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Many of China's most successful entrepreneurs do not seem like the MBA type. They are swashbuckling, self-made men (and sometimes women) often with little formal education — let alone a graduate degree in business.|
But increasingly, Chinese businessmen and aspirant entrepreneurs are gravitating towards the country's rapidly growing business schools, eager for a formal education in modern management and the network of contacts they need to make it work.
Some have been in business for decades and have already made a fortune before registering for an MBA or Executive MBA (an MBA for working executives). Yet they are still willing to pay up to Rmb538,000 ($85,000) to put the letters EMBA on their business cards, or Rmb150-350,000 for an MBA.
After rising at an annual rate of about 20 per cent for several years, MBA applications rose by 25 per cent last year to 90,000, according to the state news agency, Xinhua.
Many yearn for the education they missed as children — in some cases, because of the Cultural Revolution which forced many to leave school. Others did receive higher education, but in the days when Chinese universities taught little in the way of business courses. "Now most Chinese universities have a pretty good business curriculum," says Charles Chen, head of the EMBA programme at Ceibs in Shanghai. "But current EMBA students who started their career 15 or 20 years ago had nothing in terms of management knowledge, they learnt only by doing."
许多人渴望补上他们在年少时错过的教育——其中有些人是由于遇上了文革，那场浩劫导致许多人被迫中断学业。还有些人虽然受过高等教育，但他们在校的时候，中国的大学还不怎么教授商学课程。“如今，大部分中国高校都开设了相当不错的商学课程。”上海中欧国际工商学院(Ceibs) EMBA课程主任陈杰平(Charles Chen)表示，“不过，15至20年前开始走上职业道路、如今回来读EMBA的学生是没有学过任何管理知识的，他们完全是从实践中积累经验的。”
Many entrepreneurs think they can no longer get by with on-the-job skills. "Before you could make a profit not because you did the right thing, but maybe you did the wrong thing while other people were doing things that were even more wrong," he says. The current crop of EMBAs expects competition in China to intensify "so it will be more important to do things the correct way".
Tony Zhang is one of those who is convinced that graduate business education is not just for investment bankers: he studied for an EMBA at Ceibs when he was already a successful entrepreneur with his popular Tony's Restaurant chain. What could he possibly learn in business school that he did not learn on his mother's farm or in his restaurants' kitchens? "Classmates can be a mirror," he said recently, sitting in the converted shipping container that serves as his ultra-chic office on the organic farm he owns outside Shanghai. "We can't see our own weak points".
His EMBA taught him what many in China fail to recognise, he says: "A lot of Chinese entrepreneurs blindly choose a business and then just make it bigger and bigger. They ignore the natural limits of the business."
"You might be able to carry 100 pounds of weight on your shoulder pole, but if you have to carry 300 pounds, it will crush you," he says, using a suitably agrarian image for China, where farmers carry heavy burdens on opposite ends of long poles. Applying that lesson to the organic food market, he says the maximum penetration of such foods in China is five per cent — and he will not aim higher than that.“
Mr Zhang insists that networking was not the main reason he opted for business school though, for many Chinese MBA and EMBAs, networking is paramount. Still, a quick look at the client list of Tony's Farm shows that the contacts he made were invaluable — starting with Ceibs itself, which buys vegetables from him.
But having a business degree is no longer the magic ticket to high salaries that it used to be, says Zhou Xinhua, who works in the internet industry and has an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. "A lot of companies now don't care about an MBA, they are much smarter than before," she says, noting that an MBA is a plus — but only for those with experience in a relevant industry.
不过，从事互联网行业的周新华（音译）表示，形势今非昔比，商学学位再也不是神奇的高薪“通行证”。她本人拥有宾夕法尼亚大学沃顿商学院(the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania)的MBA学位。她说：“如今许多公司并不在乎MBA，他们比以前精多了。”她指出，拥有MBA学位是一项优势，但前提是你必须具备相关行业的经验。
And there is no longer the rush to go overseas to study, says the head of Ceibs' MBA programme, Lydia Price. Lynn Jiang, a Ceibs MBA student, chose Ceibs over Insead because she says if she starts a business in China, she will need a network in China.
中欧国际工商学院MBA学术主任白诗莉(Lydia Price)表示，如今的中国人不会一窝蜂跑到国外读MBA。Lynn Jiang就在中欧国际工商学院和欧洲工商管理学院(INSEAD)这两所学院中选择了前者，她目前正在攻读MBA。Lynn Jiang说，如果她要在中国创业，她就需要在中国建立人脉。 Ms Zhou spent Rmb1m on her MBA and she still thinks it was worth it. "For that money, I could only buy a restroom in Shanghai," with its stratospheric property prices, she says. With that as a yardstick, Chinese business schools have nowhere to go but up.周新华当时读MBA花了100万元人民币，但她至今仍认为很值。她说，在房价高企的上海，“这些钱只够买个卫生间”。基于这一点判断，中国的商学院必将蒸蒸日上。