As an MMS Alumnus, I Live in China & Work for Fuqua
8:00 AM — I pop up from my IKEA bed, briskly swipe my finger to turn down the alarm on my i-Phone designed in California, but made here in China. I grab a pair of chopsticks to spread Skippy Peanut Butter over a piece of toast and throw back some Chrysanthemum Tea.
8:20 AM — Stepping out my door I’m greeted by a big slab of fish, neatly hung in the stairwell. The dried out meat and carcass stands between me and the elevator. It turns out that the character for fish “鱼”is pronounced “yú,” the same “yú” or “余,” the character meaning “surplus.” Not to be consumed, the fish, like China’s 3.2 trillion dollars in reserves serves as a symbol, an indicator of the country and this family’s newfound prosperity.
Scooting past my fishy neighbor, I step into the elevator and enjoy a solo ride 17 floors down; precious seconds of tranquility before being engulfed by the hustle and bustle of Shanghai’s busy streets.
8:30 AM — Once you hit pavement you must keep your head on a swivel. Taxis, cars, bikes, scooters, motorbikes and pedestrians; they come from all directions and never in small numbers. There are 1.3 billion people in China, a stat you can easily wrap your head around just by walking down the street, but one that is especially understood during the rush hour journey of the morning commute. Luckily, the bus stop is right outside my apartment complex. I hop on the number 3.
The next 20 minutes or so, depending on traffic — In a jerky motion, the bus plunges north up South Tibet Road into People’s Square, the heart of Shanghai. After chatting up the driver in his native dialect, I jump off and walk across the busy intersection into a Taiwanese bakery chain called 85 degrees that serves great coffee for just 8 RMB. A $1.25 or 8 bucks of the “people’s currency,” gets you some morning Joe that sets you back just a quarter of the price of a Grande cup at any of the city’s Starbucks. Oh the importance of localization!
8:58 AM — The bakery jam packed, I still manage to make it in and out in just three minutes. I switch to the number 20 bus which drives me toward the office. All in all, the 40-minute, two bus trek takes me past several high-end car dealerships, a Pizza Hut (considered slightly chic cuisine in China) and all the household names in jewelry and luxury, not to mention three huge malls dedicated to the “top of the line” stuff.
9:30 AM — Say hello to Shan Shan Zhao and Luke Li (MBA ’06), my colleagues here at Fuqua’s office at The Shanghai Center (1376 Nanjing West Road, Suite 730).
My morning agenda kicks off with a meeting with a prospective student. He has 5 years of work experience with a Chinese State-Owned Natural Resources Company in East Africa. Now back home, he’s antsy. Bitten by the global bug, he’s looking to head back overseas for his MBA degree and feels Fuqua will be a great fit. Slightly nervous to meet a representative of the school, he is barely able to sense my excitement to learn his story. I personally am hoping to gain a better understanding of Chinese firms, the direction they’re moving in, and how that will affect the global economy.
As an office, we’re trying to add more “China/Asia-headquartered” companies to our portfolio of partners and student employers. At a time when Chinese companies are looking overseas in record fashion, I’m truly chomping at the bit for this chat.
What was Africa like? How’s life as a Chinese-National working overseas? Tell me more about the State-Owned System? Compensation? Benefits? Training and Development? Will our graduates want to work there in the future? Questions fly through my head like Coach K through the air after a last-minute bucket in a big-time tourney victory.
10:45 AM — With a few minutes until the next meeting, I hop online and peruse the day’s news. The Wall Street Journal Asia, Bloomberg’s China section, The China Daily (a local English-language paper). I chat with my colleagues about the latest “tweets” on Weibo (the official Chinese twitter site). Just for kicks I throw an eye on Caixin Media’s site, the Chinese-Language “Economist” if you will.
11:00 AM — My next meeting is with the APAC (Asia Pacific) President of a US Multi-National Company. A wonderful learning experience and a great connection for Fuqua, this meeting pans out in a similar fashion to the others with MNC leadership. High growth in Asia and an underdeveloped talent pool, he’s here to learn about our campus, our plans in the region, and how he can entice our Chinese students to return to this part of the world.
12:30 PM — After a few emails and a quick gander at the Dollar/RMB exchange-rate, I’m on my way to lunch. After some carrots, a banana, hearty yogurt and a healthy salad (it’s my journal entry and I’m allowed to embellish a bit) from the international super-market downstairs, I quickly return to the office.
1:15 PM — We’re traveling to Beijing next week to visit with companies and I’ve got to send out a few meeting requests. On the agenda is a nice mix: a State-Owned Bank, a Private Chinese Internet Company, and three multi-nationals. Still an emerging market, we meet mostly with large, high-tech, US manufacturers, consulting and healthcare behemoths and some auto companies. Finance is still heavily regulated here. Opening that sector of the economy would inhibit The Party somewhat with regard to fiscal matters, not a desirable outcome for a government that believes in calculated, steady and harmonious development. With vast land, more than 50 ethnic groups, great wealth disparity and the world’s largest population, the government can be likened to a risk-averse investor. They throw their chips in the pot hoping for “nice” returns, but are definitely seeking to minimize the volatility in their portfolio.
2:00 PM — Though it’s 1 am in Durham, I get peppered with texts and recorded messages from current Chinese students at Duke. Friends contacting me though an iPhone app called 微信 (micro-message). 1 am is like the middle of the afternoon for college and B-school students so I don’t even think twice before replying.
A miniscule number at the turn of the 21st century, Chinese students are now swarming US campuses in record numbers. They’re studying hard. Interviewing, hobnobbing, networking and visiting with companies, desperately hoping to find a job that allows them to stay in the US just a little longer. Ultimately, however, many of them will return to China. The buzz on the streets, the dynamism, the 1.3 billion; it’s all just too much to pass up.
4:00 PM — The day winds down with a few phone calls to vendors and some preparation for the upcoming Global Executive MBA class that will hold its residency in Shanghai, Kunshan, and Bangkok in just under two months.
6:30 PM — Earmuffs tightly secured and warm gloves on my hands, I enjoy a short walk toward the metro. Line 7, switch to Line 2 and I’m at Tian Zi Fang (田子坊), an artsy district near my home for a quick bite with a friend of mine. He’s from Kenya and is a second-year Daytime student at Fuqua. He’s currently at CEIBS (China Europe International Business School) on exchange. Over South Indian cuisine we chat Chinese politics. I soak up his views on China, the country’s progress, problems, and promise for the future.
8:30 PM — On my way home I walk past three KFC restaurants, a hybrid Chinese-international supermarket chain, Family-Mart (Asia’s version of 7/11) and the gym. Western-style with free weights, an Olympic-size swimming pool and a Ping-Pong table, the gym unfortunately doesn’t make it into my schedule this evening.
9:00 PM — I flip open my China built, US and China designed, and Beijing-branded Lenovo laptop and throw on Skype. Smg44atdukeasia signing on for a conference call with my Fuqua colleagues around the globe. The school has offices in Durham, Dubai, New Delhi, St. Petersburg and London, in addition to Shanghai. I can’t say exactly how and I don’t know exactly when, but China, its people, companies and culture will have an impact on all these places more and more in the future.
Adventure, the aura of change, a love for international relations and a keen interest in business; in 2012, there’s no other place in the world I’d rather be than here in China. It’s different. The culture, the history, the challenges, the system. China is like a TIVOed TV drama with change firmly pressing its finger on the “fast-forward” button and the government trying to wrestle the remote from its lock-tight grip. It’s not easy and it’s not for everyone, but it’s important and never ceases to be interesting.