13 Jul 2011
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China Boot Camp

by Julia Hanna

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HBS faculty engage in a panel discussion in Beijing.

HBS faculty engage in a panel discussion in Beijing.

A visit to China Merchant Bank will inform BGIE and other courses at HBS.

A visit to China Merchant Bank will inform BGIE and other courses at HBS.

When Baker Foundation Professor F. Warren McFarlan first visited China in 1979, he traveled there with his wife and three other HBS faculty and their spouses. The trip was organized by C.B. Sung (MBA ’50), a Chinese native who, upon graduation, found himself unable to go home after his country’s fall to Communist forces in 1949. With the gradual opening of China, Sung, a career executive at Motorola, made return trips — and brought others with him to see a place that had been closed to the outside world for nearly 30 years.

“That trip changed how I thought about things,” recalls McFarlan, who estimates that he’s traveled to China 70 times since then. His most recent foray was in June, when he led a 10-day faculty IXP that took 12 faculty members on a six-city itinerary of meetings with policymakers and senior executives of major consumer products, textile, software, energy, microfinance, and banking concerns. The trip offered an intense introduction to the overall issues facing China as well as a firsthand look at the country’s shift from a low-cost, export-driven economy to one centered around knowledge industries and services and a growing consumer class.

“It took a week or so to recover afterward, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way,” HBS associate professor Suraj Srinivasan says of the dawn-to-dusk (and beyond) schedule. A member of the Accounting and Management Unit, Srinivasan says that his research received an immediate boost from the trip. “I have a couple of projects on securities markets and financial reporting in China that have come into sharper focus since the visit,” he reports, adding that the same has been true for a case he had been contemplating for inclusion in his fall course, Business Analysis and Valuation Using Financial Statements. “The context and contacts I’ve acquired have brought very tangible benefits,” Srinivasan says, adding that the organization and participation of HBS alumni in many of the site visits, panels, and dinners made them “the heart and soul” of the trip.

“It was a great way to build a bridge with alumni,” agrees HBS associate professor Aldo Musacchio, a member of the Business, Government, and International Economy (BGIE) Unit. William Fung (MBA ’72) of Li & Fung, Margie Yang (MBA ’76) of Esquel Group (the world’s largest manufacturer of woven shirts), Bruno Filipi (AMP 164, 2003) of Coca-Cola, and Alexander H.K. Zhang (MBA ’07), founder of Clear Suppliers Corporation, all opened their doors to the group, while HBS clubs in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai organized and hosted dinners and panels with major Chinese business leaders and entrepreneurs.

“Because I teach BGIE, one highlight of the trip was that we got to sit with the governor of the People’s Bank of China as well as China’s director of monetary policy,” Musacchio says. “They were super candid and cracking jokes, which you wouldn’t expect.” Next June, Musacchio will lead a faculty IXP to Brazil, a trip that he hopes and expects will bring about the same level of involvement with HBS alumni, in addition to resulting in more cross-unit connections between faculty members back at HBS — an unexpected benefit of the China trip.

In addition to Brazil, HBS faculty IXPs are planned for Israel and India, with a possible return trip to China next year. Which countries would you add to the list, and why?

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