When speaking about China, professors and alumni of Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB) have no hesitation in discussing its problems. But, in their eyes, pollution, corruption or the housing bubble are not sources of worry or frustration. Rather, these are opportunities to make a difference.
“These are growing pains,” says Li Haitao, associate dean for the MBA programme, who spoke at a CKGSB event held in Hong Kong in March. “They are some of the biggest opportunities in human history.”
At present, the school is stepping up activities to attract more Hong Kong-based professionals for its MBA programmes. Established in Beijing in 2002 with support from the Li Ka Shing Foundation, it offers a full-time MBA at the Beijing campus and part-time options in Beijing, Shanghai or Shenzhen. Other programmes now available include an EMBA, finance MBA, doctor of business administration, and various executive education courses.
Li Haitao hopes that the CKGSB MBA can help young professionals gain knowledge of and access to the mainland China market.
“We can be a platform for Hong Kong students,” he says. “They can get inspired, get practical help for starting a business in China, or see their [corporate] careers accelerated.”
The Cheung Kong MBA helps a majority of their MBA students change job function or industry in their corporate careers (74% for 2010 graduates), as well as a significant average increase in salary (156% increase for 2010 graduates).
In the 2012 MBA class, in which the average working experience was 5.2 years, one-fifth of the students were either entrepreneurs or had entrepreneurial experience.
“I'm always impressed by the drive of our MBA students,” Li says. “They are real doers and innovators.”
He believes that, despite current challenges for the Chinese economy, there is still room for significant economic growth and improvement of people's living standards. In his view, MBA graduates from CKGSB will be an important pool of talent to drive this growth.
Over the last 30-plus years, Li has seen China achieve many economic milestones, including the “open door” policy, the reform of state-owned enterprises, and accession to the WTO. He believes that the current challenges will serve as a catalyst for further positive change.
“If China is like a BMW SUV with eight cylinders, it has only been running on three at most,” he says. “When the growth model stops working, that’s when you have the greatest incentive to change.”
Although the school has a relatively short history compared to others in Britain and the United States, it already counts global entrepreneurs and many of China's business elite among its alumni, notably Fan Min, the chief executive of Ctrip, Sinopec’s chairman Fu Chengyu, and Sir Tom Hunter, Scotland's first billionaire.
Another alumnus, Frank Tang, chief executive of private equity firm FountainVest and former senior director of Temasek Holdings, attended CKGSB’s Global CEO Programme and praised the school’s culture and approach.
“The school is very alumni-centric; there is a great sense of the alumni network in everything they do,” Tang says.
Tang also spoke realistically about the challenges of operating in China. Asked by a prospective student about a memorable failure, he recounted an investment in a salt producer in Sichuan, which wanted to switch from products for industrial use to the more lucrative consumer market. However, the business flopped partly because the owners refused to hire non-Sichuan professionals for senior management roles.
“The biggest challenge for us is people and the biggest risk for us is usually people,” says Tang, highlighting the need for business owners to have an open mentality. He also noted the shortage of talent in research and development (R&D) and human resources.