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April 2008
Think Global
By Carol Gifford

     The economy today is in either a recession or an economic slowdown, depending on which expert you listen to, and neither bodes well for businesses or countries around the world. A better understanding of the economic forces connecting the international global economy and the ramifications of world events can help key decision-makers make informed choices.

     Because business success requires a global perspective, the Belk College of Business at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte has undertaken a dramatic expansion of its global business programs.

     In addition to its highly regarded M.B.A. program, Belk College Global Business Programs offers four business graduate degree programs in far-reaching locales around the world with intensive study directed toward working professionals, says Dr. Alan T. Shao, associate dean for Professional and Global Programs and professor of marketing and international business.

     “We can’t be a business school without being a global business school,” says Shao. “Less than five percent of the world’s population resides in the U.S. With 95 percent of the world’s population located outside our borders, how can we be teaching exclusively in this country?”

     Shao, a professor at UNC Charlotte since 1990, says businesses and consumers need to look beyond their ethnocentric view of U.S. business and economy and recognize that businesses are global and part of an interconnected economy.

     “A business today works with, competes with, or uses parts and/or services from people outside the U.S.,” says Shao. “Business doesn’t just operate on the 9 to 5 workday common in the U.S.; it is a 24-hour-a-day offering around the world. You can’t afford to sleep a lot.”

     That reality, he says, guided the thinking of the Belk College of Business in 2005 when it first developed its global M.B.A. and dual-degree graduate business programs, made possible in part by a $1.5 million gift from former Charlotte mayor John M. Belk and the Belk Foundation. Impressively, all global M.B.A. programs are now self-supporting.

     “Global education is one of the Belk College of Business’ priorities and we are one of the frontrunners in offering successful and growing programs in Mexico, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Denmark,” explains Shao. “We may have been an infant when we first began, but now we’re at the young adult stage, and very excited about the global challenges and new opportunities ahead.”

     The Executive M.B.A. program in Taiwan is the top-ranked one of its kind in the country, its popularity stemming from the prestige of the UNC Charlotte name and the fact that the College sends it own faculty to teach the program, says Shao.

     “We’ve worked hard to establish our brand name in each of our markets and we’re really starting to see the fruits of our labor,” says Shao. “We have multiple partners in each region—that shows we’re doing it the right way and we’re extending our brand globally.”

     So far the programs have graduated more than 120 students, and present enrollments of about 90 students in Mexico, 60 students in Taiwan, and 40 students in Hong Kong, says Shao. Many students attend the programs taking 12 credits a semester while working full-time. Classes are taught by tenure-track UNC Charlotte Belk College business professors who travel to the site to offer compressed, full-time classes at night and on weekends.

     He explains that a faculty member might leave on a Wednesday to arrive Thursday night in Taiwan or Hong Kong (Asia is 13 hours ahead of Charlotte time), take Friday off to adjust to the time change, and then teach 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. After taking off Monday through Thursday, the faculty member would then teach from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Friday and, again, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, returning to Charlotte the next day. One course is offered per month. Students are often assigned much homework in between the class times.

      “It’s very intense, but the model works for both faculty and students,” says Shao. “For example, accounting and finance teachings are very application-oriented so a student might learn about them in class and be able to immediately start using them in business.

     “One student who had his own business told me he had increased his revenue by $1 million in just one year by using the principles he had learned in the M.B.A. program in Taiwan,” says Shao.

     Faculty members are also aided by the experience, says Shao, and in addition to teaching, might use the time for research or to attend conferences.

     “These same faculty members are teaching both abroad in the M.B.A. programs and classes on campus at UNC Charlotte,” says Shao. “When they come back, they bring with them cultural enrichment and experiences that they can then share with their classes here in Charlotte.”

     A well-seasoned traveler, Shao speaks from experience. The son of a Chinese business professor who emigrated to the U.S. and an American mother, he grew up in Virginia with three brothers, and all of whom followed in their father’s footsteps and received Ph.D.s in business. He attended school for a year in Taiwan while he was in college at Old Dominion University and he was later awarded a Ph.D. in marketing from the University of Alabama. He spent much time traveling throughout Asia and developing “guan xi,” or relationships, there and in Mexico. He plans to expand the global programs into China, Panama, France and Switzerland.

     Julian Cheek, a student in the Hong Kong M.B.A. program who works for Wachovia Bank, says he entered the program because of its reputation there.

     “I moved from Charlotte to Hong Kong about a year and a half ago so I was very familiar with UNC Charlotte’s M.B.A. program and knew it produced high-quality candidates with well-rounded business acumen,” says Cheek, an IT storage engineer and team leader with a degree from Johnson C. Smith University. “It also is helping me network with professionals in the Asia Pacific region.”

     Cheek says the class format works well for him and he likes having professors from UNC Charlotte because it eliminates any potential language barriers.

     “I enjoy the compressed format of the classes because it forces both the professor and the student to focus primarily on understanding the key business concepts and how they are used in real business situations,” says Cheek. “It’s sometimes difficult to read and prepare for classes while working full-time. If things are extremely busy at work, I sometimes find myself not being able to complete all my readings before class. But with proper time management and a few sacrifices to my social life, I’m able to keep up with the demanding workload.”

     He adds that the program is helping him better understand the complex business requirements of the IT systems that he designs and supports to store Wachovia’s financial data, and that his new knowledge helps him better manage the daily activities of his team and more confidently interact with various levels of management in the bank.

     In the Mexico program, students earn dual M.B.A. degrees, one from UNC Charlotte and the other from the Graduate School of Business Administration and Leadership (EGADE) at Tecnologico de Monterrey. EGADE is ranked the top business school in Latin America and one of the top in the world, says Shao, and the joint program is already at capacity. The program shares faculty from UNC Charlotte and EGADE, and offers the program to full-time students over a four trimester and one summer session, one year in each location.

     Chaojun “Jack” Wang is a student in the program who decided to attend the school after meeting and interviewing with Shao in Shenzhen, China. With a background in IT and a degree in computer software from Tsinghua University in Beijing, the top ranked university in China, he decided   to enter the program to gain a global business perspective.

     “I enjoy the classes very much and I was able to experience both Charlotte and Monterrey for one academic year each,” says Wang. “The students are talented ones, mainly from Mexico, the U.S., other Latin American countries and some from Europe. Both students and the professors experience great opportunities to interact and better understand global business in economic, cultural and social points of view.”

     Wang plans to graduate in May and with his knowledge of China and fluency in Mandarin, Cantonese and English, he hopes to find a job in the U.S.

     Shao says Belk College will also offer international opportunities for other students including short-term study tours for M.B.A. and graduate students, summer and semester abroad programs. In addition, courses will be offered by teleconference in which UNC Charlotte students collaborate with students and faculty from international universities.

     “The Belk College Global Business Programs are a fantastic success story that Charlotte businesses and organizations need to know about,” said Shao. “We’re not just sitting idly on the I-485 loop;  we’re offering this education so that Charlotte can see business through global eyes, because you just can’t ignore the role that international business plays in our economy.”

Carol Gifford is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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