuan, who has been dean of Ceibs since June 1, says the Chinese school has two major aims in Europe. The first is to organise systematic study tours for Chinese managers whose companies want to expand into Europe. He envisages several hundred Ceibs EMBA students visiting Europe every year as a result of the acquisition.

The second aim is to help European companies, particularly those that have been acquired by Chinese organisations, to understand the cultural implications of alliances with Chinese companies. “A lot of Chinese manufacturers are looking at medium-sized German and Swiss companies for collaboration,” says Prof Ding.

Although Switzerland operates outside the European Union, Prof Ding says this neutrality “is an advantage, not an inconvenience”.

A further attraction of the school is that it has no full-time academic staff of its own, says Prof Ding, which will make for a smooth transition of ownership. “We don’t want to inherit faculty with a different culture.”

While business schools are often criticised for not practising what they preach, Prof Ding says that Ceibs will operate a “light touch” approach to the Lorange Institute, which Ceibs’ research shows is the best way. “In order to operate successfully overseas, for a Chinese company it is better to keep the current structure and then bring more business to grow it.”

As a result, Prof Lorange will continue to advise the school for the next three years, and it will continue to be called the Lorange Institute until the end of 2016.

The acquisition will mean that Ceibs has a presence in three continents, as it already runs programmes, including an EMBA and a women’s leadership programme, in Accra, in Ghana.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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