Spears School, China students
team up on MBA project

by Terry Tush 
(May 15, 2012 at 11:18 am)
China MBA students posing with OSU President Burns Hargis

The Sun Yat-sen University MBA students posing with OSU President Burns Hargis.

Oklahoma State University MBA students are expanding their way of thinking and stretching their potential as they prepare to make a difference in the business world. But little did they realize what that really meant when they enrolled in associate professor Scott Johnson’s Master’s of Business Administration corporate strategy class this spring.

The 10 OSU students agreed to participate in a project in which they partnered with 10 MBA students from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China. The students from OSU and Sun Yat-sen were given the task of looking for ways that The Charles Machine Works (CMW), Inc., could expand its worldwide presence, and present their findings to the Perry, Okla.-based company’s executives.

The OSU students and Johnson traveled to China to meet with their counterparts during Spring Break in March. The Chinese students made a return trip to Oklahoma State University the last week of April, at which time three groups of students were able to present their proposals to The Charles Machine Works executive team.

“I told the students that they were really three of the best presentations I had seen in a long time,” said Ken Eastman, head of the Department of Management in OSU’s Spears School of Business.

But the project was far from easy. Three groups – comprising of six or seven OSU and Sun Yat-sen students – worked independently on the project. Although all of the Chinese students spoke English (Sun Yat-sen is the only university in China that allows an MBA with all of the classes in English), they had to work around each other’s schedules and the 14-hour time difference. The Chinese students were not involved in a specific class at Sun Yat-sen, and were selected from more than 60 MBA students who had applied for the project. Several of the students from both OSU and China were part-time MBA students who have full-time jobs.

The time management issue was difficult for all involved, said several students.

“First of all, the time difference was quite challenging,” said Cruz Wong, one of the Sun Yat-sen part-time students who works full-time as a costing manager for shoe manufacturer Adidas in China. “We had to schedule our weekly conference calls through Skype, and the time was either too early or too late. Also, as a part-time MBA student, I didn’t have as much time as a full-time MBA to squeeze the time apart from daily work and regular MBA study, which is also challenging.”

Johnson said all three stakeholders in the project – OSU’s students, the Sun Yat-sen participants and The Charles Machine Works executives – were pleased with the results.

One group’s recommendation during their final presentation was that with the company already having a presence in China that the next step was to pursue business relationships in other Asian countries. Another group pushed hard for expansion into Mexico, and the third provided information on moving into India.

“They used very similar criteria but they came to slightly different answers,” said Eastman, “but all of them could justify their recommendations really well.”

Although both OSU and Sun Yat-sen have participated in the traditional exchange programs where students go visit another campus to study, this project was groundbreaking. The participants had to work together, much like an international manufacturer with an office in Oklahoma and another in China.

“The idea of having our students work with their students was difficult for both sides just because it took a while for them to understand what the project involved, but they did a great job together,” said Johnson.

“Every other thing you do in the MBA program, there’s a right answer. Here there wasn’t a right answer,” he said. “There was a company actually asking the question which they didn’t know the answer to, and they didn’t know what was going to happen. That’s the hands-on part; that’s the real-job part because you don’t know the answer. Is it the right decision to go into this market? Is it the right decision to introduce this product? You don’t know until you do it. You want to do as much analysis as you can to convince yourself you have the right answer.”

That forced the students to push themselves just a little harder and try to make a lasting impression on The Charles Machine Works executives.

“Working on a real life project was definitely a lot more daunting,” said Rachel Mui, one of the OSU students participating in the project. “Everyone worked twice as hard, knowing that our final presentation was to a company board, not just a classroom. Knowing that a company might base their future decisions on our work is incentive to work harder than just for a case study.”

The Chinese students spent a week in Oklahoma with their OSU counterparts working on their final presentations, but they also had a chance to do some sightseeing. They attended an Oklahoma City Thunder basketball game, toured ConocoPhillips in Bartlesville, and visited the State Capitol in Oklahoma City.

“Everyone is so nice at OSU, which impressed me the most,” said Wong. “Also, the nice campus, good highways, cowboy culture – all these impressed me a lot.”

All three parties involved – OSU, Sun Yat-sen and The Charles Machine Works – were pleased with the results and look forward to participating in the future. Johnson said he learned a lot during the first partnership between the two schools and looks forward to making improvements when OSU and Sun Yat-sen team up again next spring.

“I have to say that at times I wondered what were we thinking. It seemed like too many moving parts to put together – the visit to China, the consulting with a real company, even working with the Chinese students is a good idea. But to do that all at once?” said Johnson. “At times, I was thinking if I get through this semester, I can at least say I tried. But I think this is really something we can do. It’s a really good model.”

Eastman agrees, “We had never done anything like this before but out of this came this amazing project that everyone involved genuinely seemed to be very happy with the result.”