MBA students get down to business in China

“When I travel, I like to catch the moment and draw the sketch while I’m there,” says Keith Griffiths, BA’12, artist and Accelerated MBA student. “When you look at something you sketched, you remember everything. It’s a visual journal, in a sense.” This sketch and photo show faraway and detailed perspectives of the Forbidden City (Chinese imperial palace, Ming-Qing dynasty) in Beijing. (Sketch by Griffiths and photo by Jennifer Contreras) 

By Kenna Caprio

They spoke with economists in Beijing, visited Asian corporations and small businesses, mingled with Chinese university students and pitched their own international companies.

For ten days earlier this summer, students in the MBA for Executives and Accelerated MBA programs studied international business concepts while touring Beijing, Chongqing and Xian as part of their managerial economics and international business classes.

“The focus is always on trade within the region we visit and the way business is conducted globally,” says Peter Caliguari, director of the MBA for Executives program in Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Silberman College of Business. “We want them to see local businesses, and the culture of the country or region is very important — experiencing the food, the people, the artifacts.”

Before the cohort heads overseas, students attend two or three class sessions at FDU as part of their course.

“The faculty act as advisors to their students and provide a better understanding of some of the issues unique to the country they are going to be visiting,” says Evangelos Djimopoulos, the economics professor and chair of the Economics, Finance and International Finance Department who coordinates faculty for the trip. “Professors go through the background and economics of the area.”

This framework benefits the students later as they work on papers, projects and presentations as part of the course.

Divided into teams for their big project, the international business class researched Chinese markets and business practices before pitching an international business.

“There’s a huge gap in China between the rich and the poor. We tried to find a leisure activity that billionaires — there’s a growing population of billionaires —would like to do,” says Jennifer Contreras, a 30-year-old MBA for Executives student from Dumont, New Jersey. “We came up with the luxury yachting industry and found a venture capitalist building ports.”

Each team needed to detail the legal, marketing, governmental and financial logistics of the business in their paper and presentation.

“It’s an emerging market trying to find its footing operating as communist government in a free market,” says Contreras. “You have to have a functioning ‘guanxi’ — or relationship — with the other stakeholders in your business to be successful.”

Visits to local universities and businesses made it easier for the students to sort out some of the economic particulars. Local economics, government regulations and trade policies were covered in seminars, while visits to an aircraft parts manufacturer and dairy farm introduced students to Chinese businesses. “At an aircraft parts manufacturer, students saw the making of the tail section. At the dairy farm, you could see the cows coming in for milking on a turntable. They were all hooked up so the company could measure milk production,” says Caliguari. “These kind of experiences actually show students processes, which are very important to see.”

There’s also the economic push and pull between the rural and urban in China for students to consider. “The model that the Chinese use is to bring people off of the farms and into the cities to increase the productivity of the people,” says Caliguari. “None of our students had ever been to China, so there were a lot of ‘ah has’ over the infrastructure of Beijing.”

Still, 23-year-old Keith Griffiths, BA’12 and Accelerated MBA student, was more impressed by the sites beyond Beijing.

Above right, student Gazmend Cocka performs a handstand at the Great Wall of China. The view from the Wall (above left) is sprawling and “well-preserved,” says Jennifer Contreras, an MBA for Executives student. (Photos by Contreras)

“Beijing was very westernized, but Chongqing is what most people would expect China to be,” he says. “It was a mix between primitive and present.”

In Chongqing students explored the Porcelain Village and in Xian saw the famed terracotta soldiers. Other cultural highlights were the Great Wall of China and Tiananmen Square. “I always wanted to save up and go visit to see the architecture,” says Griffiths. “It’s one thing to be there as a tourist but another to get an insider’s view of business. That was something else.”

“We all need each other to do business in a global economy,” concludes Contreras. “It’s about being aware, not just of the local and national economy, but also the global economy. What goes on in Asia can affect what goes on in the United States and vice versa.”

Right now, Silberman College is in the midst of choosing the next travel location, which changes semester to semester and always has an emerging market.

Seminar participants have traveled to South America, Central Europe and Asia. “Last year, Europe was very interesting with the Euro Zone issues,” says Caliguari, of that trip to Prague (Czech Republic), Budapest (Hungary) and Krakow, Poland.

The January trip, which Caliguari notes will be to someplace below the Equator, could be to Chile, Peru or Argentina or Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong or Thailand, he says.

Feature Story from the FDU Newsroom

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