"Our alumni are our best promoters" - Interview with CEIBS Dean Prof. Ding Yuan

„1+1“ is a new project. Can you tell us something about what this project has achieved t

„1+1“ is a new project. Can you tell us something about what this project has achieved thus far?  Could the engagement with the CEIBS international community be strengthened?

Zhang: The “1+1” program is designed to strengthen CEIBS’ reputation through the interaction between alumni and prospective students in the international community. Each participant is encouraged to bring with them [an additional guest] or ‘plus one’ who is a qualified prospect for our MBA, GEMBA or corporate programs.

Ding: Who better to recommend CEIBS than those who know it best?  Our alumni are our best promoters.  In Europe, however, promoting CEIBS is still a challenge, because the school is not yet well-known here.  Similar „1+1“events have only recently taken place in Taipei and Hong Kong.  Two other events will be held during the coming week in Singapore, and then also in Accra, Ghana.

What feedback have you received so far?

Ding: Taiwan and Hong Kong were very successful. What I have learned is that our name [CEIBS] is a remarkable advantage, but particularly so in the Asia-Pacific region. Even in Hong Kong, where we have strong competitors, we are doing well.  People are coming to the events, and we receive excellent feedback. The participants enjoy the lectures, and they compare these to other business school experiences.

Recently, we had a participant, a lady who was a graduate from Wharton and who was working as an investment banker in Hong Kong.  Out of curiosity, she came to the event—and afterwards, she was convinced that she should join our GEMBA program. One thing I said moved her a lot. I said that our lecturer that evening was great, but that we had thirty more of such top faculty members.  In addition to our top faculty, prospective students also value the relationship the school has with its alumni.

The topic of this „1+1“ lecture is Chinese Foreign Direct Investment, or FDI.  Also, Mergers & Acquisitions has been a hot topic for a couple of years. How can a business school prepare its students for big international deals such as Chem China with Syngenta or the „Dalian Wanda case“?

Zhang: Simply put, in three ways: first, through the textbook knowledge and conceptual framework taught in the classroom. Second, through case studies on previous M&A deals. Third, students may share their experiences and learn from one another in the classroom setting.

Ding: I must add that we did not have any M+A courses before 2012. But even then, there was a demand for such courses.  We then invited professionals as visiting professors, but this attempt failed because there was no teaching structure behind it. Sharing an experience is not teaching.

So, from my own personal interest, I suggested to Prof. Zhang that we develop a course.  At that time, I was involved as a consultant in different companies and in different M+A deals, and we used our experience, went through the books and developed the course from scratch. It was immediately well received. Two years ago, we reached a peak: we taught the course eight times. In the meantime, we have established a research center with a multi-disciplinary approach and have written almost thirty cases.

The cases have been published, and are being translated into English. This September, we will expand the course and include various new aspects regarding cross-border M+A.

Why Chinese companies prefer mergers with European companies

„1+1“ is a new project. Can you tell us something about what this project has achieved t

Interview with CEIBS Dean Prof. Ding Yuan and CEIBS Prof. Zhang Hua


How big is the risk for a Chinese enterprise today if they invest abroad?

Ding: Just today a paper in Hong Kong published an article I wrote with the title: “The failure rate for cross-border acquisition is 90%. How to become the other 10%?” Failure means you do not reach your goals. The fact is, according to a big survey, 70% of companies could not reach their targets after a merger.  When you consider cross-border mergers, you must add another 10 % to this number.  Considering that most Chinese managers have no experience whatsoever in cross-border M+A, you must then add another 10%.  So, considering this high failure rate—we, as a school have a kind of social obligation to help the companies both for M+As at home and in host countries.

Zhang: I think one risk is also to overpay. Another one is to lose the original management, which in many cases is key to the success of post-acquisition integration.

Since the end of 2016 no state group may invest more than 1 billion abroad. How shall one interpret this decision of the Chinese government?
Zhang: In my view, such a regulation is mainly due to concerns about the outflow of the foreign capital reserve in China. Once exchange rates are stabilized, there will be deregulation. Certainly, the limit will be lifted sooner or later. Regardless of the limit, however, companies will still continue to receive preferred treatment by the state-owned banks, and receive low-interest rates.

Ding: I also think this is a temporary measure. The market was too hot and the government started to worry.  The main worries were the failure rate combined with the currency drain. Of course, if somebody has a short-term view on what happens, the situation might seem critical, but let us consider a global and long term perspective: the global M+A market is worth 4.5 trillion USD. Only 30% of the mergers are cross-border transactions (1.5 trillion). Now you take the Chinese numbers: last year everybody thought that 170 billion USD was a huge number, but it only amounts to maybe 15% of the global cross-border investments. When I read these numbers, I looked at the stock of Chinese overseas investments. The stock is merely 20% of the French stock--and then you look at the size of the Chinese economy. China has just started, and that is the reason why the number is high and that is also the reason why we, as a school, are so strongly committed to supporting companies in this matter.

