15 Nov 2016
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China IFC: Global Access, Global Perspective

Re: Anna Koscielecka (MBA 2016); Matthew Eisen (MBA 2016); Willy Shih; William Kirby

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Second-year MBA student Anna Koscielecka (MBA 2016) spent two weeks in China during a January 2016 Immersive Field Course (IFC) that expanded her global perspective. “We fully immersed ourselves in Chinese business culture,” says Koscielecka, a native of Poland. “And we had unique access to a wide range of companies and their management teams.”

The Business of Going Global, China-Style, one of six IFCs in the MBA Program’s Elective Curriculum in 2016, was designed and led by two faculty members with extensive knowledge of the region. Willy C. Shih, the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Management Practice, and William C. Kirby, the Spangler Family Professor of Business Administration, developed the course to introduce students to a cross section of Chinese industry and commerce while also providing a deeper dive into a particular sector. For much of each day the group of 42 students worked in small teams with partner companies in Shanghai on specific projects, and in the afternoon, all students reconvened for a behind-the-scenes tour of a local facility in Shanghai or Hangzhou.

“We were able to get access to some amazing places,” says Shih, an expert in manufacturing and product development. He and Kirby, a leading scholar of China and faculty chair of the Harvard Center Shanghai, parlayed their contacts into valuable educational opportunities for the students. Highlights of the trip included visiting the R&D center for state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China; Quanta Shanghai Manufacture City, a major production site for Taiwan-based Quanta Computer; Alibaba, the internet business giant, located in Hangzhou; and Wanxiang, the automobile components firm set to debut an electric car in the United States. Additionally, the team visited Shanghai Disney Resort, where students learned about the complexities of this private/public partnership six months before it opened.

Course participant Matt Eisen (MBA 2016) notes that the IFC gave him a sense of the business context and the opportunities in the region. “Anybody who is going to be involved in global business in the next decade needs to have a firm understanding of what is going on in China,” says Eisen. His team partnered with an automotive supplier, he says, that “really opened up the company to us. We worked with senior people who asked us to think about how changes in the industry might impact the way they serve their customers.”

“Our goal is to give students an experience that bridges the intersection of theory and practice,” says Shih. “That was possible,” Kirby adds, “because of the great support we received from the HBS team at the Harvard Center Shanghai.” For her part, Koscielecka says she gained insight into sales and distribution by working with Shanghai Electric. “The hands-on learning deepened our understanding of working in cross-cultural teams,” she notes. Ultimately, she concludes, “I feel inspired to continue to explore China.”

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