SFU Beedie PhD alumnus on the appetite for business education in China

Jul 06, 2012

The following article was published by The Globe and Mail on July 5, 2012.

Unlike in North America where students typically look like they want to leave 10 minutes before the scheduled end of a class, in Beijing Majid Ghorbani’s lectures often run 10 minutes overtime, or longer.

“Students in China can’t seem to get enough. They make me feel like they really want to learn,” says the recently transplanted Vancouverite, now an assistant professor in the business studies faculty of Beijing’s elite Renmin University.

Mr. Ghorbani, who has a PhD in management from Simon Fraser University, moved to China for the job last autumn along with his wife and two young children.

In Canada, he specialized in studying cross-cultural management practices where he examined how immigrants reshape economies as entrepreneurs and how their values affect how they run their businesses.

“Immigrants to North America used to be mostly poor people seeking a better life, but in the last few years this has changed dramatically,” he says.

While issues particular to immigrant populations have long been the province of sociologists, in recent times, they have become an interest to those studying the science of business management.

Where once the typical immigrant-run commercial effort was based primarily on trade with one’s home country, or providing goods and services for one’s ethnic group, many of the economically successful new Canadians have done so running mainstream businesses.

As Mr. Ghorbani notes, many immigrants to Canada are highly skilled and come with capital and connections which have gone towards building enterprises.

The international backgrounds of such business owners have also helped to stimulate activity beyond Canada’s borders, creating companies with globalized outlooks, he says. With the rise of China‚Äôs economy and the recent influx of immigrants from the mainland, it is natural for Mr. Ghorbani to turn his thoughts eastward.

Though the Canadian educator teaches his strategy classes to undergraduates and graduate students in English, Mr. Ghorbani, who was born in Iran, reads, writes and speaks Chinese. He earned his international relations degree, a four-year college course taught in Chinese, from Beijing University, often called the Harvard of China. He also did stints working for the UN in Beijing in the 1990s.

While he continues the research on immigrant business managers, he is starting to explore new fields; including how Chinese companies interact with their non-Chinese employees. The topic area is particularly relevant as the mainland’s conglomerates expand internationally.

Mr. Ghorbani estimates that 80 per cent of his students from the MBA program want to eventually want to have their own businesses.

These days, the big universities in Beijing and other key cities in China attract tens of thousands of foreign students, including droves of Canadians. In order to optimize the experience of studying in China, Mr. Ghorbani offers the following advice: learn beyond the classroom, try to understand the culture and people, cherish friendships with local students.

Without doubt China’s youth will be going places.

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