I was recently interviewed by the Greater China Business Club of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. This brought me back to my time as a graduate student and my relationship with the China club at my own university. I would like to share a couple of observations with readers.

When I did my MBA at the Richard Ivey School of Business from 2002 to 2004, I was eager to prepare for a future career in China. At the time, going to China to work was not at the top of most MBA-holders’  lists for international work experience, but I was fortunate that Ivey still had (and still has) a number of great options for China exposure:

  • There is the Ivey China Teaching Project.
  • Ivey has a large number of China-based case studies (a specialty of the school’s Asian Management Institute).
  • Ivey’s main campus is in London, Ontario, but it has a sister campus in Hong Kong.
  • Ivey (both London and HK) also has a large group of Chinese students and alumni.
  • And, even back then, it had an exchange programme with the then-virtually-unknown-and-unranked CEIBS.

I highly recommend Ivey to any MBA or EMBA who is looking for a career in China post-graduation. That said, one of the best preparations for my future career in China was joining the Ivey China Club.

Joining the Ivey China Club was something of a controversial choice, truth be told. It was, in reality, mostly a club for the current Chinese students to socialize and connect with each other and with the previous Chinese class for study tips and support. It was not so much for fostering greater China business relationships (since many of the ICC members had made the decision to emigrate to Canada) or for meeting with the non-Chinese students. Nevertheless, the ICC welcomed me and a handful of other non-Chinese students into the club. By my estimation, participation was a most effective activity towards my understanding of China and Chinese people in general, and how to do business in China specifically.

For example, it was from the ICC that I learned how to drink erguotou (slowly) and build up guanxi relationships (even slower). Some of the kinder members even tried to foster my ability to speak Mandarin — in vain, I might add, since I had not yet begun to study the language seriously, but thank you for trying.

A Chinese New Year Party with the Ivey China ClubI am somewhat saddened to see the Ivey China Club is no longer on the list of social and business clubs at Ivey. This may have been because, after the 2004 graduating class, the number of mainland Chinese students attending Ivey declined (along with attendance in general, I might add, part of the downturn that hit a lot of MBA schools after the wave of people that went to school following 9/11 and the end of the dotcom bubble). It seems to have been at least partially replaced by the “Business in Asia Club.”

One of the questions I get asked frequently at speaking engagements throughout the world is, “How can I develop my career in China?” That is the by-now-self-evident purpose of this post, I hope: Join your local China club! Get involved in the Chinese community at your school or town. By all means do the other stuff, like studying Mandarin, learning more about China through reading books and attending presentations. Also consider coming to China as an exchange student — in undergrad or graduate school it makes no difference, just get here. But, in terms of interacting with Chinese people before you get here, you cannot do better than these kinds of social and business clubs that bring Chinese and local people together.

The GCBC is a student-run organization that supports and promotes greater business connections with China and contact between Rensselaer students and China professionals. There are a lot of other great interviews on their site. Check out the listing at the GCBC’s Stories and Insights.

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