Graduate studies

Bluffton MBA students explore the global market in China

Bluffton has long emphasized the importance of a global education with 85 percent of its traditional, undergraduate students participating in cross-cultural experiences in the United States and overseas. In June, current students and graduates of Bluffton's Master of Business Administration (MBA) program participated in an inaugural cross-cultural experience in China. The group spent 15 days traveling throughout the country, learning about its business environment, economy and culture.

"This trip is yet another example of Bluffton's on-going efforts to connect students to the world outside the classroom," said China experienceBluffton president Dr. James M. Harder, who accompanied the group. "China has become the number one international destination for MBA program study trips, and many of the companies our students work for have ties to China. It was a natural selection for us."

A new course elective in Bluffton's graduate programs in business, the study trip was an opportunity for individuals to understand how Chinese businesses and manufacturing facilities operate and conduct business. Along the way, the group was able to experience the sights, sounds and tastes that China offers. The trip was facilitated by Mennonite Partners in China (MPC). Myrrl Byler, director of MPC, and Yin Hongtao, an MPC staff person, traveled with the group.

Dr. Karen Klassen Harder, professor of business and economics, said her goal in developing the study trip was to expose participants to as many aspects of the Chinese business environment as possible. "We visited with representatives of Chinese-owned production companies, joint ventures and wholly owned subsidiaries, she said. "We visited with representatives from several universities and entrepreneurs and employees of both large corporations and small businesses. Each of these visits gave Bluffton students the chance to explore the similarities and differences between the North American and Chinese business environments."

The group began its journey in Beijing, meeting with representatives from the international law office of Taft, Stettinius & Hollister LLP; Jack Perkowski, founder and CEO of Asimco Technologies; and Guo Xu of the Commercial Law Office of Guo Xu. China experienceTaking a daytrip from Beijing to Tianjin, the group toured a Kumho Tires factory, where they explored a production facility and met with members of the research and development team.

In Chengdu, the group toured the campus of Sichuan Normal University and the automotive and engineering departments of China West University, meeting with students and faculty. They also had a chance to visit Dujiangyan, a town in Sichuan Province, close to the epicenter of the May 12 earthquake. The group met with individuals working with an earthquake relief agency and heard some of the stories of people directly affected by the quake.

"The amount of devastation in Dujiangyan and the surrounding area is unimaginable," said President Harder. "The Chinese government has responded in a very systematic manner, providing temporary housing and promising to rebuild." Harder said they were told by relief agencies workers that Bluffton's group was one of the first groups of outsiders to enter the area since the earthquake.

Traveling to Chongquing, the group visited Chongquing Medical University, a healthcare facility with 32 clinical departments that sees one million outpatients each year. They also met with a Fed Ex district franchise owner, a Chinese film producer and the owner and manager of Peters Tex Mex, a restaurant that is a favorite of the expatriate community.

From Chongquing, the group traveled to Shanghai, where they met James Cnoosen from Shanghai General Motors Co. Ltd., and Alex Koi, general manager of Cooper Tire's China operations. They also visited the joint venture Cooper-Kenda tire production facility outside of Shanghai. Cooper Tire is headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, while Kenda Rubber is headquartered in Taiwan.

"One of the distinct features of Bluffton's business graduate programs and this trip is that intentional connections were made with Chinese businesses and organizations that have ties with individuals and organizations in Northwest Ohio," said President Harder. "Our MBA students are individuals who work directly and indirectly with the influence of China on their businesses. A trip like this allows them to see first-hand how the Chinese economy looks and feels."

Graduate student Brian Haehl (Findlay, Ohio) knew that he wanted to be a part of the China study trip after he finished reading Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat: "I knew that sitting around and assuming that America was the best country or that China experienceeveryone was just like me and that they thought just like me would be a horrible assumption to make. Visiting a different country allowed me to experience another culture and how the people in that culture think about business and operate a business."

Haehl said that he was most struck by the emphasis Chinese people place on relationships. "It's very apparent that relationships and relationship-building is very important," he said. "Take for example the lawyers we met: they spend a lot of time getting to know the people they are working with, their families, etc. In order for people to do their jobs well, they need to build solid relationships first."

Bill Lyons, assistant professor of business, said by visiting China he learned far more than he could have imagined. "I took the opportunity to speak with as many people as possible, learning their names, career choices, educational backgrounds, their hopes for the future and more. The plant tours and discussions with corporate executives were priceless. A visit with peasant farmers helped explain why young people are moving to cities. University visits demonstrated the educational process Chinese students follow. I now more clearly understand and am better able to discuss with students global marketing strategies from another vantage point."

Apart from business meetings, the group visited tourist attractions, including the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, the Yangtze River and the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center.

President Harder hopes this trip will be the first of many that Bluffton graduate students participate in: "We have a responsibility to our students and their employers to prepare the students to be comfortable and effective working in the global economy. Experiences like the ones these students had in China give them perspective and allow them to implement the knowledge and experience gained in their own work environments."