Three Latin Americans walk into a Chinese business school. They sit while looking around and realize they’re a minority. But they can’t understand why. China’s exponential growth on the world stage, coupled with its burgeoning trade relationship with South America, make it an ideal place for Latin American students to study an MBA.
Our three students are China Europe International Business School’s (CEIBS) Pablo Che Leon (MBA class of 2019), Francesco Cartoni (MBA class of 2020), and Jose Antonio Urrutia Rivas (MBA class of 2020).
They are the start of what CEIBS hopes will be an increase in Latin Americans making the move to China. An MBA in China will teach them to understand what makes the country’s business world tick, how to harness Guanxi—the system of cultivating long lasting, close relationships—and how to build bridges between their home nations and the east.
How an MBA in China impacted my career
Pablo (pictured below, right) was born and raised in a small town in Peru, before moving to Lima for university. He majored in industrial engineering and had his mind set only on Peru. That changed after an exchange trip to South Korea. Pablo was hooked by the east.
After a spell working in banking, and for Ericsson in Peru, Argentina, and Dublin, Pablo enrolled on the MBA program at CEIBS, something he says had been on his mind for a while. He’d had a taste of an international career, and now wanted to experience Asia again, somewhere that had remained lodged in his mind since South Korea.
“While working for Ericsson we were disrupted by Chinese competition,” he says. “I wanted to understand how they were able to do it, their mindset, and the business view of how they performed.”
He recalls listening to Bloomberg’s tech news program every morning, and remembering the program being dominated by China.
“If you really want to understand China you have to go for it and make no compromises. I saw the Financial Times rankings, and CEIBS was the only business school I applied to.”
After graduating Pablo joined cloud-based e-commerce platform, VTEX, as co-country head for Ecuador and Peru—the company is in the process of expanding into North America and Europe.
Pablo’s China experience is what made him stand out—he was the point on which they could pivot their operations to the east.
“I met them at a career fair […] and told them I was interested in retail and e-commerce, and that I had experience of China. That’s what grabbed their attention as they’re looking to expand globally.”
Destined for an MBA in China
Jose and Francesco (pictured below) are both members of the same graduating class at China Europe International Business School. But they formed a bond long before the MBA.
Jose had a good friend from high school working in Shanghai, who after finding out he was interested in CEIBS put him in touch with Francesco. They met last year in Chile for a barbecue at Francesco’s house. They decided to take an apartment together after joining the CEIBS MBA and have become very good friends since.
Francesco says that the Latin American community in Shanghai is growing, adding that it’s a great place to do business and trade. There’s still work to be done though.
“It’s still a long road for CEIBS and us as alumni to work together with CEIBS to build up the community,” he says.
Increased trade is the ticket for Latin Americans to succeed in China. Francesco explains that the country is one of the main trading partners for Chile, Argentina, and Peru, and is investing in many infrastructure projects, ports, and highways.
Jose has a strong affinity with China that stretches back to when he finished third in the finals of the Chinese Bridge competition in 2012. He was the champion in the Chilean national stage and beat off 120 others to become the first South American in the finals stage in the competition’s history.
His history with China—he also studied the Chinese language for two years at university there, before returning to Chile to complete law school—meant that when he came to choose an MBA, Jose wanted to continue building bridges in the east.
The Bridge competition opened a lot of doors for him, he says, and is one of the reasons he thinks CEIBS offered him an MBA scholarship.
The value of an MBA in China he explains is that you learn to gain confidence and friendship with the Chinese, on top of business partnerships.
“It’s important to build behind the meetings. After they realize you spent years of your life learning the language and culture that’s respected. In China it’s all about Guanxi, which means personal relations.”
Francesco adds to that the deep understanding of Chinese business and the network you make on the CEIBS MBA.
He says he shares a classroom with 180 MBA students, but they also have access to the Executive MBA network and the Global Executive MBA network, comprising top CEOs from a wealth of Chinese companies.
Study trips have also taken him to San Francisco and Israel. Other students can opt for Europe, as well as options in China to visit tech hub Shenzhen.
“With all these resources you can get whatever you want in China,” he says. “China is shaping the future of the world. It’s very important to understand how this country operates, and how people are doing business here.”