A Chinese B-school vies for Harvard status

August 10, 2011: 11:53 AM ET

CEIBS dean John Quelch explains how he plans to turn the relatively young Shanghai-based business school into a research powerhouse. He has his work cut out for him.

By Neelima Mahajan-Bansal, contributor

(poetsandquants.com) -- When renowned marketing and branding expert John Quelch took over as dean of the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), he created his own theory of brand building for the Shanghai-based business school. In line with marketing guru Philip Kotler's Four Ps, Quelch calls his theory for CEIBS the "Four F's."

"These days, I spend my time on "faculty" -- faculty recruitment, faculty nurturing and faculty retention; fame, which is about building the brand and making the school more famous worldwide; fortune, or converting alumni enthusiasm into investment in the institution; and fun -- we are unlikely to have the creativity you need for thought leadership unless people feel that they are having fun when they come to work," says Quelch.

In many ways, Quelch, who took over as vice-president and dean of CEIBS in February 2011, inherited a school that was already on the upswing, especially for an Asia-based school that is just 17 years old. CEIBS already figured in major global rankings by Forbes, Financial Times and The Economist. It has a campus in Shanghai and operations in Beijing and Shenzhen (and Quelch is thinking of doing something in Western China as well). Recently, the school started offering an executive MBA in Ghana. Quelch feels that business education in Africa could be a huge opportunity.

Quelch, who aspires to make CEIBS a top 10-ranked, research-focused business school, is no stranger to administration. He was dean of London Business School from 1998 to 2001 and later served as senior associate dean at Harvard Business School (HBS).

As dean of London Business School, Quelch was instrumental in increasing corporate sponsorships and revenues dramatically and ramping up both student and faculty numbers, which helped to catapult London Business School to the top 10 of the Financial Times ranking. While he learned the administrator's ropes at London Business School, his stint at HBS taught him the power of the Harvard brand.

"We are trying to do the same thing at CEIBS where it's important to … make sure that internationally minded prospective MBA students understand the quality of education that's on offer in China," he says.

Building a research institution from the ground up

To transform CEIBS into a research-driven institution requires fundamental change, but Quelch has a lot going for him. Unlike many other institutions in China, CEIBS, which is a joint venture between the Chinese government and the European Union, has a unique advantage -- it is not part of China's mainstream higher education system and thus has a lot of freedom. "In some respects, as a free-standing institution, CEIBS is like the INSEAD of China," says Quelch. "It has tremendous scope and freedom when it comes to curriculum design and delivery."

The school will need to create an ideal research climate to attract top faculty. And the experience of most young business schools, especially those in Asia, shows that this is no easy task. Quelch is aware of that and he is investing a lot of time and energy to ensure that professors have the time and incentives to engage in important research.

But here's the problem: even though CEIBS has 65 full-time professors, they are stretched pretty thin, as CEIBS graduates 1,000 or so students per year with degrees (MBA and executive MBA) and another 9,000 to10,000 who come for short-term executive programs. That leaves little time for research, so Quelch is on a major drive to recruit 30 additional full-time faculty members. The school is even using a search consultant in London to identify European or U.S. B-school faculty who are interested in making a move to Asia. "I don't think you can underestimate the number of full-time faculty who are now interested in spending a portion of their career in China," says Quelch.

Quelch is betting heavily on the China card to attract new faculty. And his bet has already started to pay off. Just recently, CEIBS managed to recruit George Yip, a renowned strategy and marketing expert and former dean of Rotterdam Business School. In fact, even Quelch's appointment as dean points to the fact that the tide might finally be turning in favor of Asian business schools. "Having done Europe and North America, I was interested in Asia -- not in Singapore or Hong Kong, but only in Mainland China. If I were to make a move, I wanted to make sure that I was going to a place in the belly of the beast as it were," says Quelch.

Many globally oriented business schools in Asia have relied heavily on a visiting faculty model -- and that, in some ways, continues to be a problem as many try to take their programs to the next level. "Now one of the challenges is that my desk is piled high with the CVs of faculty who are interested in spending a week or spending a month in China. We are rapidly moving past that stage of entertaining academic tourists," says Quelch.

What do Asia-based managers need?

According to Quelch, Chinese managers are often strong in the "hard skills" like finance, accounting, and economics. "Where Chinese managers need the most assistance and support is in the softer skills…. Leadership, change management, entrepreneurship and innovation are all major thrusts for us where we are especially in need of recruiting additional faculty."

Many schools have repositioned their MBA programs and refreshed their curricula. At CEIBS, too, Quelch hopes to drive the theme of "responsible leadership" in its curriculum. "We have found in our conversations with students and in our research that particular theme resonates in students in their 20s worldwide," he says.

The school already has a Responsible Leadership Project, which is a required group project dealing with managerial problems in sustainability. "We feel pretty confident that we can anchor our curriculum around this responsible leadership concept for the next five years," he says.

On the executive education front, Quelch wants to raise the level of executives who come to the programs. "We have some programs that are pitched at middle managers which are useful and generate good margin for the school. But perhaps the faculty who teach these programs don't necessarily learn that much," he says. "If you can shift your program base to address a higher level of executive, you are more likely to motivate the faculty to develop new material … and they are more likely to learn new things from teaching a higher level executive group…."

CEIBS's executive MBA program is a critical part of the school's business model. The cost per student of an executive MBA is lower than a full-time program because full-time students need support services such as a career office, student counseling, and placement services. You can also charge higher tuition for executive MBA programs. Out of CEIBS's revenues of about $100 million, $30 million come from executive education, about $12-15 million from the full-time MBA program, and the rest comes from the executive MBA program.

Going forward, Quelch hopes that the school's publication division, which publishes the CEIBS Business Review, will start to turn a profit. He also would like to harness the potential of the school's alumni network to raise funds to create chaired professorships and student scholarships.

For now, though, Quelch has his hands full with building the school's name. "There is a large number of faculty who really want to be associated with institutions that have momentum…. I believe that once the word gets out on what we are doing in CEIBS, there will be a surge of faculty and student interest," he says.

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