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China next on dean's list

By Andrew Moody | China Daily | Updated: 2018-07-04 07:44
Business guru Dipak Jain tells China Daily in an exclusive interview that the world's second-largest economy is now a key destination if you want to learn about business. [Photo by Chen Zebing/China Daily]

Dipak Jain says those who want to learn about business now also want to come to China, as well as Europe and the United States.

The 61-year-old former dean of two of the world's leading business schools-the Kellogg School of Management and INSEAD-will become European president of the China Europe International Business School in November.

"If you have an interest in understanding China, how the Chinese think and how the country's economy has become the second largest in just 30 to 40 years then what you will get at a business school like CEIBS, you will not get at Harvard," he says.

Jain, one of the most respected and well-known figures in business education, says the new role will give him the opportunity to study a country that, so far, he has seen mainly from the outside.

"I use the term of being endogenous rather than exogenous to the system. You can always make observations from the outside but when you are part of an institution, you see firsthand how people think, how they execute (decisions) and how they build an organization."

Jain, who was speaking at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Beijing before addressing an event, says CEIBS is increasingly attracting foreign students to its courses. Some 22 of the 180 students on the school's flagship MBA course this year will be from North America and Europe-up from 18 out of 179 in 2017.

"We are targeting any individual who has an interest in China. Someone who might want to work here and perhaps try and create something here; an individual who is trying to build a bridge between this part of the world and anywhere else. This to me is the real CEIBS thing-leaders who have an interest in China or the region."

Jain has been teaching marketing at CEIBS since September last year when he took on the president-designate role. He will take over as European president from Pedro Nueno, who has been on the board since the school was founded in 1994. In his new role, he will work alongside the Chinese president Li Mingjun.

Jain, who still lives in Chicago but now works in Shanghai 10 to 15 days each month, says he relishes teaching in China.

"There is such a strong intellectual curiosity here with also an entrepreneurial spirit. The people here want to create something. They are eager to learn how you think of a business plan and how you build a business," he says.

When people talk about China they tend to focus on the hardware such as all the infrastructure and new building while ignoring the change in the software, the intellectual curiosity, the entrepreneurial spirit and the speed of execution."

He was brought up in Tezpur, Assam, northeast India with four brothers and a sister. His father was the first Indian Airlines' manager in the state.

"My mother, who was not educated at all, used to wake us all up at 4 am every day, prepare a cup of tea and some biscuits and make us do two hours' homework."

He studied mathematical statistics for both his bachelor's and master's degrees at Guwahati University. He was to make his first journey on an airplane when he went on to study for a diploma in business management at the Stockholm School of Economics.

One of the crucial decisions of his career came when he was studying at the University of Texas at Dallas when he switched to marketing for his PhD instead of applied mathematics.

"This was the result of a conversation I had with a student who said I was good at teaching and suggested it would be better if I didn't just focus on mathematics. I decided to apply my mathematical tools to marketing instead. The difference is that unlike mathematics, business problems are not cut and dried."

That move paved the way for him to become a lecturer at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, where he eventually became dean in 2001, succeeding Don Jacobs, the legendary business academic who held the position for 36 years.

"He was a very tough person. Faculty members used to prepare for a week if they had a meeting with him. I asked him if I was the right person to become dean. He just said, 'Dipak, I don't do experiments. I made the decision in 1992 that you would be dean. You are a good teacher, good researcher and good human being. Very few people can be all three.'"

It was at Kellogg, where he had his first experience of China, forging links with Peking University, and visiting for the first time in 1999.

"The contrast between then and now is huge. I just don't see it as the same China. The one thing that might be the same is the intellectual curiosity. People wanted to learn. They were like sponges."

After Kellogg, he went on to be dean of Europe's top business school INSEAD in Fontainebleau in France, where he was later diagnosed with having a brain tumor.

"It was unique kind of tumor between my speech and memory area. One of my former executive MBA students, who was neurosurgeon, flew to San Francisco to be at the operating table. Everything went well and I recovered, but I decided to step down at INSEAD."

In 2014 Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, sister of the current King of Thailand and a former student, came to Chicago to personally recruit him to be director of the Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration of Chulalongkorn University.

"It was a strange experience because the Thai protocol is that everyone, including the ambassador, sits on the floor. She just shook hands with my wife and asked her to sit next to her on the sofa."

Jain says the purpose of a business education is to "put structure on unstructured problems".

"We teach a set of tools, concepts and values, and the aim is to combine these in a systematic and structured way to solve business problems."

Jain, himself, teaches with a particular focus on how to create value for customers and then capture the market by getting people to pay the right price.

"The problem today is that products are becoming less differentiated, so where do you create differentiation? I believe that in future customers will become partners. We will move from customer to partner management with the customer effectively becoming part of the organization."

Jain is a strong believer in the value of business education but he says it is important that students do not view doing an MBA as just a means to a million-dollar-a-year role with Microsoft or some other big company.

"An MBA is a thing in itself. It is about the start of your next phase in life. It is learning about working with people, how you get the best out of people that work for you and with you," he says.

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