Weekends have turned into a precious commodity for Steven Zhou. On what are supposed to be his days of rest, Zhou, a manager at the Suzhou plant of American bearing manufacturer Timken (TKR), often finds himself back on the factory floor, participating with his other management employees in executive-education classes.
Workaholics aren't remarkable in China, where the five-day workweek remains a novelty. Zhou's employees, however, don't aim to outwork the competition -- they're trying to outlearn them.
SHORT AND SWEET. Over the past decade, executive education has grown exponentially in China. No firm countrywide data exists, and the industry is just a fraction the size of its U.S. counterpart, of course. But data regarding the Middle Kingdom's biggest player -- Shanghai's China European International Business School (CEIBS) -- suggest a burgeoning field: The school's roster has grown from zero enrollment a decade ago to more than 500 students today.
These shorter, more specific courses have turned into a popular alternative to full-time MBA programs for midlevel managers and executives starved for management education. "To compete with other companies, even your own colleagues, you must know something about Western business skills," Zhou says, "And the employees under me will give up all of their free time to get these skills."
Chinese business schools are rushing to meet this call. CEIBS, for example, offers more than 50 open-enrollment courses and dozens more custom-designed programs. Since CEIBS first opened its doors to executive-education students in 1994, nearly 7,000 participants have attended one of its courses.
EAGER TO PAY. Executive education now brings CEIBS $12 million, 60% of its annual revenue. "We don't have enough faculty to meet all the requests we have coming in from companies," says Hobbs Liu, who heads the CEIBS program. "We have to turn down money."
Companies may be willing to shell out big bucks -- up to $45,000 per person for an MBA -- for the knowledge CEIBS can bring to its employees, but few companies and employees want to sacrifice much time. That's why CEIBS offers executive-education programs that range from as short as an afternoon to as long as six months in duration.
The school has also dissected its EMBA program into individual courses, allowing participants to pick those that seem most relevant to their own company or career path.
'INDISPENSABLE.' This recipe has brought many of China's largest homegrown companies to CEIBS. In April, 2004, mobile-phone giant TCL Corp. invited CEIBS to train top executives at the company's Guangdong campus.
Through a spokeswoman, TCL chief Li Dongsheng said the CEIBS courses were "indispensable to the company during its process of internationalization." Three months later, the company closed on a $55 million joint venture with France's Alcatel (ALA) to provide mobile phones globally.
Li would later give CEIBS $162,000 worth of computer equipment as a donation, and request that the school return last May to TCL to work with senior and midlevel managers.
BRAND BUILDING. None of CEIBS's domestic rivals can yet match its breadth -- but that doesn't mean they're not trying. In September, Fudan University's School of Management announced it will team up with New York City's Columbia School of Business to offer Chinese CEOs a course in finance that entails 12 days of study in Shanghai and two weeks in New York.
The program mirrors a CEIBS endeavor with IESE Business School in Spain and Harvard Business School -- the first non-English-language executive-education course that Harvard has ever hosted on its campus. "Executive education has enormous potential for us," says Fudan dean Lu Xiongwen. "Plus we get our brand name out there."
For American and European business schools, collaboration with their Chinese counterparts may provide growth at a time when applications to traditional MBA programs are declining. For its part, Columbia sees working with Fudan as just an entry into China's lucrative management-education market, says its dean, R. Glenn Hubbard.
"ENVIOUS LOOKS." "We started with executive education [with Fudan], because we wanted something on the ground," Hubbard says. "But this is just the beginning of much more to come for us in China."
Hubbard and others will still find plenty of demand for their services. CEIBS will expand its programs by 30% next year, a number that could be higher if the school hired additional faculty. "I attend international meetings in Europe or the U.S. for the folks in executive education, and I'm still the only Asian at the table," Liu says. "But I'm also the only one getting envious looks." Don't expect that to change anytime soon.