Surrey MBAs Week in China – part 1

Surrey International MBA Study Tour – Beijing, China July 2018

 In July 2018, Surrey MBA students were offered the opportunity to travel to an international destination to experience first-hand the business culture and latest innovations in one of the world’s leading economic and technology hubs: Beijing, China. The study tour spanned one week, consisting of company visits and lecture sessions delivered by top international academics. I was invited to join the group and together with the students gained exclusive industry insights from an international perspective; as well as experiencing cultural days exploring the country’s top attractions and landmarks including The Great Wall of China.

In class, lecture topics ranged from entrepreneurship and investments, Chinese brand marketing, consumer behaviour in China, to strategic management of corporations of the internet era.

The University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) hosted us for the week, arranging our company visits and lecture sessions. On our first day we were given a very warm welcome with a dinner hosted by the Dean and other staff members from the university. UIBE, a respected triple accredited institution has attracted lecturers with highly international careers and even some star academics with regular slots on Chinese television, who we were fortunate enough to be lectured by. We were especially grateful to UIBE for gaining our group access to China’s internet giant Baidu, a highly coveted visit in the world of tech, due to the frequent refusal of access to Western organisations.

Before entering the classroom we all knew about China’s booming economy, which is currently dwarfing many countries in the West. However, within our first day of lectures it was especially interesting to learn about China’s sense of self-awareness, which is now driving a new strategy for longevity. China has big plans for diversification, with the aim of creating sustainable growth in globally high value areas. For instance, China has now begun moving away from their dependence on cheap manual labour and an export driven economy, to developing their position as leaders in high end goods, software development and management brain power. In other words it wants to challenge and change the ‘Made in China’ perception the rest of the world has of it.

With the rise of the digital age and innovation moving at the speed of light, we were quickly learning that this was true of nowhere more so than China. One of our lecturers laughingly commented how the West may have started the digital revolution, but China is showing the world how it’s done at the next level!

The changes we were learning about in our lectures were clear to see once we stepped out of the campus and into the streets of Beijing; with smart technology infiltrating almost every function imaginable. We were told China is the closest to becoming a cashless economy, but it was still a surprise when I was asked for digital payment when trying to buy fruit from a small stall in one of Beijing’s marketplaces.

Much of this progress is made possible with the rise of China’s home grown technology and apps, developed through deep learning of Chinese consumer and societal behaviours. The convenience of communication offered to us in the UK by e.g. WhatsApp seems to fade in comparison to the impact and opportunities offered to consumers by China’s equivalent: WeChat; an all-inclusive app offering messaging, calls, money transfers, the ability to hail cars, order food and pay bills, with new functions being added every year. Almost every person we encountered wanted to connect with us through WeChat, and once I got on board it seemed to be a far superior and faster method for many basic functions than I had experienced before.

The success of Chinese home grown technology and innovation seems to have surpassed its Western counterparts. However, we were also learning about how Chinese culture is now moving away from a once collective identity to more individual behaviours, a concept being imported from the West. Throughout the week, two staff members from UIBE accompanied us in lectures and on visits; they became both our guides and good friends. It was clear from conversations with them and others around campus that China’s youth are far more enamoured with the West than previous generations; made clearer to us with either Hollywood, Harry Potter or Starbucks coming up in almost every conversation!

In part 2 of this blog I give you an insider look into our visits to Baidu and Microsoft. 

Lakshmi Mohindra, Marketing Coordinator, Surrey Business School


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