A new world of opportunities

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If anyone really doubted whether economic power is slowly shifting from its traditional base in the West to the emerging powers of the East, all they need to do is consult the results of the latest Global Snapshot research from the recruitment specialist Antal. According to their recent survey of over 14,000 employers around the world, 81 per cent of companies in India and 71 per cent in China are planning to hire at the professional or managerial level in the coming quarter, in comparison to just 55 per cent in France, 33 per cent in Spain and 31 per cent in Germany.

For anyone in the UK contemplating formal business education, this raises a whole new set of issues to consider. Can any potential MBA student still afford to focus solely on their domestic economy, given that the most exciting future career opportunities are likely to be on offer elsewhere?

And if they decide they can't, how do they go about developing the necessary international perspectives to take advantage of these openings?

Many of the top business schools have tried to address the international challenge in two key ways. First, by creating a new raft of case studies based on the experience of Western companies operating in emerging markets. And second by increasing the cultural and national diversity of their student bodies in the hope that the next generation of MBAs will learn what it's really like to do business in the developing economies through some sort of 'classroom osmosis'. But is this really enough or, to get the best return on your investment of time, money and effort do you need to actually study in one of the newly advanced economies - those in Goldman Sachs' famous BRICs group of Brazil, Russia, India and China?

Of course many of the leading 'local' schools in these countries, such as the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, now celebrating it's 10th anniversary and place at the top table in the FT ranking of full-time business schools, or Russia's Skolkovo, nestled in its new $250 million headquarters outside Moscow, would give a resounding 'yes' in answer to this question. And over the past few years it would seem that many of the West's top players in business education have begun to take a similar view.

The first major Western venture in China was the China Europe International Business School or CEIBS for short, which was set up in Shanghai as long ago as 1994 with the support of the European Commission. One of the highest rated MBA programmes in the region, it now draws nearly half of the MBA student body from outside China.

Its example has helped to generate several other West/East partnerships such as the Beijing International MBA programme (BiMBA) between Peking University and Belgium's Vlerick Leuven Gent, and HEC Paris' executive MBA at the University of Tsinghua. But while these ventures have been markedly successful, others such as the rapid entry and exit of the US's Fordham and the University of Maryland schools have highlighted the difficulties of operating in such an alien cultural context.

As Vlerick's Bruce Stening neatly sums it up, "There are a lot of difficulties inherent in making a partnership between such different cultures work."

Bringing classic Western business education to the rapidly growing Indian economy has proven decidedly tricky, mainly due to legislation, which has regulated the provision of graduate programmes by foreign institutions. However this hasn't deterred the Fuqua School at Duke University in the US from setting up a mini-campus in New Delhi as part of its 18-month international MBA programme, which also educates students at the school's North Carolina home, as well as in Dubai, London, Shanghai and St Petersburg.

Other North American institutions have responded to the challenge of getting 'boots on the ground' by taking MBA students on extended study trips around the country. The Desautels faculty of Canada's McGill University, for example, recently dropped its students in at the deep end with a hothouse style introduction to the local business environments of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, while simultaneously tasking them with devising and implementing a social-media campaign to raise funds for a girls' school in one of the nation's poorest regions.

Despite an initial flurry of interest in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, only a few Western business schools have established campuses or even programmes in the country, preferring instead to see the country as a fertile source of potential students. One school that continues to buck this trend is Vlerick Leuven Gent, which has been operating in St Petersburg since 2005. It has now followed up its base in Russia's second city with a new executive MBA to be based in Moscow, and takes on its first class this October.

Some Western schools seem to have decided that it's no longer enough to get experience in one of the key emerging markets, but that real competitive advantage comes from exposure to working methods in as many of them as possible. The One MBA, for example, an executive MBA programme run by a partnership of five schools - CUHK in Hong Kong, EGADE in Mexico, RSM in the Netherlands, UNC Kenan-Flagler in the US and FGV in Brazil - focuses on business practices in all the participating countries. With inclusion of a study trip to India, they thus cover three of the four BRICs. Students also take part in 'global residencies' at the various campuses, which are hosted by local faculty and students to give an insider's view of the local business environment. As Marina Heck, the programme's associate dean at FGV says, "There is a general acceptance that it can be difficult to understand the cultural impact on business in somewhere like China.

But there's also a feeling that Western companies, particularly US ones, somehow already 'know' Latin America, which is a potentially dangerous misconception. We believe that success in high-performing markets such as Brazil can only be built on developing the same degree of in-depth knowledge as that needed on the Pacific Rim."

Read full article: The Independent, April 7, 2011