How would you distinguish Chinese FDI in the U.S. from investments in Europe?

Zhang: I think it is easier for Chinese companies to find good brands and good technology in Europe at a relatively low price, compared to the U.S. In addition, the “one belt, one road” is also a reason.

Ding:  There are two things. One is the complementarity of China and Europe. You see more synergies between China and Europe because the goals in life seem to be similar. Let us look at European entrepreneurs, for example. Many have the dream of their company becoming a legacy. Chinese entrepreneurs have the same dream. In the United States, the affection for the business in general is lower: you make your business big, sell it and become rich. But I really feel that there is an easy relationship between Chinese and European entrepreneurs.

If you bring Chinese executives to Victorinox, a family business founded in 1884, and compare this with a Silicon Valley company which has just recently been founded and sold shortly thereafter for millions—then for Chinese executives the latter is just a boring story. On the technical side, one also sees a lot of complementarity. China is by far a manufacturing place and they do not want to abandon, but rather upgrade their businesses.

That’s the reason why the only place to get inspiration is the triangle of Switzerland, Germany and Austria, where one finds this high-quality manufacturing. There is another place like Germany--and that is Japan--but it does not work for us to bring executives to Japan.  Japan is a closed society and they unfortunately do not want to collaborate that much.

Here in Europe however, people are neutral towards the Chinese and many see the cooperation as something positive. In the USA, the perception is mainly negative because they see China as a challenger. The Swiss do not care about this, but rather wish to work with companies and people with whom they can make a deal.  Europe is an open-minded continent. That makes it a more favorable area for Chinese companies to expand.

Can you make a prediction about the future of Chinese FDI?
Zhang: The Chinese economy will continue to have a high growth rate in the future and Chinese consumers will also continue to demand more high-quality products and services.  FDI, with the purpose to upgrade Chinese firms’ competencies, will grow accordingly. We call it a consumption upgrade: not only consumer goods but also the demand for industry goods will spur continued growth.

Reflections on President Xi’s visit to Switzerland

Xi Jinping’s presence in the 2017 World Economic Forum was unequivocally the highlight of the

Xi Jinping’s presence in the 2017 World Economic Forum was unequivocally the highlight of the prestigious annual gathering in Davos not only for its unprecedentedness as the first Chinese President attended the meeting but also for the message he delivered. In an hour-long speech for the Davos opening plenary, Xi championed the merits of globalisation and exemplified the theme of the 47th WEF annual meeting - Responsive and Responsible leadership. The appeal to Build a Community of Shared Future for Mankind, as translated from the widely used term in Chinese, imbues throughout his speech.

In contrast to most Chinese politicians who are often perceived as inscrutable by the West, Xi exuded an air of friendliness and tranquillity as he started the speech by complimenting the small but beautiful town Davos and humorously coining the WEF meeting as the Schwab-economics. Xi continued in a tone that changed almost homely when he said, “as you know all, in 10 days it would be the Lunar Chinese New Year – the most important festival celebrated by the Chinese people with visits of family, friends and loved ones through which we strengthen our bond and friendship. This time my wife and I, and the member of our Chinese delegation are coming to Davos to pay our respect and send our New Year greetings to Switzerland and the world”.

China is a friend

The intention of the message to the world is obvious: China is a friend! The most important man in China is demonstrating it with the analogy of the most important Chinese festival customs. Such stand makes the headline catching but ever declining momentum of debates such as China -friend or foe, China - opportunity or threat rather obsolete. It is not conflicts of interests which exist in any relationship at institutional and international level that determine a nation as a friend or foe but rather than the willingness to cooperate in solving any conflicts as partners which is what slogan of WEF stands for: committed to improving the state of the world.

On 20th January 2017, the last day of the WEF, Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. The two leaders of the two most powerful countries in the world share some stunning similarities and stark differences.  Xi’s Chinese Dream and Trump’s Make American Great Again are two slogans with the same vision. People, a word mentioned repeatedly by both leaders in their respective speech, are the crux of this shared vision which aims to inspire people in uniting together and marching forward to restore the greatness of their country.

China's leadership role in global governance

On global and economic issues the two leaders seem to be on the opposite end of the spectrum at the first glance. “No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war”, affirmed by Xi in his speech, a philosophy echoes with the essence of Sun Zi’s supreme Art of war – true victory is to win without fighting. Reality will prove the truth of these words. In any case the even greater challenge remains internal. How can China exercise its leadership role in global governance which the US has traditionally exerted dominance and until very recently an uncharted territory for China? Such a question calls for more than serious discourse by policy makers and academics, and undoubtedly of immense relevance to a top Chinese business school renowned for its education on leadership and for leaders.

