Globalizing Asian Businesses and 'Asianizing' International Business |

Globalizing Asian Businesses and 'Asianizing' International Business

By Karen Turtle

Updated September 26, 2018 Updated September 26, 2018

This article is sponsored by the SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business. Learn more about its executive MBA program here.

To be successful in today's globalized economy, cross-cultural fluency and a deep understanding of West and East differences is essential. Building relationships is central to business, and being able to negotiate international deals with ease has become an increasingly valued (and remunerable) skill, especially for MBAs.

Asia's gathering political and economic momentum, the global expansion of Asian companies, as well as the resulting opportunities that this offers, requires a new, geographically balanced approach to business education. Currently unfolding, for example, is China's One Belt One Road Initiative, a trillion dollar infrastructure project that will connect and integrate the Chinese economy to a network of over 60 nations in Europe and Asia – the economic future looks bright toward the East.

How then does an Executive MBA candidate get to play a central role in leading change in this pan-Asian and pan-global context? Singapore Management University’s (SMU's) Lee Kong Chian School of Business, has designed an Executive MBA (EMBA) that unpicks the traditional Western-centric formula to add content focused on business models and business cases across Asia.


The SMU Executive MBA: A distinguished program for a distinguished cohort

The class of students that arrive at Lee Kong Chiang School of Business in the spring induction week are guaranteed to be a discernible crowd. "We've had CEOs, entrepreneurs, government officials, managing directors and company directors..." says Gurbir Toor, recruitment and admissions manager of the SMU EMBA program. Participants of the 12-month long program have an average corporate experience of 20 years and three fifths of the SMU EMBA cohort are directors or members of the C-Suite. "Our students are ranked fourth in the world in terms of compensation," explains Shantanu Bhattacharya, academic director of the program and professor of operations management (just two of his many designations at SMU).

Part of the program's attraction is its structure. "High flyers joining the SMU EMBA know that they will also be able to focus on their full-time jobs and families, " says Toor. The course is taught in week-long modules, with residential segments spreading over four countries in Asia and USA.


A curriculum strategically taught across four top international business schools

A focus on the SMU executive MBA

Three prestigious institutions play host to SMU’s EMBA students: Peking University's Guanghua School of Management, the India School of Business and The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Splitting the program across the US, China, India and Singapore isn’t coincidental – it is a deliberate and integral effort from SMU to put “globalizing Asian business and 'Asianizing' international business” at the center of its curriculum.

The main block of the curriculum is taught in Singapore. "There are however modules, such as Disruptive Strategy that are taught in Beijing. If you think about China and disruption, you have a good match. The program is designed to leverage on the strength of each partnering business school and their location," says Toor.

Shantanu steps in to explain some of the factors that distinguish business practices across cultures. "The way you do business in the US or in the UK, for example, is more capability based, so competition works on the basis of superior know-how – 'I have a capability that no-one else has, I am the best in this particular type of technology, therefore I am the company dominating this landscape.'" This contrasts significantly with China's approach to business where emphasis is placed on Guanxi, roughly translated as relationships. "If you look at the development of a Chinese company's supply chain, you might see that contacts in this network were built on previous social connections...typically, 'I used to work with you, let's work together again.'"

Shantanu explains that SMU's ambition is to cement a globalized view in its EMBA alumni. "Each candidate’s journey starts at SMU and continues on to the US, India and China." In each segment, leading professors unpack their regional politics, economics and culture to display the contrasting features that define the different international business models. EMBA students also go on corporate visits, taking advantage of the industry networks set up by the schools.


A diverse, close-knit and exclusive EMBA class

Each year Lee Kong Chian School of Business recruits no more than 35 students to its EMBA program. "This year's cohort is one-third Singaporean, 20% European and American, 30% from the rest of Asia and around 17% from Australia, Africa and South America," says Toor.  "If you're a minority in a majority Asian class, you learn what the dominant ideas are and you are injecting something different into the mix - something SMU strongly encourages," he adds.

The small class size results in a close-knit cohort, despite only seeing each other intermittently throughout the year. Binding them together from the start of the course is the Strategic Innovation Project (SIP), where teams are charged with either setting up their own business venture or assessing how they can support an existing business.

"Students experience enormous cultural challenges, a deep learning experience transforming their way of approaching business and connections. My objective is that, whatever business philosophy you might have, whatever difference of opinion you've got, this has to be managed constructively – sensitive and effective negotiation and creating strong networks is key to taking a business forward and to be successful in Singapore, Asia and the world. Our EMBA students understand it, and build meaningful relationships that last a lifetime."


SMU EMBA alumni speak on the value of the EMBA curriculum with an Asia focus

"Thanks to the program, I am now able to, not only identify and understand small cross-cultural nuances, but I am able to use this know-how to my advantage in negotiation, which is of course crucial to deciding the outcome of a deal. These capabilities are a unique selling proposition," says Matthias Schleicher, a 2016 German graduate of the SMU EMBA. Schleicher helped his company build a network of suppliers with strategic partners across Asia.

Philip Cyrl Raj, another SMU EMBA graduate, tells a similar story, "The EMBA improved my analytical ability. I have since instituted a new approach in the management of current and future hotel acquisitions internationally, including Asia. It has helped me to better manage global operations, marketing and human resources and change the way we reach out to our market segments."

As the balance of power gradually shifts East, now could be a good time to, not just hone the core skills that a good EMBA program teaches, but to further bolster chances of international business success by becoming culturally fluent.   

This article is sponsored by the SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business.

This article was originally published in December 2017 . It was last updated in September 2018

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Written by

A content writer with a background in higher education, Karen holds an MA in modern languages from the University of St Andrews. Her interests include languages and literature, current affairs and film. ​

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