MBA study tour: reflections on Shanghai

Post by Jess Rush, Global Business Center Assistant Director of MBA Global Programs

IMG_6078 (2)Twenty three million. It’s hard to fathom the reality of that number. It is almost the population of the state of Texas. It is the population of the CITY of Shanghai, China. Nearly twenty five hundred square miles. It is both the area of the state of Delaware and the city of Shanghai. It’s daunting to think that this is just one city (and it’s not the biggest) in a country that is on the fast track to overtaking the US as the world’s biggest economy. Some studies indicate that we are less than twenty years from that happening. For the past twenty years, Shanghai has been growing, no, exploding. (Check out the photos here for some visual context: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/05/shanghai-can-the-fastest-growing-city-in-the-world-keep-it-up/257021/)

It is in Shanghai that the 2013 MBA Study Tour to China took off for a two week exploration of the culture and business of China. Shanghai provides a wonderful introduction to China. It eases one in with fairly clear skies and clean, safe streets. While it’s not as challenging as other cities, don’t be fooled. It’s still a real challenge to take a taxi to the Bund without it written in Mandarin. Just ask a few of us who tried!

While in Shanghai, the Study Tour visited a variety of companies including AGCO, Siemens Healthcare, SKF, Trina Solar and Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers. Two particularly interesting meetings were with an ex-pat, “C-level” recruiter who left Pittsburg for Shanghai when the US economy took its downturn and with a UW alumnus who created a tech start up and is developing new social networking applications for an increasingly connected Chinese youth.  The MBA students, faculty and staff were treated to a wide array of industries and approaches to doing business both in China and around the globe. We were also treated to a typical Chinese lunch meeting. Over plates and plates of delicious food and steaming cups of tea, we talked hiring tendencies, the importance of human resources in multinational companies and creating community while living abroad.

Part of my experience in Shanghai also included a visit to one of our exchange partner schools-the Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance (SAIF). While it also involved being treated to an amazing lunch spread, it was more importantly and opportunity to connect with colleagues and learn more about each other’s programs. SAIF is a relatively new program in a beautiful new building and in a fantastic part of the city near Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Students interested in studying finance could really benefit from spending a term there.

I expected Shanghai to be an interesting learning experience. I did not expect to be so charmed by the city. From exploring Tianzifang and Xitiandi in the French Concession to an adventure under the river to Pudong and up the Oriental Pearl Tower to see the night lights, the city gripped me. Making our classroom the boardrooms, restaurants, streets and taxis of Shanghai expanded the minds and perspectives of students and faculty/staff alike. There is no experience that can substitute for taking one’s learning global, especially given the future of the world’s economy. In our lifetime, the US will be sharing the stage more and more. Our best prepared leaders will be able to sit at that lunch meeting and make deals while serving themselves with chopsticks.

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