Future looks bright in China: An interview with Kathleen Slaughter and Janet De Silva
Spotlight on Asia
Future looks bright in China: Deans
Janet De Silva
While settlers back in the 1800s were encouraged to head west for opportunities, business people today are encouraged to go east – way east – to fast-growing countries such as China and India. Kathleen Slaughter, Associate Dean, Ivey Asia, and Janet De Silva (EMBA ’94), the incoming Associate Dean of Ivey Asia, discuss the major business shifts in China and what lies ahead for Ivey Asia.
- What are the major business shifts that you have seen in Hong Kong?
Slaughter: We have seen a shift from a focus on specific areas of finance to broader interests and areas like mining. Most of the business shifts have been in our own competitive environment. It has been increasingly competitive in the education field with more major players in Hong Kong.
De Silva: The biggest shift since I have been here has been in world economic power from west to east. A huge transition has been made from “Made in China” to “Sold in China” and that has created the world’s fastest-growing middle class consumer market. This is having a bigger impact on global markets than China as a producer of goods. China has also shifted from purely internal development to an international focus. For many multinationals, China is the most important market as a result of the decimation of consumer markets in the west from the financial crisis and a strong growing consumer market in China. With China’s economic might shifting from internal to international, I see us moving into a new era where people in the west will soon be saying, “My parent company is from China,” instead of, “My parent company is active in China”. That has huge implications.
- What are the implications of these changes for business and for business educators?
De Silva: Tremendous mind shifts are required as businesses adapt. As Chinese companies lift, expand and acquire international properties, they require cultural know-how and exposure to operate in western environments. Our Agricultural Bank of China EMBA program is a case-in-point of a major Chinese player being educated by us to get that know-how and experience. On the flipside, as multinationals’ economic value shifts to China and India, these markets can no longer be treated as outposts for rotating top executives. Serious talent development is required to create strong, sustainable local leadership with international know-how and vice versa. As business educators, we are in the centre of this.
- What did Ivey do differently in 2010 in Hong Kong compared to five years ago?
De Silva: We need to support Ivey Canada’s transition from a premier Canadian business school to a premier international business school. What we have with Asia is 12 years of experience – our first international experience base for Ivey – right in the living room of China. As we look at continued growth in Asia, we need to work with our India team as Ivey pursues its second international market and to work on an Ivey Asia strategy. What made us successful when we entered China 12 years ago will not be replicated. The world’s top business schools are already in or preparing to be in China and India. Developing a new Asia strategy that will enable, not just the Asia office, but the School holistically to optimize its impact on these major markets is critical. Part of this will be to build our brand as one of the top four case-method business schools in the world and expand our library of Asian-based cases.
Slaughter: We are recruiting students from a broader area. We are doing more to recognize alumni. Our Business Leader Award was initiated two years ago and we are also moving toward an event such as the Alumni Outstanding Service Award in Canada. In the eight years I’ve been here, the biggest change I’ve seen is in the strength and size of the alumni base. I would like to see greater engagement of the HBAs and MBAs in Canada with the alumni here.
De Silva: We have built a big alumni base in the past 12 years and we are also reaching out to returning grads from Canada. We’re looking for opportunities for networking, engagement, alumni directories – something that will help us keep in touch and allow us to network so we can continue to grow. For our EMBA program in Canada, 60 per cent of the intake comes from referrals from past graduates, so we want to leverage our alumni base here to generate similar results. Our alumni association has been working with Western’s alumni association so we can be quite impactful as we engage this group.
- Leadership on Trial, which you translated into Chinese, raised a lot of issues around the development of corporate cultures. Are you seeing changes in the corporate cultures and leadership development practices in Asia?
De Silva: Having worked in China, I see China as being disciplined in studying and learning from mistakes. There’s a famous Chinese saying about how to go forward, you need to look at the past. So I think very much this financial crisis and Leadership on Trial is something the Chinese will learn from, but will apply in their own way. Often organizations think their western practices will work in China. In fact, they won’t because the culture, environment and the way information gets shared –the way decisions get made in organizations – isn’t the same.
- Can you give an example of what might be different in the learning?
De Silva: When I first was working in China, any expense greater than $1,500 (Canadian) had to hit my desk as CEO for signage. Prior to that, there were 12 other signatures along the way plus stacks of paperwork supporting it. The ultimate responsibility sat with the CEO and no decision-making was going on below. With concentrated decision-making at the top, you could argue that you need your senior leaders buying into corporate governance to have a value impact. Secondly, you need to have the senior leaders being very proficient themselves in corporate governance. If I flip that over to what we see in the west, there needs to be awareness but you have to give your risk-management professionals the latitude to operate within that. The style here is that you can’t delegate things – that you very much need it embedded at the top. Strategic planning also takes a very different nuance. Strategic planning is very much looking at research-driven statistics on what’s happening and then setting a goal in terms of the number you want to achieve as opposed to thinking more holistically. It’s a case of, is there any way we can hit this sales target, this profit target? We’ll throw everything against the wall and see what sticks.
- What defines being an international business school?
Slaughter: It’s when you go to a country and ask, what schools would you consider to be the top business schools in the world? I’d like the answer to include Ivey.
De Silva: Very few schools seem to recognize Ivey and that’s an issue we’re working on. This is a textbook problem with a successful Canadian organization. In Canada, things are very strong for the School. It’s tough to have a different approach in Asia. Slaughter: This whole market is driven by brands. It doesn’t matter if you’re buying shoes or buying furniture. It doesn’t matter what you’re buying, it’s brand-driven.
We’ve got something that’s very valuable for the school going forward and that is this 12-year experience base.