On the evening of July 18th, the walk from Jerusalem Passage to Christopher Street in London was one through heavy, dense air. It was the height of the UK’s summer heatwave, and on a particularly humid evening I made my way to China Europe International Business School’s (CEIBS) inaugural 1+1 event in the city.
The 1+1 events are a series of lectures hosted by leading faculty across different continents. Guests present on the evening of July 18th were treated to a lecture by Dr Dipak Jain—marketing professor at CEIBS and the school’s incoming European president—on Frameworks for Building and Sustaining Competitive Advantage.
I arrived to find a few alumni already there with their guests—the event series encourages invitees to bring with them a plus one, someone who is a qualified prospect for the MBA or Global EMBA program at CEIBS.
Dipak arrived after a brief delay—when one is not often in London, wandering the charming streets can be excused. We were then introduced to one another by Hannah Saxby, CEIBS’ alumni relations manager for Europe, and I instantly saw why people at CEIBS hold him in such high regard.
He speaks with a warming tone, telling an array of fascinating anecdotes and insights in a way that makes you feel valued, makes you an important part of the conversation.
We managed to take ten minutes before his lecture and began by discussing his new role as CEIBS’ European president—his purpose, he told me, is to make CEIBS a “truly international business school, with a focus on China.”
But, the conversation quickly moved on to China’s place in the world. Manufacturing excellence, movements into artificial intelligence and robotics, and a commitment by President Xi Jingping to establish China as the world’s great superpower are all reasons, Dipak explained, China is a country we cannot ignore in the 21st century.
He compared modern day China to Japan in the late 70s and early 80s, but with one key difference—openness to foreign talent.
China took note: “For China to hire a person from America, of Indian origin, that takes some courage,” he asserted.
Alongside his deanship at Kellogg School of Management, between 2001 and 2009, Dipak was dean at INSEAD between 2011 and 2013, and was asked by the Royal Highness of Thailand to lead the Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration, in Bangkok, a role he held between 2014 and 2017.
The China Europe International Business School has inherited someone well learned in global business. The fact that he sees China as a business “role model” is telling of the nation’s place in the world.
“In the streets of Shanghai, and Beijing, there is a sense of intellectual curiosity,” Dipak told me. “Chinese executives don’t speak English, but they are willing to go for an EMBA. They want to learn new skills, tools, and concepts—if people are committed to educational excellence, then that excellence has no bounds.”
The willingness of Chinese executivess to undertake EMBAs abroad, and for schools like CEIBS to offer a silver platter of Chinese business and culture, with a garnish of internationalization, highlights the importance of cross border collaboration.
“It’s like the concept of cross pollination,” Dipak explained. “You are cross pollinating different talents. I see in China a lot of foreigners, and I think the country has begun to welcome talent.”
We then moved to the conference room where the lecture was to take place. We followed the hum of anticipation emanating from the guests, who had multiplied significantly since Dipak’s arrival. It was the same enthusiasm that surrounded a CEIBS MBA alumni event I attended in May, where guests had the privilege of hearing from professor of economics and finance, Xu Bin.
Once the chatter died down, assistant marketing manager of CEIBS, James Kent, relayed a tale he heard about Dipak’s presence as a dean at Kellogg School of Management.
Dipak would travel to campus and without fail, every day, would be stopped by students along the way asking him questions about their classes and the latest developments at the school.
What does James expect at CEIBS?
“I expect a row of OFO bikes, with him at the front,” he quipped.
That ties into Dipak’s theory on leadership in the digital era. We have less freedom with our time when making decisions, and the current zeitgeist has scuttled in the need to always be on our toes.
We need the ability to anticipate and the ability to adapt to new environments seamlessly.
Demand for creativity and innovation begets entrepreneurship. China and the US are well prepared, Dipak told me. But, in Europe, the culture is different.
“I didn’t see the spirit of entrepreneurship in Europe as much as I did in China and the US,” he said. “In Europe, students are still very willing to go to work for big companies.”
Dipak has three children, and each were put through their creative paces when they reached ninth grade in the US—they were given a fictional million dollars and told to come up with their own business idea.
The first child wanted to set up a vegan restaurant; the second wanted to use the money to fly around the world in first-class (Dipak said this quickly became a travel company venture, after some encouragement); and the third wanted to set up a music academy.
“In the US they are fostering [entrepreneurship] at a very early stage. It’s encouraging a new generation to explore their hidden potential,” he explained.
The array of China Europe International Business School alumni and guests watched with a keen interest. Dipak often breaks away from his lecture to relay an anecdotal example of what he’s talking about, like the above, or to pass on “little nuggets of wisdom”.
Don’t drink tonic water or beer straight from the bottle, he told the room, as the bubbles interfere with digestion—a tip given to him by an old friend. Instead, pour it into a glass first.
The personal values intrinsic to entrepreneurship are going to become equally as important as the tools, skills, and concepts of an MBA education, he continued. The MBA, Dipak said, might not always be in the exact form it is in just now, but the managerial concepts that are its foundations will never die.
A nice encouraging note to finish on then, for the men and women in the room who are and will be the future leaders of business.
I looked around as the lecture finished, to a room of smile and intrigue. Dipak’s knowledge and insight will live long in the memory of those here, I thought, as the woman to my left began pouring her tonic water into a glass.