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China Europe International Business School was an ambitious undertaking from the beginning. Established in 1994 as a not-for-profit joint venture between Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the European Foundation for Management Development, it was an integral part of China-Europe economic relations at the time.

Both the Chinese government and the European Commission, the two parties that had worked out the agreement under which Ceibs was set up, hoped it would help integrate the country and its companies with the wider world.

Seventeen years later, Ceibs has outperformed all of those expectations. It has become not only China’s top-ranked business school but has also built the largest executive MBA programme in the world, with about 800 students a year. Roughly 10,000 students enrol in the executive education programmes every year, and last year’s MBA class had 180 students.

The school’s alumni include 1,500 chief executives and top-level decision-makers, of whom 47 per cent work in manufacturing, 17 per cent in the IT industry and the rest in a range of other sectors.

This expansion is partly fuelled by the rapid economic rise of China, which has become a magnet for both money and people.

“As China takes an increasingly central role on the world stage, emerging as a global leader at the Group of 20 and other international decision-making bodies, Ceibs is extremely well placed to attract the world’s very best,” says John Quelch, vice-president and dean.

While 92 per cent of the participants in the executive education programmes are Chinese, 44 per cent of MBA students last year were from outside mainland China, highlighting the school’s global appeal.

Ceibs has campuses in Shanghai and Beijing as well as facilities in Shenzhen, the manufacturing base next to the Hong Kong border.

Two years ago, it started offering EMBA courses in Ghana, which have attracted mainly Ghanaian and Nigerian participants, and last year it added executive education programmes there too. All African EMBA students have to visit the Shanghai campus for the final part of the course.

Ceibs sees its unique strength in offering “China depth, global breadth” – a combination of world-class business management education with expertise on China.

But the school has changed with the development of the country’s business environment. “In the early days, 70 per cent of our clients came from multinationals and 30 per cent from local Chinese companies,” says Hobbs Liu, assistant president and director of executive education. “However, over the years, as Chinese companies became more successful in the domestic market and began to explore the possibilities of going abroad, they also recognised that talent was a critical factor for sustainable success.”

As a result, the ratio has reversed, and 70 per cent of Ceibs’ executive education clients now come from Chinese companies.

This shift has also influenced the curriculum. “The focus shifted from purely western best practice and management knowledge to reflecting and summarising the success factors of Chinese companies,” says Liu, “exploring how western best practice and knowledge have adapted to the Chinese business environment, and examining how Chinese companies succeed in an ever-changing global market.”

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