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In early December 2011, twenty-nine participants of the Kellogg-WHU EMBA class of 2012 travelled to Hong Kong for their international elective. For those, who do not have very much time to read, I make it short: HKUST took great care of us. The trip was a wonderful international learning and networking experience, which brought Kellogg people worldwide once again closer together.
Well, of course there is much more to say…
The majority of our KW14 class chose Hong Kong for their elective for a simple reason: China is growing at an extraordinary pace and exerting a powerful influence upon the global economy. As China emerges as a dominating global player it is also having a significant impact on countries worldwide. It often seems as China is currently setting the agenda for the future of the West. The majority of global players is located in China because everybody knows that China will play an even more important role in international business in the future than it already executes today.
Hong Kong is the linchpin for making business in Asia. Attending a module at the famous Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) was therefore a must for most of us. Some in our class were even accompanied by their partners, who did not want to miss the Asia experience either! Upon arrival, we were accommodated at the Harbour Plaza Metropolis hotel on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. Meeting fellow students from all Kellogg campuses (Recanati, Schulich, WHU, Kellogg-Evanston and Miami) felt like a reunion with fellow-students who had started becoming friends.
Together, we completed two out of three possible courses, i.e. consumer behavior (Prof. Jaideep Sengupta), deal making in China and Asia (Prof. Laurence Franklin) and building a powerful consumer brand in China (Prof. Ron McEachern). There were many learnings but here are three main take-aways:
1) China is not China Inc. Every Chinese province negotiates for itself and has its own award procedure for business contracts. Thus, you can sell the same product more than once to China.
2) Product superiority does not matter alone. Guanxi (“relationship”, reciprocal relationship obligation) matters more! Relationship triumphs over experience and expertise. Don’t underestimate local competitors, who can be stronger than you because of their Guanxi.
3) If, in your negotiations, you meet a Chinese who is not very well dressed, has a bad haircut, seems brusque, and speaks no English, do not assume he has no authority. He may be the most important person in the room. At the same time, if you meet a Chinese who is nicely dressed, sports a foreign watch, speaks good English and is friendly, do not assume he has any authority whatsoever. He may just be the interpreter, newly graduated from the Foreign Language Institute.
The entire group was highly diverse. We met many people with incredible personalities, with whom we connected professionally and personally. Teamwork has long been a characteristic of Kellogg, and because of this intensive teamwork with fellow-students, we again became closer to one another and fostered our global Kellogg team spirit, a journey we began on Kellogg’s home campus in Evanston in August. THIS time, at HKUST, it really felt like you immediately became part of a global class and community, who shares, to a wide extent, the same mindset. For the first day, the HKUST team organized an impressive campus tour and a festive welcome dinner.
On the 5th of December, the entire class went on a boat trip to “Sai Kung” for seafood dinner. This was not an ordinary experience. As you can see on the photos, we saw BIG fishes and many exotic marine animals on the way to the restaurant. Of course we drank “Tsingtao” beer from Qingdao, which is located in China’s Eastern Shandong province. Did you know that the Tsingtao Brewery Co. Ltd. (pinyin “Qīngdǎo píjiǔchǎng”), which is China's second largest brewery, was founded in 1903 by German settlers? That is why Tsingtao beer is produced according to German purity law.
The Kellogg-HKUST experience ended with a fantastic closing dinner at “The Hong Kong Jockey Club”. The Hong Kong Jockey Club is located in the middle of Hong Kong surrounded by skyscraper and covers a wide area of many soccer fields. Founded in 1884 to promote horse racing, it is one of the oldest institutions in Hong Kong and, today, a non-profit organization providing horse racing, sporting and betting entertainment. This exclusive club is the largest taxpayer in Hong Kong, as well as the largest private donor of charity funds, contributing an average of over HK$1 billion (approximately US$130 million) annually over the past ten years. No wonder it is also the largest funding partner of HKUST… We profited from this relationship by celebrating a wonderful evening with all international fellow-students and HKUST professors in its VIP lounge with a fantastic view of the racecourse with top-class local and international food and wine. The atmosphere was very cheerful. After this experience, we continued celebrating at some famous cocktail bars, for instance at the Upper House or at the Ozone on the 118th floor of the Ritz-Carlton, which claims to be the highest bar in the world. – Both are definitely worth a visit.
Those of us, who have not been to Hong Kong yet, visited at least some of the typical “must have seen” Hong Kong attractions like Victoria Peak, some open-air markets (Ladies' market in Mongkok and Yau Ma Tei's Temple Street Night Market), Ocean Park, Repulse Bay, Wong Tai Sin Temple, Aberdeen, the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Center or Stanley Market. As time was again limited, I think nobody went to Hong Kong Disneyland...
According to the Global Financial Centres Index, Hong Kong is ranked third amongst the World's top financial centers in 2011. This was not always obvious when we visited the city. It felt like some parts of Hong Kong had not kept pace with the overall development of the banking district and other main parts of the city. Some of us also visited Hong Kong’s impressive harbor, which is the world's third busiest container port in terms of throughput (In 2010, it has handled around 20,983 thousand TEUs of containers).
Others visited “Tian Tan Buddha”, also known as the Big Buddha, which is a large bronze statue of a Buddha, completed in 1993, and located at Ngong Ping, Lantau Island, in Hong Kong. The Big Buddha was enthroned on a large mountain and we reached it by a long cable car, a couple of hours before sunset. Unfortunately, on the way back the cable car was no longer working, with the consequence that we had to stand in a long line of people waiting for a bus to Hong Kong downtown. After three hours of waiting time in the cold, on the top of the mountain, and one hour by bus we finally managed to be back in town again and had simple but warm Cantonese food in local restaurant. One of us enjoyed especially his dish with a complete chicken leg still including the toenails… But what would Hong Kong be without any experience of the real life apart from any stylish locations? We had tremendous fun and, again, the evening ended at one of Hong Kong’s merrymaking places at “Lan Kwai Fong”.
After Hong Kong, many of us visited Macao, Shanghai or Beijing with very different and exciting experiences but that is another story…
On behalf of KW14, I would like to thank all Kellogg-HKUST students, the Hong Kong staff and professors for their involvement in the preparation and all other Kellogg students and people, who made this Hong Kong trip a formidable experience, which we will surely remember for a very long time.
Kellogg-WHU Executive MBA class of 2012