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How SAIF And Shanghai Can Benefit From Each Other

Professor Paul Burik thinks that academic excellence and a partnership with the city of Shanghai will make SAIF Asia’s top business school

By  Giulia Cambieri

Thu May 5 2011


Paul Burik teaches ‘Asset Management in Practice’ and ‘Risk Management in Practice’ at Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance. In this interview, Prof. Burik, who earned a PhD in Finance at the Kellogg School of Management, talks about SAIF’s aspirations of becoming Asia’s top business school, and about the chances offered by Shanghai’s and China’s growth.

Where are you from? Tell us something about your personal and professional background.

I was born in Chicago and have lived in the US for the first forty years of my life. Then I moved to Germany where I’ve lived for seventeen years.

I’ve a PhD in Finance, but only taught briefly while I was in graduate school. I’ve spent the rest of my career in both government and industry.

Why did you decide to join SAIF?

Firstly, because of the quality of the faculty and the high aspirations that the institute has. SAIF doesn’t intend to be just another business school: it intends to be the outstanding institution for the study of finance in Asia. And it’s a partner of Shanghai in the city's its efforts to become a global financial services center.

Secondly, the opportunity to learn about China and to help China develop was a powerful drive to me.

Your position is ‘Practice Professor’. What does that mean?

My colleagues have always been university professors, with maybe some consulting experience. In contrast, I did teaching when I was in graduate school and I’ve done occasional lectures over the years, but my life has been spent in regulatory functions, self-regulatory institutions, pension fund consultancy and asset management. That’s why I’m a practioner: my courses have a strong focus on experience and on what actually goes on in companies.

Do you think you’ll stay in China in the long term?

It’s a possibility. It’s an exciting and stimulating environment and, from my perspective, it could be easily be a lifetime's work.

What makes SAIF stand out from other business schools in China?

One of the surprises I had was the quality of the weekly faculty seminars. It’s not unusual at a fine research institution to have weekly seminars, but SAIF is only two years old and yet there was a steady stream of high quality academics from around the world giving seminars.

This has enormous benefits for the students because they get samples of the cutting-edge research integrated into their classes in a digestible form. And that’s not available in every institution.

How are students in Shanghai?

My students are industrious, highly motivated, and interested. They’re very eager to learn, but they also teach me a great deal. They've brought out research that I’ve actually been able to use in my discussions and meetings with regulators, industry professionals, and other professors.

My lectures have been stimulated in large part from questions I get from the students, and that speaks of the high quality of SAIF students.

As one of the few non-Chinese professors, how have you found the rest of the faculty?

I have wonderful colleagues. SAIF has a fine, friendly environment and yet it’s an environment where academic excellence is very collegial, and that is not always the case.

Do you think Shanghai can become a global financial center alongside New York, London and Hong Kong by 2020?

Right now the financial knowledge, experience, and expertise within Chinese companies are well below what you will typically find in the US or in Europe.

Surely, that gap can be largely closed over the course of the next eight years and SAIF intends to be one of the leaders in that process, whereby Chinese institutions become empowered to compete on a fair basis with their European and US counterparts.

What advice do you have for non-Chinese people hoping to study business or finance in China?

SAIF offers a wonderful platform to pursue that goal because you have professors trained and experienced in teaching finance in North America, adapting state-of-the-art knowledge for the Chinese environment, and people who are very well-connected in China. And there is a rich flow of speakers from leading Chinese and international companies, passing through SAIF every week giving you very deep personal experiences about how financial business works around the world.

Some of our visitors from NYU marveled at the similarity of the atmosphere between Shanghai and NY, the world leading global financial center. The fact that leaders in New York feel at home in Shanghai says a lot about the fit of Shanghai as a future financial center.

One of your areas of expertise is wealth management. How developed is this industry in China and what are the opportunities?

That’s not a very well developed industry in China for one very good reason: historically, in the last 50 years, there hasn’t been a great deal of wealth. It’s only in the last 10 years that wealth has been created. Currently, there is a shortage of instruments available to manage one’s wealth in China. But as that set of instruments grows, the industry will be able to mature greatly, and there is a wonderful opportunity to create something different and in some ways better than what exists in Switzerland, or in the US or London.

Is there a sense at SAIF that you need to teach finance differently, especially after the financial crisis in the US and Europe?

The crisis hasn’t changed the way we teach finance in the classroom, but has caused us to re-examine many of the principles that have guided people in finance for generations. It has pointed out shortcomings in the model and shortcomings in practice that were overlooked before or not emphasized. Today we can’t avoid dealing with them, even if the answers may not be there yet.

Watch the video to hear more about SAIF students’ job prospects, from Paul Burik.

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Interview with Paul Burik from businessbecause on Vimeo.