This blog was written prior to the Cross Continent MBA program merger with the Global Executive MBA program

About a year ago, I sat in my chief risk officer’s office, and had asked her, “What do you think will define the next generation of business leaders?”

She said very simply, “Real-life global experiences and the ability to translate that into business.”

The message resonated and has stuck with me. Fast forward to today and I find myself starting my third term in The Duke Cross Continent MBA’s fast-paced 2-year program designed to cultivate leadership and global business experience.

Our first residency outside of the U.S. was in Shanghai. The last time I had seen this city was over 15 years ago when I was a toddler traveling with my family. At the time, I saw China through the lens of a young tourist, fascinated by its ancient history and architecture. Now that I had returned as part of my MBA program, I was seeing it from a business-minded perspective. China and its economy had truly become intertwined with the global business landscape.

The Shanghai skyline was majestic and the modernization was clearly noticeable. The city was a thriving metropolis. Shanghai, considered one of China’s three mega-cities, had over 25 million people living in the metropolitan area. I had never seen anything like it in my life and was in awe of how far the country had come since my last visit.

Steven - VW selfie
Getting ready for the factory tour

However, not everything was too foreign for me. Upon leaving the airport, I felt an immediate familiarity—having lived in DC and Northern Virginia—with the “after-work gridlock.” Navigating traffic in Shanghai was an incredibly intense experience, with each driver living out their NASCAR aspirations, fighting (and honking) for every inch of the road. But despite the chaos, the cars weaved in and out in perfect harmony, appearing miraculously coordinated like a well conducted orchestra. Being a business nerd, I noticed immediately that the majority of the cars were Volkswagens and then wondered how this company was able to have such market presence. Luckily for me, the CCMBA program staff had already set up a corporate visit with Volkswagen, one of China’s leading automobile manufacturers.

Shanghai Volkswagen was founded in 1984 from a joint venture between Volkswagen Group and SAIC motors. This joint venture was one of the first examples of an international business entering into China’s economy—a significant milestone in global business. Today, China represents one of the largest sales markets for the Volkswagen group.

Our corporate tour took us to its flagship manufacturing hub located in Anting—about an hour northwest of Shanghai. The factory tour was an incredible experience. It gave me a true “in the trenches” experience to see how the Chinese labor force leveraged foreign technology to manufacture automobiles for its country. This factory had delivered Volkswagens into the homes of millions of Chinese citizens. It was incredible to see the operations of a factory, especially for someone like myself who is in the finance field and works in an office. The tour was followed by a presentation and Q&A session with the management team.

The best part for me, and definitely the most fulfilling, was the Q&A session. My classmates represent almost every continent in the world and are rockstars in their own respective areas of industry. Listening to the hard-hitting, diverse range of questions they asked was amazing. These questions had been refined by industry, cultural, and geographic backgrounds and had shown me perspectives that I would never have considered. This diversity of thought and experience provided a powerful education. It was truly incredible. It was in this moment that I realized I was getting the real-time global experience I had sought in this MBA program.

Overall, the Shanghai residency was a tremendous experience and helped me “connect the dots” with how China fits into the globe business landscape. However, this journey to achieving global business competence is far from complete. With that said, I’m looking forward to our next residency in Santiago, Chile.