Chinese Executives Turn West for EMBAs

The program will set executives back $60,000, not including residency costs. But the sticker price didn’t dissuade Dong Ren, 42, a manager at CITIC International Logistics. “It’s a dream for me,” he says. “I don’t think it’s too large of an investment.” Ren is self-sponsored and aims to start a private company with the skills he picks up in the program.

Part of the demand for programs like the one at UNC stems from China’s growing status as a economic heavyweight. As companies expand into new markets, executives are opting to acquire and hone skills to take their businesses to the next level.  Globalization is also a key driver. In Zhai’s case, her company is eyeing international expansion, particularly in the U.S. Her employer sponsored the degree so she could bring global supply chain expertise to bear on the company’s growth plans.

‘IT’S A DIFFERENT WAY OF THINKING’

Another UNC-Tsinghua student, Tiejun Liu, 39, saw value in broadening his global perspective. The chief representative at Hong Kong Quam Securities has a wealth of experience in Asia’s financial industry, but he wanted a fresh outlook and a better understanding of business theories. “It’s a different way of thinking,” he says. U.S. professors walk you through business cases, and their analysis provides you with a different viewpoint, he adds. The global residencies, which include trips to Dubai and Seattle, also provided opportunities to learn about different cultures and expand his worldview, Liu says.

The UNC-Tsinghua EMBA program is unique due to its dual emphasis on business and engineering, according to Jayashankar M. Swaminathan, associate dean of the program.  Graduates walk away with a  master of business administration from UNC and a master of engineering management from Tsinghua.

The program initially focused on attracting those with a technical or manufacturing background who had assumed leaderships positions in business. But Swaminathan was surprised to discover that students with investment, finance and marketing backgrounds were also signing up. “I think the program is going to be much broader than we initially thought,” he says.

‘MANY OF THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT LOOKING TO MAKE A CAREER SWITCH’

The students are also a bit older than many of their American or European counterparts. The average age of students in the UNC-Tsinghua program is 41. Whereas the average age of American EMBA students in 2010 was 37.1, according to Executive MBA Council data.  Swaminathan points out that many students in China simply didn’t have access to cutting-edge management education after graduating from college. The purpose of an EMBA is also slightly different in China. “You spend a lot of time in the industry, and you’ve worked your way up through the ranks, he says. “Many of these people are not looking to make a career switch. They’re looking to enrich their current careers even further.”

But the program hasn’t come without hiccups. “Anytime you’re talking about collaboration across continents, it’s challenging,” Swaminathan says. “UNC is the oldest public university and so we have processes in place that we must adhere to. On the other hand, Tsinghua has its own set of regulations and policies so coming up with a process and program that works at both ends was extremely challenging.”

Fortunately, the students seem to be adjusting just fine. Zhai says one of the highlights of the program has been the UNC campus and the cuisine. “I like the food better than in China,” she says with a laugh.

DON’T MISS: HARVARD DOING SIX EXEC ED COURSES IN CHINA or UNC’S NEW EMBA WITH TSINGHUA IN CHINA