By Belinda Coniglio, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program
My first encounter with China (apart from the outings to our local Chinese takeaway as a child) was when I was sixteen, in Naples, Italy, when I was on a student exchange program. I recall meeting a Chinese boy, Chao, who gave me a silk panda handkerchief. Fascinated with my new friend, and passionate about politics from a young age, I remember asking him about life under the communist regime and its differences with the free market economy – not knowing that discussing The Party was taboo – to which Chao replied that China was actually opening up.
Ten years later, I visited Beijing for the Mission Australia Charity Challenge, where I spent ten days trekking different sections of the Great Wall. On that visit (my first and only previous visit to China before the International Business Project in Shanghai), we stopped at Shanghai airport and our tour guide informed us that Shanghai is a city quite different to Beijing – something that I was looking forward to discovering as part of this journey (incredible that it had taken me almost nine years to return!)
The weeks leading up to the International Business Project trip had been chaotic: I had moved from Brisbane to Sydney to attend course pre-departure, then to Perth to commence work with my first client – which was fast becoming a full time role as a business development manager to build a national and potentially global brand. I arrived in Sydney from Perth early on Thursday morning to fly with the majority of the class on QF129 to Shanghai. I couldn’t believe that I was really there. I resigned from my job to make this journey and had no regrets. Money couldn’t buy the exposure to this world class team of students and there is no price on following dreams.
MBA students were invited to the Shanghai Business School Alumni Cocktail Reception, as a welcome to Shanghai. The reception was held at the Andaz Hotel in the French Concession, a chic quarter in Shanghai. The highlight of the evening was a presentation by Jason Yat-sen Li. Jason is a partner and founder of the Yatsen Group, a commercial group headquartered in Beijing with interests in mining & resources, technology and financial services businesses in Asia. His achievements and vision for Australia’s future are certainly something to aspire to! Jason’s presentation about the disruptive economy and its opportunities expanded my mind to deliberate on the disruptive economy: the impact of technology, creativity and innovation on business. Jason’s message was clear: if you devise yourself or your business as a purpose, providing a service or product to an individual, you are more likely to see disruption approach.
The class selected from six Chinese companies to work with during our stay in China. Our team worked with a one hundred and ten year old Chinese cosmetic company, Jahwa, to increase their online presence and international brand with a focus on developing a strategy and recommendations to enter the US market with their high-end skin care range.
In addition to an intense course schedule and meetings with clients, we explored the essence of Shanghai, including the iconic roof top bar scene – the views of the Bund from Bar Rouge and the infamous Shangri La – magical; dined at the Four Seasons Hotel (probably the most exquisite meal for the trip); shopped – the bazaar at the Yu Yuan Gardens; bargained at the Nainjing markets as well as excessive designer boutiques (although my highlight was the Taikang Lu laneways where contemporary meets traditional art, design and café culture); pampered – beauty, hair, massage and nails; and even stumbled across a match making market where families advertise their eligible children for a suitable spouse!
One message was clear from Jason’s presentation, our cultural experience and company consultations: critical thinking is essential to creative disruption. Question what you are told, identify ways to improve yourself and your business; and ask yourself what drives you, what you stand for and how what you stand for makes your career more interesting and fulfilling.