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Coming Together

Lydia J. Price

Professor of Marketing, CEIBS

When I was a PhD student at Columbia University in late 1980s, some of the professors there travelled to China to teach at the China Europe Management Institute (CEMI). CEMI was an aid initiative – it received financial and intellectual aid from Europe – so, they were really sending only Europeans to teach, but when CEIBS was established, they started hiring all passport holders. Soon after that, I started to teach at CEIBS part-time.

In the beginning, we still didn’t have a campus and I was flying in from Hong Kong to teach part-time programmes in hotel boardrooms – mostly for Executive Education, but also some EMBA and MBA courses. When Alfredo Pastor was Dean, however, he embarked on serious recruitment of full-time faculty. Because he knew me, I knew him and I was considering a change in my career, he really played a key role in attracting me to the school. “We know you, you do well, so why don’t you come here?” he said. “You know, it’s a good opportunity.” Linda Sprague was also here and when I came to visit the Shanghai campus after it had been constructed, she was pretty persuasive. So, finally, I decided to move here in 2003.

One of my earliest CEIBS memories was when I was teaching the capstone EMBA simulation as a visiting professor (before I joined full-time). One year, some of the women in the programme came to me to seek my opinion on what clothing they should wear for their graduation party. Because I taught the last course, they were having the celebration right after that and they were really distraught about it. Many of them were working in multinational companies, yet they were still very traditionally Chinese. Part of the problem was that they didn’t really know whether they should present themselves as representatives of the western companies most of them were working in. Specifically, they had a very big emotional struggle – with many tears, arguments and debates – over whether they should wear qipao or western evening gowns. So, they came to ask for my opinion. Honestly I don’t remember what I told them, but the result was that they decided to do both. It ended up being like a Chinese wedding. First, they put one dress on, and then for the second half of the party, they changed.

It was an interesting time because there were definitely a lot of questions about identity and China was changing so quickly – no one really knew where they were going to fit in. At one point, I was teaching an EMBA Consumer Behaviour class and we were talking about identity, culture and so forth. Some of the men in the class were upset because women were starting to show more independence, making their own decisions, and there was a really emotional debate in the classroom where some of the men said it was unfair that they were sort of losing their positions and primacy in the household, in decision-making and so forth. They had to share that power. Of course, now everybody participates equally, but it was interesting to see the changes occurring and how quickly people adapted to them. After a couple of years, there were discussions, but no debates about those issues any more.

Later, when I was Associate Dean of the MBA Programme, Yvonne Li and I served as co-directors and we were responsible for making a lot of changes. The school was changing from having all Chinese students to becoming more international, so there were many adjustments we had to go through. Yvonne and I, along with the Deans at the time, Prof. Rolf Cremer and Prof. Zhang Weijiong, all went through a lot of challenges to make those changes, but it was a kind of cultural collaboration and learning experience for everyone. In the process, I really learned how to work in an international context and engage in collaborative decision-making leadership. Because of the changes we made, we were able to get the school into the top 10 of the FT rankings for the first time. That was really a good opportunity, but it was really not one person’s effort – a lot of people worked together to change the school and make that happen.

I also have very strong memories of the various student events at CEIBS. The students were so energetic and excited. They made movies and put on shows and threw annual end-of-year parties. Years later, when I see the students come back with their children and I get to see them at the top of their organisations, that is one of the benefits of being an older professor. You have the ability to see the progress your students have made and get to enjoy celebrating with them.

At the same time, it has been amazing just being in China and seeing so much of the country’s development all the way from early 1990s to the present day and seeing the changing people and the changing society and knowing that the teaching that was happening in the classroom was being put to use. People would walk out of the classroom, go right back to their offices and try the things they were learning about. By contrast, if you worked in a developed economy where people already knew so much, you might make only incremental changes. Here, I think all of us who were teaching knew we were making such a big impact on what was happening at the time. Today, with the pace of change of digitalization and how pervasive it has been in everything that has happened in China, and seeing all of our students working with this technology, I think that is something pretty unique as well.

One area where we can still do a lot more is in connecting the dots between all of the people, all of our alumni, our faculty and our staff, and really pooling everything together. We have a tremendous wealth of resources in terms of the CEIBS community and just an enormous wealth of people. We don’t do as well as we could, I think, in terms of leveraging that – particularly in terms of cross-pollinating groups so they can stand together, helping one group really get familiar with another group, or helping individuals from a particular programme or year get in touch with people from other parts of the school, for the betterment or for whatever reason, just to help with business relations, to build friendship, or just to support the school.

I also hope the school continues to put efforts into and pay attention to cultural issues. Culture is so sensitive, particularly in these times. It is so easy for cultures to drift apart without warning, with no deliberate intent, just because of differences in habits and languages, and it is so easy for people to become isolated from other culture groups. We need to pay continuous attention to that. When you are facing seemingly impossible challenges, everybody naturally comes together for survival. As a school, we are fighting to be seen and recognised on the world stage. That challenge can bond people together and do a lot to overcome differences, but after you’ve accomplished a lot of big things, people do not necessarily feel that bond or common goal any longer. So, we have to make sure we have common goals, we continuously work to promote cross-pollination between departments, between programmes, between different generations, and between faculty and students. We need to help people come together.

Lydia J. Price is a Professor of Marketing at CEIBS. From 2006 to 2012 she also served as Associate Dean and Director of the CEIBS MBA Programme. Her current teaching and research interests lie in the area of responsible leadership and marketing strategy.

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