Having a father in the Navy who was involved in diplomatic circles meant South African Richard Higgs grew up as part of an international community—he moved around a lot, even spending four years in the United States.
His childhood experience has clearly had an impact on his own career, as he's set about accumulating a wealth of international experience himself.
Richard spent the nascent part of his career qualifying as a chartered accountant with KPMG, in Cape Town, before moving into investment banking. It was then that he was exposed to the influence of Chinese business on the African landscape.
He was curious to discover more, which led to him hopping on a plane and moving to China. He was after an MBA to augment his understanding of Chinese business, and that’s when he landed at China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), in Shanghai.
Not content on just discovering China, Richard undertook an internship during the MBA with Infosys, in India. He then embarked on an exchange program at INSEAD, in France, adding Europe to his bow.
After graduating, Richard joined Siemens’ Finance Excellence Program (FEP), which took him to Munich, Germany. The CEIBS MBA, Richard explains, was the catalyst for his career acceleration.
“I think because of my background, with touchpoints in Europe and South Africa, China, and India, all of that together was the major reason for me getting into this program,” he asserts.
Richard is now due back to Shanghai as part of the Siemens FEP program, something that might not have happened at all if it wasn’t for the opportunities granted to him during the CEIBS MBA.
Two CEIBS alumni had completed the program in the past, and Richard was able to take advantage of this, conversing with them about what it took to land a place and succeed at Siemens.
The CEIBS network also played a part when it came to applying—Richard was on exchange at INSEAD when representatives from Siemens visited his campus.
“It shows the strength of the CEIBS global network,” he says. “CEIBS has all these partnerships to catalyse their students globally and the reason I got the job was because of my China exposure.”
China Depth, Global Breadth
Richard says part of his decision to enrol on the CEIBS MBA—the top-ranked MBA in China according to the Financial Times Global MBA Ranking 2019—came from his discovery of the school’s professors frequently quoted in The Economist. That, alongside the school’s reputation, made it a no-brainer.
But Richard explains that the crux of the CEIBS MBA is the power of the cohort, and the diversity of perspectives that are brought to the classroom.
“I thought initially I was going there to get a good understanding and feel for China, then I realized it was going to be a two-way street,” he says. “It was also my job as an African ambassador to improve the knowledge level of my Chinese classmates from an African perspective.
“The real benefit of spending so much time with these classmates, in very high-pressure scenarios, is that you have unique viewpoints coming through, and the more diversity you have the better and more you can get out of it.”
Although the CEIBS MBA is awash with multiple perspectives, Richard adds that, at the end of the day, everyone is just human.
“You have cultural nuances, but the most important part is coming back to the fact that everybody is an individual, with a family, career, and the different aspects that drive them personally.
“I think if you can understand and respect the cultural nuances, then get to know them as a person, there aren’t that many differences.”
It doesn’t matter, Richard assures, if you’ve been to 100 countries, 10, or a handful, as long as you have an open mind and are inquisitive. The key to MBA success at CEIBS, he concludes, is being more interested in building bridges than building walls.