The P&Q Interview: Dominique Turpin, CEIBS’ European President

Dominique Turpin was named CEIBS’ European president in September. He spent 25 years at IMD, including six as that Swiss B-school’s dean.

China Europe International Business School has been in coronavirus lockdown with the rest of Shanghai, population 26 million, for more than nine months now. Only in recent days have some of the strictest restrictions been lifted.

But even as its home city coped with a heavy-handed government lockdown that sparked mass protests, CEIBS had an advantage that its peers in Shanghai, Beijing, and the rest of China did not: a campus in Europe, away from the fray, where students could study their MBA or EMBA or other degrees.

CEIBS’s Zurich, Switzerland campus seemed like even more of an advantage when it was announced in September that the B-school had named a new European president with a sterling academic pedigree and long ties to Switzerland. Dominique Turpin spent 25 years as a professor of marketing at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, including six years as its president and dean from 2010 to 2016. He is perhaps the definition of a “steady hand on the tiller”: A recognized authority on brand management, customer centricity, marketing strategy, and Asian business strategy, Turpin has been a member of CEIBS’ Academic Council since the school’s establishment in 1994.

SHARP CRITICISM FOR CEIBS’ HANDLING OF STUDENTS AMID COVID

Turpin, who holds a Ph.D. in economics from Sophia University in Japan and a master’s from ESSCA in France, took over as CEIBS’ European president amid the seemingly endless China lockdown, making it impossible until recently for him to visit the school’s Shanghai campus or meet with his Chinese counterpart. But that was not his only challenge. Replacing Dipak Jain, the former dean of Northwestern Kellogg School of Management who had served as CEIBS European leader since 2018, Turpin’s tenure began amid sharp criticism for the school’s handling of international students during coronavirus — in particular the role played by the Zurich campus.

The criticism was summarized in the “CEIBS Diaries,” a widely read and shared Reddit thread written by CEIBS alumni who accused the school of “disgraceful” treatment of non-Chinese students during the height of the crisis in 2020-2021. According to its anonymous authors, the Zurich campus — seemingly a logical place for the school to assemble faculty and MBA students amid crippling lockdowns in China — was under-utilized and students there “mistreated.” Comprised of 12 parts and many thousands of words, the CEIBS Diaries have been viewed a total of around 100,000 times.

Turpin, speaking to Poets&Quants in his first month in his new job, says CEIBS will continue to grow and its leadership will learn from missteps. He is optimistic that as Covid-19 wanes and restrictions in China ease, the school — which dropped nine places in 2022 but remains the highest-ranked Chinese B-school by The Financial Times‘ — will continue to lead in Asia and the rest of the globe, playing an important role as a sort of ambassador from China to Europe.

‘AN INTERESTING ROLE TO PLAY’

“I’ve been associated with the school from the very beginning,” Turpin recalls when asked why he took the job as CEIBS Europe president, “because when the school was created over 25 years ago, the European Union went to see all the major business schools in Europe and said, ‘Can you help?’ And at that time, the dean of IMD — we are based in Switzerland, and Switzerland is not part of the European Union — my boss at the time said, ‘Well, I’m not sure we should be part of it.’ And I convinced him that China is too important to be ‘no.’ So he said, ‘Okay, if you want to be on the Academic Council, please go ahead.’

“So I’ve been associated with the school for many years, and I’ve seen it grow and it kept me interested. So I was offered the job already five years ago when I stepped down as president of IMD, but at the time I felt I needed to have a breather for a little bit. So they appointed Dipak Jain who was the former dean of Northwestern Kellogg. Then they came back to me early this year and said, ‘Hey, would you been interested in this new challenge?’ And frankly, I officially retired from IMD in February and I was not seeing myself watching Netflix movies all day!

“I think that the school has an interesting role to play, I think as a bridge between China and the rest of the world” — a bridge, he adds, that might some day extend to North America.

See page 2 for more of Poets&Quants‘ interview with Dominique Turpin, which has been edited for length and clarity.

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