Notre Dame University's EMBA Program Trip to Beijing and Xi'an,
Including a Visit to Olympic Site
Notre Dame University's EMBA Trip to Beijing (picture left) and Xi'an (picture right)
Runckel & Associates has worked with Notre Dame University's Executive MBA program for the last two years. In 2007 we were brought on to arrange visits in Beijing because of our stronger connections there. We worked with Notre Dame to come up with a supplementary program that would give the Notre Dame delegation that was over 135 people this year a wider exposure to Chinese officials. We also arranged for the group to find out more about the preparations for the 2008 Olympics and a discussion of the meaning of this event for China. We also arranged to give the group the perspective of the U.S. Embassy as to business development and key insights on business from one of China's leading CEO's on what was required for success in China and where China was going in its development. Finally we arranged a truly memorable private farewell dinner and then later a supplementary trip to a new location which would be optional for trip participants. What Notre Dame sought and what we hoped to produce was a "wow" effect that would cause each of the participants to end the trip with a feeling that the visit had given them new insights that would long make the trip memorable and career enhancing.
Notre Dame had worked with another content provider for the earlier part of the visit. We took over the visit on Saturday and stared out with a visit to the Forbidden City and Tiannanmen Square to learn about how these two structures - one old and one newer had continued to intertwine and define themselves as the heart or center of China. After a day in the growing heat seeing the amazing architectural and cultural relic that the Forbidden City obviously is, we balanced this with a lunch at a newly created private club nearby the Forbidden City for a talk with Mr. Zhang, who heads up Construction for the Chinese Olympic Organizing Committee. Deputy Director Zhang advised the group that construction of the Olympic facilities was actually ahead of schedule and that his group was already using this speed up in timing to allow planting of some of the landscape and trees to give these a greater chance to root and grow. Whereas in Athens, the paint had literally been drying as the crowds entered the stadium, this year the organizers would have more time to remedy minor issues, allow time for landscape to grow and develop and for infrastructure to be tested and improved as and where needed.
We then visited the "birds nest" the main Olympic site and the future location of the opening ceremony and the so called "Blue Box" or "Cubic" which will be the main site of future aquatic events. Visiting these sites was truly awe inspiring. No matter how many pictures you have seen of the future Olympic sites, until you stand in front of them and marvel at the designs and all of the challenges the designs much have caused the constructors, you really don't have an adequate impression of the challenges of construction or the stunning nature of the design concepts. Standing in front of these two venues our group was one of the first to be allowed such a close and detailed view and all of us were impressed and happy that the China Olympic Committee had seen fit to approve and support our visit.
We then traveled to a small "Museum" of Olympic 2008 that had models of all the venues and an explanation of not only how these structures fit into plans to host the 2008 games but also how they would be used to support future requirements. This "Museum" is not open to the public and till our visit had been used exclusively for briefing the Olympic Committee on construction and on overall planning. It is a shame that this model is not more utilized and that more of China's citizens and foreign visitors haven't got a chance to visit this site as once one sees the models and their location and understands the overall planning, a visitor gains a true glimmer into the large scale nature of the overall project and also to the architectural challenge that has been addressed and overcome.
We then traveled across the city to visit the main Coca Cola bottling factory in Beijing to receive a briefing from the company on how the 2008 Olympics was linked in their planning to further growing the various brands that Coca Cola sells in China. We also viewed one of Coca Cola's bottling lines and were briefed on the overall growth of the beverage industry and Coca Cola in particularly in China.
That evening, we had the honor to have our private farewell dinner for the large group at the Great Hall of The People in the Macau Room which had been recently renovated and glistened like a jewel in the midst of the massive structure which is China's largest meeting and banquet venue. One of the requests we received when we were asked to organize this event is to make the dinner memorable, not just another night of "rubber chicken" or another non memorable banquet. This we did in a big way.
First after arriving at the front entrance and ascending the "red carpet", we went through a security check similar to that in many airports followed by another long trip on the "red carpet" and a short elevator ride to the stunning Macau Room where the service team awaited us in black tuxedos and purple suits for the women servers. Service was impeccable and the food was way beyond "rubber chicken" with lobster and chinese dishes in a range of styles and servings. Entertainment was by a string ensemble we had selected to offer a cultural addition that proved not only enjoyable but truly memorable. Dinner for all was an event that will not soon be forgotten. For the Spanish speaking group of Notre Dame graduates that had joined us and for which we had arranged consecutive translation throughout the entire trip, it was even more memorable as they received certificates of completion and congratulations from the Notre Dame professors that helped to organize and monitor their program.
The next morning, the group started the day with a presentation by Jack Perkowski, the Chairman and CEO of ASIMCO, one of China's leading producers of automobile spare parts. Mr. Perkowski who shortly will be publishing a new book on doing business in China is widely thought to be one of China's most perspective observers on China business. He was featured in "The World is Flat" by Thomas Friedman and is routinely sought out as a speaker for the sagacity of his advise and the key insight he gives into real life concerns that CEOs and senior managers much take ito account with respect to doing business in China.
Following a memorable talk by Mr. Perkowski which most of the group thought was a highlight of the trip, we then visited the newly renovated Summer Palace where we toured the now unveiled structures and despite the crowds appreciated the splendor that this site always engenders. We then traveled on to a presentation at the U.S. Embassy hosted by the Department of Commerce Foreign Commercial Service in which the Embassy's "expert" on IT, Computers and the high tech industry in China and a member of the Economics section detailed the many challenges and opportunities that is modern day China. Here many of the group asked questions as to concerns on repatriation of profits, intellectual property protection, problems with enforcement of laws, etc. that had earlier been either seen during prior visits to China based businesses or that had been raised in earlier research of the EMBA teams.
The next morning we flew to Xi'An, the former capital of China, the western terminus of the "Silk Road" and a city whose history even predates that of Beijing. The terra cotta warriors are astounding. Even though I have seen them dozens of times, they never fail to impress and excite me. For those whose viewing is happening for the first time, the effect is stunning. Despite the July heat and the crowds, all of our group was happy with the visit and enjoyed next two stops which were visits to the Wild Goose Pagoda and the East Gate, Bell Tower and City Walls. At this point our hotel - the Sofitel on Renmin Plaza looked all the more welcoming and we all enjoyed a quick shower and a change before leaving for our final dinner at the Tang Dynasty Theater show.
A China visit offers each new arrival and even seasoned travelers a varied and changing window on both the power of history and on the importance and pervasiveness of change in modern China. Business, family life and all facets of life in modern day China are changing but in the midst of this change important elements remain of history and culture that must be seen and experienced.
Next year's trip for Notre Dame may well be beyond the confines of China and we have no doubt that the experience will be just as memorable and life changing for the EMBA executives, alumni and guests that attend. One thing is certain, however, the Notre Dame trip to China in 2007 was both varied and memorable and we were happy to have helped Notre Dame and the many friends and new acquaintances that joined us on this fun and exciting trip.