College of Business Blog
International business MBA students gain global perspective in China
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Every item on the shelves glittered, felt or smelled of luxury—handbags, perfumes, clothing, and children’s toys—and filled the well-lit rooms of Li & Fung Limited Company’s building. Brand names, celebrity icons and iconic entertainment companies, all connected to Li & Fung, the world’s largest supply chain orchestrator in the consumer goods market, showcased the sheer magnitude and reach of the company’s influence.
We had walked through 40 rooms, but our guide smiled and assured us that there were three more floors of showrooms.
We were in Hong Kong, the first city on the business graduate international study trip to China. Already the sheer number of buildings rising in the skyline, choked together on the streets, had an overwhelming effect of perspective.
Space—how much, how little, where it was, what it cost, how to buy it—dominated advertising and conversations in this crowded, vibrant city.
Once our group reached Shen Zhen, we were shown how the idea of space changed the way Walmart Asia marketed to customers. Chinese refrigerators were smaller and held less. Couple this with the cultural value of fresh food (i.e. butchered, skinned, plucked or harvested that morning), and supply chain managers were faced with problems unique to, and created through, a culture completely unlike that of America. How do you get fresh crocodile heads or live turtles to five different stores in a city of 6 million?
What happens when baby formula poisons over 2,000 children and parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, all too scared to buy Chinese-made formula, rush to Hong Kong to snatch up as many cans as they can?
As much as textbooks and guest lecturers could present perspectives on international business, the exposure dwarfed when compared to standing in P&G headquarters in GuangZhou, overlooking a city of 12 million people. Suddenly, textbooks become supplemental literature to the real life experience.
We saw an entire nation poised, standing on the cusp of dominating international markets. Nothing could prepare these grad students for seeing the sheer, brutal effectiveness of China’s government in action. One or two students, awed by the culinary expertise, said they would move to China just for the food. Excitement and respect for the nation grew as the trip progressed, and by the time we reached BeiJing, many conversations revolved around the possibility of moving to, or expanding into China’s markets.
It was more than a graduate studies trip.
It was a reality check.
International Business Practicum, China