Johnson and Nanjing University Celebrate 10-year Alliance in MBA Education


Nanjing one of six Chinese universities whose executive MBA students study at Johnson at Cornell University

Johnson and Nanjing University Celebrate 10-year Alliance in MBA Education

The Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University and Nanjing University of China celebrated their 10-year partnership in educating China’s top business leaders who are alumni of Nanjing’s executive MBA program. Soumitra Dutta, the Anne and Elmer Lindseth Dean of Johnson, traveled to China in December 2013 for the festivities, which included a full-day forum with 400 students who have completed the Johnson program in the past 10 years.

“I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and appreciation of the graduates of the Nanjing executive MBA program, for the time they spent at Johnson and the connections they formed,” Dutta said. “Their presence among us enriches the global education experience for all Johnson students.”

The alliance with Nanjing University formed in 2004, with an inaugural group of 30 Chinese executive MBA students traveling to Ithaca for a 10-day general leadership program. By 2010, 80 Chinese executives were vying each year for the 50 spots available, said Ya-Ru Chen, academic director of China Initiatives and the Nicholas H. Noyes Professor of Management at Johnson.

Johnson took steps toward a partnership with Nanjing University in 2003, when then-Dean Robert Swieringa (now professor of management at Johnson) made a fact-finding and relationship-building trip to China to talk with Cornell and Johnson alumni, deans, and others at Chinese business schools about possible alliances, partnerships, and related activities.

“I quickly realized that we needed to undertake activities in China to obtain local knowledge and learn how to be effective in programs and related activities,” said Swieringa, who currently teaches Nanjing students during their sessions on the Cornell campus. “We have learned so much from this program and alliance, and are now better prepared to deepen our engagement in China.”

Swieringa and Johnson got a boost in pursing the partnership with Nanjing University from Al Suter and Robert Staley. Both earned bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering (’58) and MBAs (’59) from Cornell. The two made a $1 million gift to establish a director of global business education at Johnson, which helped create momentum toward expanding the school’s global presence. Staley, whose career with Emerson Corp. took him to Asia, spent a great deal of time in China and lectured at Nanjing University. His connections there were key to Johnson establishing the partnership with Nanjing.

“The Nanjing program was a great start, and it’s proven to be successful,” Staley said. “I am so pleased that Johnson is poised to invest further in this large and important market.”

Over the past decade, Johnson has refined the program with Nanjing, to better serve its executive MBA students. Under Chen’s leadership, it was shortened to one week in duration and increased in intensity. Students have four classes a day, with sessions both morning and afternoon, along with site visits to major corporations such as Corning Inc. and General Electric. They are taught by top Johnson faculty members, most of whom are full professors. Beginning in 2013, classes are taught in English with simultaneous translation to Mandarin. At the close of the session, Nanjing students earn a certificate from Johnson in recognition of their achievement.

Invigorating and growing the alliance with Nanjing was a first step for Chen, who has developed similar alliances with a total of six Chinese executive MBA programs.

“I was hired to help the school push its global initiatives, and that coincided with a huge boom in the education market in China,” Chen said. “It was almost a required component across business schools that they send students to study in the U.S., and we needed to capitalize on that.”

Johnson now hosts executive MBA students for leadership education from Peking University, China Europe International Business School, CKGSB, Tsinghua University, and Nanjing University, including a new, innovation-focused MBA at Nanjing: the Nova Program. Participants in Nova (derived from the Latin word for “new”) will experience most of their Johnson program on the Cornell NYC Tech campus, where they will do a China-focused innovation module, a Cornell Tech module, and a final module in Israel.

“Innovation is so important to the next phase of economic development in China,” Chen said. “If China wants to grow beyond being the manufacturer for the world, it will need to move up the value chain, raising the value of their products; for this reason, innovation is key.”

Chen expects to continue to grow and refine Johnson’s connections to universities and MBA students in China as part of Johnson’s strategic goal of increasing its global presence.

“You can’t do this quietly— people have to know about our progress,” she said. “We have brought some of the most influential people in China to Johnson and Cornell University.”