“Why is leadership more interesting than sex?”
The question, posed by University of Liverpool Management School Director Prof. Murray Dalziel, brings smiles and a few whispered questions (“Did he say ‘sex’?”) from the audience of MBA students and professors. The cheeky query is especially jarring given the location of the lecture in Suzhou, China – in a country where the rigid education system rarely features professors asking students to speak out, and certainly not asking about sex.
“Why do I say this?“ Prof Dalziel continues. “I did some research. Searching online, there are there 21,000 books on leadership. But there are just 12,500 books on sex. So why is leadership so fascinating?”
The discussion flows into a discourse on the challenges facing managers in today’s China, with students – all mid- to upper level managers participating in the newly launched IMBA program at International Business School in Suzhou (IBSS)– sharing the key issues they face in an environment of rapid, dramatic change.
For most of the Chinese IMBA students attending IBSS, the courses offer their first opportunity to be directly taught by a Western professor – including experiencing Western humor. For the international students, the program offers the opportunity to receive an international MBA set within the China context. For both sets of students, the IMBA delivers the ‘best of both worlds’ – allowing them to work in China while receiving an internationally recognized Masters in Business Administration. The host university—Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU)--is a joint venture in Suzhou between University of Liverpool and Xi’an Jiaotong University.
“This MBA is structured to emphasize both East and West. The professors and the students come from different countries and different backgrounds, and the degree is recognized in both the UK and China. This is ideal for me,” says IMBA student Nicola Adamo, an Italian national working for a major Italian fashion brand.
Adamo adds that the cross-cultural focus, along with the part-time schedule of the IBSS IMBA, make the courses immediately relevant for his Shanghai-based position. “I am very motivated to spend three days in intensive courses once a month,” he says. “You can apply what you learn the day after classes ends. This is ideal.”
Classmate Chongro Lee from Bosch Automotive Diesel Systems, explains why he chose the IBSS IMBA over programs in his native Korea: “If I had taken my MBA in Korea, I would not learn as much. By studying in China, I learn much more than just the course materials. That’s the benefit,” says Lee. “More global companies are focusing a spotlight on China now, so why not study your MBA here, with Chinese lecturers as well as international experts?”
The fact that IBSS is located in the ‘second-tier’ city of Suzhou, rather than one of China’s mega cities (such as Shanghai or Beijing), offers students a unique perspective, allowing first-hand insight into the nation’s economic maturation and the shift toward investment in the less developed regions. “We benefit from the economic boom underway in Suzhou – the city is a center of business and a magnet for investment,” says IBSS Dean Sarah Dixon. “But we also benefit from the livability of Suzhou. The city is a tourist destination with its historical gardens and scenic lake. And it is on the doorstep of Shanghai, which is 25 minutes away by bullet train. With this combination, we are able to recruit top faculty.”
The IMBA at IBSS also leverages the school’s physical location within the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP). One of China’s most successful industrial parks, SIP is home to more than 100 Fortune 500 companies and over 1000 joint ventures. “For IBSS, the comparative advantage is that we collaborate with businesses in the SIP,” says Prof. Youmin Xi, Executive President of XJTLU and Vice Chancellor of the University of Liverpool. “We regularly develop research projects and host open forums in collaboration with SIP companies to allow students and staff to meet business leaders in industry.”
Capitalizing on the booming economy in Eastern China, IBSS plans ambitious growth for its MBA programs. While the inaugural part-time IMBA launched this February, a second enrollment begins this September. In addition, IBSS plans to launch a full time MBA in 2015, to complement the school’s growing roster of short-term Executive Education courses. “We seek to develop IBSS into a world class business school, offering a unique combination of international management expertise and an unobstructed view of China’s economic development,” says Dean Dixon. “Here in Suzhou students experience the dramatic and impactful growth taking place outside the first-tier cities along with great quality of life. It’s the very best of the ‘real China’.”