In addressing the sluggish global economy, Xi attributed three critical issues as the root cause: the lack of robust driving forces for global growth, inadequate global economic governance and uneven global development. In proposing actions to address these issues, a dynamic and innovation-driven growth model was highlighted as the first measure, with developing a model of open and win-win cooperation underpinned by an inter-connected and well-coordinated approach as the second.

How to take inspiration from XI’s proposed actions

The food for thought for the Zurich Institute of Business Education, CEIBS Zurich campus, is how we can take inspiration from XI’s proposed actions and contribute in this sphere.  

On the topic of innovation, CEIBS Zurich campus is proud to announce that we regularly host Study Tours, which consist mostly of Chinese CEOs and senior executives who are the shakers and movers in China’s business world, on innovation and Industry 4.0 in Europe. These study tours provide participants with insights into not only the cutting-edge theories and ideas but also the invaluable opportunities to experience first hand the practical and operational knowhow with European company visits and industry exchange.

On the theme win-win cooperation, the CEIBS Europe Forum 2016 hosted in four cities Zurich, Munich, Paris and London epitomised the success of an internationally connected and well-coordinated approach. The forum, which was attended by ambassadors, CEIBS deans and leading faculties, European companies, partners, academics and private individuals actively engaged in Sino-European business or affairs, received extraordinary reception from all participants. The Zurich Institute of Business Education, as the newly established European presence of CEIBS, is committed to contributing in making the forum even more successful.

As stated by Dean Prof Ding in one of his interviews in Davos with Swiss TV SRF, “China's attitude toward globalization and free trade issues has attracted the attention of the world”. Indeed, all eyes on China! Xi’s quote of Charles Dickens’ words, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, a contradiction that resonates perfectly with the harmony of the Taoism’s Yin and Yang -opportunities and challenges are to be equally embraced.


Philip Boksberger
CEO Zurich Institute of Business Education


Innovation is the DNA of our Global Executive MBA

Dear readerOnly recently did we seize the opportunity and talked to the editors of ‚seminar.in

Dear reader

Only recently did we seize the opportunity and talked to the editors of ‚seminar.inside‘, which is a quarterly magazine with a focus on managerial education.

Frankly, I was not aware that we were made the cover story until I saw the magazine. I think the title puts the essentials of our business school in a nutshell: „Innovation is in our DNA“. Ever since we started in 2009 we wanted to be at the forefront of business education. We reached this hard-to-please goal because we constantly throve for highbrow teaching and last but not least thanks to our extraordinary staff.

Click to read the interview

The interview with our CEO, Philipp Boksberger, reflects both our philosophy and the future of business education. Therefore we will continue to constantly draw attention to our institute of business education with new and progressive programs.

Peter Lorange

“I’m not sure we have really developed all that much in the past several thousand years.”

Interview with Jack D. Wood*) about leadership in a digital world. ---Why is continual higher learni

Interview with Jack D. Wood*) about leadership in a digital world.


Why is continual higher learning like the GEMBA the appropriate way to battle an increasingly complex global economic environment?

I don’t think you want to ‘battle’ the complex global economic environment; I think you want to understand it so you can work within it without fearing it and without losing your humanity.  

Executives and the business press today overestimate the importance of technology.  Companies, and countries, fail not because they don’t have technology or money or because of the perception of complexity, they fail because of failures in leadership.  

The CEIBS GEMBA, like the IMD MBA that ran from 2001 until 2012, was unique in its focus on leadership.  Without first-rate leadership, businesses cannot compete and public sector organizations will flounder.

Usually it’s the other way round….

That is right. Most employees entering businesses have technical skills and technical training.  They end up working in companies for five or ten years, and then it becomes clear that their technical skills and technical training are not enough.  They need leadership skills. 

These managers are trained in a cognitive and rational way, and they look at situations as if organizations with people ran like an engineering system.  But businesses don’t run like automobiles.  They are full of people.

And these people have to be treated differently than you treat circuits on an assembly line.  Military organizations actually work differently: first you become an officer, then you learn how to pilot an airplane or command a ship. Leadership skills come first and technical skills come later.  

You mean that in industry there is a big gap between technical training and leadership training?

In industry you end up with technically trained people who after ten years end up managing people at work and having families at home and none of their technical skills help them to do either.  Leadership and behavioral skills are central. 

So why is there a leadership focus on the GEMBA? If you can get the leadership stuff right, you will be positioned to have much better decision-making in all business areas--whether it’s a question of accounting, finance, operations, whatever. If you don’t get leadership right, you always make a mess of all other organizational decision-making.

