Quelch's Bold Vision for CEIBS

Posted by: Alison Damast on September 1, 2011

QuelchPhoto_rezise.jpgWhen John Quelch became dean of the China Europe International Business School last February, China had recently finished celebrating the Chinese New Year, a time of rebirth and new beginnings for the country. It was a fresh start as well for Quelch, an expert on global business strategy, who left Harvard Business School behind to take the helm at CEIBS, one of China’s thriving and well-known business schools.

The deanship is a familiar role for Quelch, who served as dean of London Business School from 1998 to 2001, and more recently at Harvard, as a senior associate dean. But unlike Harvard Business School where he taught since 1979, or the U.K., where Quelch was born and educated, China is relatively new and exciting ground for him.

In 2009, he took a sabbatical from Harvard to serve as a visiting professor at CEIBS, where he got a chance to spend time with faculty and students, and familiarize himself with the school’s three campuses in Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzen. During his time there, he worked on a case study that looked at the different strategic options CEIBS could take in the future. His work and ideas so impressed the CEIBS faculty that they invited him back in 2011 to become the school’s next dean.

Bloomberg Businessweek’s Alison Damast recently spoke with Quelch about his new role, his plans to hire more world-class faculty and long-term vision for the school. Here is an edited transcript of their conversation:

You were a visiting professor at CEIBS before you accepted the deanship. What role did that experience play in helping you decide to take on the deanship at CEIBS?

The timing is good in terms of the surging importance of China on the world stage. I wasn’t so interested in leading a business school in Singapore, which in some respects is now no longer the gateway to Asia because frankly, most companies don’t need a gateway anymore. Hong Kong, I think, is China light, so from my point of view the only really interesting opportunity was likely to be in the belly of the beast, if you will, in mainland China.

You’ve been at CEIBS for a little over six months now. What are some of the first things you’ve tackled since you arrived?

Shortly after I arrived, we put in place what was essentially a new position for the school, which we’ve termed “China Depth, Global Breadth.” The rational behind that position is no international school can match us on Chinese depth and no Chinese school can match us on global breadth. As China internationalizes, Chinese companies are going overseas and multinationals are coming inbound. As the trade and investment flow continues to increase, we feel this position represents a sweet spot that competitors can’t match. I would call it a competitive positioning.

What do you think CEIBS is doing right and where do you see room for improvement?

The principal strength of the school is that [hereto] it has focused on excellent teaching. We are by far the largest executive MBA program in the world and graduate 800 EMBA graduates a year. The reason why that is important is because 40-year old students on EMBA programs are much more demanding than 30-year olds in an MBA program in terms of teaching relevance and teaching quality. We are now in the process of aggressively hiring new faculty who are interested in committing full-time to a place in China as their next career move. At the moment, we have 65 full-time faculty, and in 2010-11 we probably used about 70 visiting faculty to supplement those 65. We really need to add, in my opinion, 30 to 35 full-time faculty within the next three years in order to develop a critical mass of researchers and a critical mass of faculty who have enough time to devote to research and are not all consumed in teaching activity.

The job market for professors in the business school world is competitive and cut throat today, so adding 30 to 35 new faculty members will be no easy feat. How do you plan to attract them to the CEIBS campus?

What we've done to draw them here, which is quite unusual, is use a search consultant based in London to go out to make the case for CEIBS in the leading business schools of Europe. I say unusual because most search consultants [in the business] are only used for dean, vice chancellors and university president searches, not for recruiting mainstream faculty. We are starting with Europe to identify faculty who may not be on our radar screen but have relevant research, are committed to emerging economies and willing to explore moving full-time to China. I think we absolutely have to increase the research thrust of the school because our goal of becoming a top ten school is not going to be realized unless we ramp up our thought leadership.

Executive education is another one of the school's core strengths, but the school is facing more competition today from Western players setting up shop in China. How do you plan to keep the school a leader in that area?

About 9,000 executives come through CEIBS every year on short programs, so that is a very substantial operation that makes up about 30 percent of the school's revenue. There is a very significant mass or cluster of executive education for multiple international players centering on Shanghai, which is good for us, but at the same time it makes the market competitive and forces us to be on our toes. No matter what the market level of demand, the key is to focus executive education on a profitable business that is also sufficiently stimulating for faculty.

What role can CEIBS play in helping China move forward as a global player?

China itself is moving from being the factory of the world with an emphasis on production economy to a country with much more of an emphasis on innovation and knowledge creation. CEIBS has to parallel if not lead that transition. We now have to deliver the thought leadership as well that is commensurate with idea creation. We want scholars focused on the Chinese economy in particular, while others will focus on cross-cultural management issues. Cross-cultural management is an area where we believe we can be the best or one of the best in the world.

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