Doing Business in Asia with an MBA Degree

The road to a career with global significance goes through Asia.

Doing Business in Asia with an MBA Degree

The importance of the Asian continent for the world economy is undeniable. The annual Fortune Global 500 list, which ranks companies by their revenue, is proof of the rising influence of doing business in Asia in sectors including Consumer Goods, Finance, Industrials, and Information Technologies, to name just a few. With nine countries featured on the 2018 list, East and Southeast Asia are particularly well-represented regions.

Business education is another reflection of Asia’s role in business and management today. Testimonials of successful alumni and regional business school stories have been prominent in the media, especially after the release of the Global MBA Ranking 2019 by the Financial Times. The ranking presents new Asian business school entrants as well as several climbers, most notably the top international business school in China, CEIBS.

Let’s take a look at some of the latest executive education and business trends of the Asian continent.

Local education and a regional career

In their ambition to build a successful career in Asia, many international MBA aspirants head to the continent for their business school studies. Their goal – to understand local and regional practices first-hand and get a head start for their next professional endeavour. Opting for a study programme in China, Singapore or another booming business destination means that participants can easily get in touch with organisations in the region and experience the local market as part of their MBA. “For someone that wants to work in Asia or work with Asian companies, it’s very important to understand local culture, local management practices, as well as Western business skills,” agrees Egor Prokhin, alumnus of the Fudan University (China) International MBA programme taught in collaboration with MIT Sloan.

Read: How Business School Culture Impacts MBA and Career

Schools have different strategies to encourage immersion in local and regional business. At Asia School of Business (Malaysia), for example, professionals take part in five real-life consulting projects called Action Learning Projects. As of February 2019, a total of 90% of these activities have taken place in Asia, with a focus on Southeast Asia, explains BusinessBecause. According to MBA participants at Asia School of Business, Angeline Stuma and Eizaz Azhar, the Action Learning Projects have made all the difference for their careers, developing the skills relevant for the business world of Southeast Asia.

Important in a global context

MBA programmes taught in Asia are an excellent starting point for moving your career to this continent but they are just as valuable in a global context. As the Western corporate world is becoming more connected to Asia, it is increasingly important for top level executives around the globe to be in tune with the latest developments in the East. MBA participant Angeline Stuma agrees that “just being exposed to the people and culture so you can understand how they do business will help you in your interactions with someone across the world.

Read: The FT 2019 Global MBA Ranking Reveals a Changing Landscape

In particular, China has been in the spotlight for the myriad of business opportunities and the environment of innovation fostered in the country. Steven Ji, Assistant Director of MBA Admissions at the local CEIBS, which is currently ranked #5 by the Financial Times, believes that “knowledge of China is important for anyone pursuing a career with global significance.” With more than 100 Chinese corporations represented in the Fortune Global 500 list for 2018, it is no surprise that the region has become such an important part of general management studies on a global scale. Many international full-time and Executive MBA programmes taught in Europe or the US have also incorporated study trips and exchange projects in China. Stanford University (US), NEOMA Business School (France), and Rotterdam School of Management (the Netherlands) are just a few of the institutions that have organised MBA study trips for their classes in an attempt to instil in them a more nuanced understanding of China’s role in the global economy.

Study abroad trends for Asian students

When talking about the current state of higher education in Asia, it is also interesting to take a look at the outbound mobility trends of the local population. It seems prospective Asian students are also increasingly interested in pursuing higher education abroad and gaining work experience beyond their continent. A study on international mobility in higher education from a Swedish perspective showed that more than 4,500 students from Asian countries enrolled for the first time in Sweden in the 2016/17 academic year. In particular, the number of first time Indian students has doubled over a period of five years, while the number of people from Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, and Singapore who have sought education in Sweden has also risen significantly, says news and business analysis website for Professionals in International Education.

In many of these cases, students go abroad with the clear intention of returning to their home country after obtaining formal education and gaining work experience in a non-Asian destination. According to South China Morning Post, China’s return rate is a remarkable 79%, with more and more Chinese students coming back from the foreign country they chose. International exposure is valuable but in order to benefit from their time abroad, students need to select the right field and specialisation – one that will distinguish them when they return home, explain David Zweig and Zoe Ge from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (China). This is especially true for more senior executives who opt for an MBA study abroad. Gaining exposure in an unfamiliar setting significantly enhances the soft skills essential for business and management professionals, including developing a global viewpoint, cross-cultural communication, or even improved language skills.

Read: The MBA Skills Most Valued by Employers

Since Asia is taking a more central and pivotal role in the world economy, the professionals of tomorrow need to be well aware of the region’s business dynamics. Whether it is through a study trip, a course, or a fully fledged local MBA programme, experiencing Asia first-hand will benefit the global vision of any aspiring leader.

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