May 25, 2004
Greater China Business Association Explores Opportunities in China
Spring Break Visit Includes Networking in Beijing and Shanghai
Los Angeles — In a manner that truly befits the entrepreneurial reputation of UCLA Anderson, this story began as a simple “what if” and just may end up a new tradition and a new networking tool for UCLA Anderson alumni, students and faculty.
The Greater China Business Association (GCBA) at UCLA Anderson is only in its second year. But the group has already organized a successful trip for about 30 Anderson students earlier this year. There are already tentative discussions for a return trip next year or the year after, while the first visit has already created momentum for more organization for UCLA Anderson alumni in China.
According to Sean Martinez (’05), president of the GCBA, the trip was the brainchild of the second-year students in the organization. The idea was to travel to China to promote business career opportunities and gain a greater understanding of business practices in the greater Chinese region, including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Last January, the group (and Martinez is emphatic in acknowledging Grady Lam, Sandra Y.F. Chang, Olivia Wu and Rosanne Lee as essential to the success of the project) polled all students at UCLA Anderson to both gauge interest in a trip to China as well as to get some opinions on what students might like to experience while they were there.
The survey revealed that students were interested in a balance between “work” (visits to Chinese businesses, networking with alumni) and “play” (sightseeing and other leisure activities). Originally, there were tentative plans for 25 people to go, expectations were exceeded and 30 students made the trip. Not all were members of the GCBA when the poll was taken, but all joined ended up becoming part of the organization as a result of their participation. With the level of enthusiasm high, Martinez and the group began making plans in earnest. James Aggen, managing director of UCLA Anderson’s Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) became the group’s main contact and helped facilitate CIBER sponsorship of the trip.
The group went to China during spring break. They traveled to Beijing and Shanghai. While in Beijing, they spent time at Hewlett Packard China and China Unicom, the second largest cell phone company in China. In Shanghai, Coke China, GM China, SVA (a Chinese electronic manufacturer) and the Shanghai Stock exchange were on the itinerary. There was an alumni mixer in Beijing organized by Mark Mai (’03 and the ’03 Knapp Venture Competition winner). Alumni from 1988 to last year were at the event. Among the sightseeing stops were the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City.
Martinez said that there were a number of important lessons learned about doing business in China as a result of the visit. “The old idea that you could go to China as an expatriate and earn a great salary and expenses are gone,” he said. “The locals have grown into those positions and U.S. companies in China don’t need as many expatriates as they used to. Also, speaking Mandarin is a must.” The second lesson Martinez articulated was that anyone going over to China to start a business must be willing to take some risks. Learning about China and the way business is done is essential and you have to be there and know who to talk to. Mark Mai is in China implementing the business plan he used in the Knapp competition, but he has some contacts there to assist. “You still need a local connection to start a business there,” Martinez added.
The group found Shanghai to be a “real eye opener.” Martinez indicated that in the last five years, Shanghai has transformed itself into a cosmopolitan city, noting that the Shanghai Museum’s collection rivals that of the Getty’s. “You can’t imagine this was ever a communist city. They’ve turned a lot of the old housing into green areas. You see cell phones and new cars everywhere.” In Beijing, on the other hand, there were more soldiers around and more pictures of Mao on display. This type of national symbolism was not in evidence in Shanghai.
One almost universal quality experienced during the visits to Chinese companies was the pride exhibited in what has been recently accomplished. Wherever the UCLA Anderson group traveled, they were given product demonstrations. Ironically, many of the demonstrations were for items that are already ubiquitous in the states, like cell phones that offer email and sports scores. There were numerous comparisons to Japanese companies, which seemed to be held up as icons of production and efficiency.
The success of the trip has created momentum for making it an annual event. There is considerable interest in Taiwan and Hong Kong and Martinez speculated that the different locales could become alternating destinations in the years to come. One other benefit of the excursion is the possibility for more formal organization of the UCLA Anderson alumni in China. Once word got back to Westwood that there was interest in forming chapters of the alumni association in China, the alumni relations team began strategizing, with Martinez and the GCBA acting as liaisons. It is not uncommon for UCLA Anderson faculty to travel to China as part of their research and the school is looking for ways to organize the alumni their for networking and talks from faculty.