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INCAE Professor Discusses Doing Business with a Changing China

CKGSB sat down with INCAE Professor Esteban R. Brenes during his week-long visit to Beijing, where CKGSB hosted INCAE Business School’s executive education students for a customized ‘Doing Business with a Changing China’ program. Professor Brenes discussed how this customized program allows globally experienced executives and entrepreneurs to better understand business in China, its differences, and how to leverage this for success in their ventures.

The week-long program covered 6 classroom lectures from CKGSB’s distinguished professors for a better understanding of the Chinese market and the factors affecting it, including: ‘Global Implications of China’s Transformations’ taught by CKGSB’s Founding Dean and Professor of China Business and Globalization, Xiang Bing; ‘China and Its Business People’ taught by CKGSB’s Assistant Dean, Zhou Li; ‘Business Model Innovation in China’ taught by Associate Professor of Accounting Zhang Weining, who taught at National University of Singapore before; ‘Big Data: Internet + China’ taught by taught by Associate Professor of Marketing, Li Yang, who previously taught at Columbia Business School; ‘Business Models for Successful Ventures Between East and West’ taught by Professor of Strategic Management, Teng Bingsheng, who was previously tenured at George Washington University; and ‘Recent Development in Chinese Economy and Financial Markets’ taught by Dean’s Distinguished Chair Professor of Finance, Ou-Yang Hui, who previously taught at Duke University.

The course also incorporated company visits at leading Chinese enterprises, such as Kuaishou Media, BAIC New Energy Car and Gezhouba, guest lectures from senior executives at CICC and InterChina Partners, along with networking evenings with CKGSB’s extensive Chinese alumni network.

The INCAE cohort, which was led by Professor Esteban R. Brenes, left the program with many takeaways and surprising lessons learned in China. Prof. Brenes—who specializes in strategy and entrepreneurship at INCAE Business School in Costa Rica, where he previously served as Dean of the school—shed light on these lessons during an interview with CKGSB in Beijing.

INCAE Professor Esteban R. Brenes

Q: What are your impressions of CKGSB thus far? In your view, what makes CKGSB unique?

A: I have a very high impression of the school, and both myself and the participants are extremely satisfied with the program. We are learning about how to do business in China, which is a major topic and of great importance to us.

What makes CKGSB so unique is the faculty and its network. The professors are very knowledgeable, they have a lot of practical experience, with most of them being Board members of very important companies in China. In addition to the excellent faculty, I think the school is extremely well connected and has an extensive network. We have had the opportunity to visit different firms and meet with senior executives of these companies as a result of this extensive network.

Q: How do you think CKGSB and the courses that the INCAE students have taken this week are able to help participants gain new understandings of doing business with China?

A: Both the participants and I have learned a lot about doing business in China, which is not something you can learn from just reading books or journals. Coming here and learning from experienced professors about how companies behave, how to handle the relationship with the government, and how important Chinese culture and practices are in doing business, are important aspects which we were not aware of before. These key understandings are going to help the participants, many of whom are entrepreneurs, to have better relationships and more success with businesses in China.

Q: What opportunities do you think China can offer for Latin American businesses? And how can Chinese businesses leverage or benefit from working and investing in Latin America?

A: I believe there are many prospects for both China and Latin America to leverage and explore business opportunities. China has a great deal of opportunities to invest in Latin America, mostly in Central America, as the countries in this region already have free trade agreements with the US. Now that there is a trade war between the US and China, China has an opportunity to continue developing and growing by producing in Central America, and then selling those products in the US. In every country in the Latin American region, there are also many investment opportunities in infrastructure like roads, ports and airports. There are also a few countries in Latin America that are very strong in research and development. For example, Costa Rica is extremely strong in medical device and chip production research and development. Hence, opportunities for Chinese companies go beyond manufacturing and extend to research and development.

There are also many opportunities for Latin American companies in the Chinese market, due to the sheer size of the market. Latin America should take advantage of its variety in tropics and latitudes to export foods, such as bananas and coffee; agricultural products, such as flowers; as well as mining, oil and gas.

Q: What are some of the key takeaways for your students from this course that they can apply in furthering their careers, which they wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise?

A: I think something imperative for everyone to know is that you need to truly grasp how different practicing business is in China, and the importance of understanding this for your sustained success in the market. We would not have learned this without taking the course at CKGSB. For example, the culture of doing business in China means that friendships and relationships are extremely important in China and often take priority over contracts. This is in stark contrast to the West. In terms of entering the market, we learned that it may be better to create joint ventures and develop from there. I also learned a lot about investment opportunities in China’s stock market in certain types of firms. If you are looking to invest in China, there are opportunities in energy, banking, finance and health, among other promising sectors.

Q: What type of business professionals or executives do you think would benefit from a program like this one at CKGSB?

A: My experience of the program and of the school is very high. I think it is well suited for any entrepreneur or business executive looking to be successful and to gain insights into the Chinese market. Many of the INCAE participants are entrepreneurs, some of them are already doing business with China and need and got deeper insights or stronger connections, while some are looking to start conducting business in China and have now scheduled meetings with counterparts here, thanks to the program. The CKGSB program is very well designed and INCAE will continue to participate in this program in the future.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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