However, not everybody is born to be a leader…

There is a widespread misconception about the distinction between ‘leader’ and ‘leadership’—the one is a formal role and the second is a behavioral process.  Conventional thinking mistakenly assumes that the person on top of the organization is ‘the leader’.  But leadership is a process that occurs throughout the organization.

A German HR exec was planning a program for young high potential managers, and she came to see me and asked me what I did.  I gave her my assignments and readings.  A few months later she came back and said that she liked my readings and assignments but could I remove the words ‘leader’ and ‘leadership’ from the material.

I asked why she wanted me to do that. She said that she didn't to want the young managers to come back from my course and think that they would be leaders. I said, “Let's go to the kindergarten and look through the big window.” It was a wall of glass. Behind it were dozens of kids. I asked her if she could see any leadership being exercised among the children in the kindergarten? She said yes.

Some of the kids were organizing the others, initiating games, leading. And so I said to her: Ok, let's talk about what leadership is and what it isn’t.  There is a difference between a ‘leader’ which is a formal role, and ‘leadership’ which is a process that occurs at all levels of an organization—or any group, including one’s family.

Is your personal-development aspect, similar to the one which you established at IMD, which distinguishes the GEMBA from other EMBA programs?

All business schools that ‘teach leadership’ focus on a personal or individual level.  Mostly the focus is in the classroom and sometimes there are a few hours of personal ‘coaching’. The main differences with leadership work I do is that we don’t just focus on the personal, individual level, we work on the group and organizational levels—and we work in depth.

All leadership is exercised in small groups. Even if you are a President or a Prime Minister you still work in a small group.  So, we focus on the small group. Most schools and organizations do individual coaching but in fact you never work with somebody as an individual only. 

If you’re thrown into a group, and you think it’s just a collection of individuals with their own traits, you just don’t understand the unconscious dynamics of how the group works. If you don’t understand why people are subgrouping, why the agenda on the table is not the real agenda but the agenda under the table is, then you’ll never be an effective leader.

But is leadership not mostly about motivating people?

Traditional ‘leadership’ is based on dominance, hierarchy and obedience. But dominance is not leadership.  Dominance—authoritarian behavior—is a kind of archaic or primitive leadership.  It works with baboons but it doesn’t work with humans very well—unless there is a crisis. 

This is why authoritarian leaders create and exacerbate crises, to permit them to behave in an authoritarian manner. This is true in Switzerland, the US, Russia, China, everywhere.  Dominating your subordinates with your formal authority may bring compliance, but it will never bring commitment.  Authoritarian leadership is the same everywhere.  

The collective desire for dominant and authoritarian leadership is more pronounced in times of insecurity and fear. Today is an example.  And it’s dangerous.

What would be a more behavioral approach?

If you understand what drives people’s unconscious behavior, you can exercise leadership in a deeper, more effective way. Nelson Mandela’s name comes up often as a great leader. Mandela spent 27 years in prison.

He went into prison as an angry young man, but after a while he realized that his anger way toxic to himself, so he became curious about why the whites treated the blacks so badly. He started talking to his jailers to understand them.  He learned that the reason whites treated the blacks badly was because they were afraid of the blacks—that’s why whites were persecuting blacks.  And when he got out of prison, his advisors were telling him they could not take revenge on the whites.

But Mandela said no, and he addressed the fears of the whites, not the bitterness of the whites. That’s why he was a remarkable leader, because he could address the unconscious and irrational elements.  Robert Mugabe in former Rhodesia did exactly the opposite, and Zimbabwe is a mess now: same kind of history, same kind of resources, same legacy of white rule, different black leadership, so different results—success in South Africa and failure in Zimbabwe.

Not everyone has what it takes to be Nelson Mandela…

Well actually almost everyone does.  In today’s environment you get a lot of would be leaders playing to fear and exaggerating it, basically manipulating people into supporting them because of fear, so that they can justify behaving in an authoritarian manner.

Hitler and Stalin did that. Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are examples today. It’s an old trick: generate and exacerbate fear among the people, and manipulate them into following your fabricated solutions—it’s narcissistic and pathological.  There are lots of ‘top executives’ who operate this way too.  There is a lot of current research that identifies that the character traits of many CEOs are the same as those of psychopaths.  

If you exercise leadership today, you can’t understand things by only working on yourself—like getting personal coaching—because you’re trapped in a system that you don’t understand.  Of course you have to understand the psychological dynamics that drive you, but you need to understand what drives those around you too.

And how shall we escape the system in which we are trapped?

----> Read the entire interview in a PDF


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Jack D. Wood, Professor of Management Practice and Organisational Behaviour at the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai, China; Emeritus Professor of Leadership and Organisational Behaviour at the International Management Development Institute (IMD) in Lausanne, Switzerland, and Visiting Professor at the Moscow School of Management (Skolkovo) in Russia.