“China’s business environment”, lecture by Professor Michael J. Enright

As China gears up to overthrow the U.S. as the leading superpower in the world one can only expect things to heat up on the world stage. It has become almost impossible these days to not find a mention of China in the leading business newspapers of the world. As some of us are gearing up to visit China next month as part of our course module “Doing business in emerging markets”, the School decided to play host to Michael J. Enright, “one of the world’s reigning strategy guru”.  Michael is a leading expert on the regional strategies of multinational companies in the Asia-Pacific and he shared his insights on China’s business environment.


Professor Michael Enright at UCD Smurfit


Michael explained the magnitude of opportunity that exists in China for businesses to exploit. It has become one of the largest markets for numerous consumer and industrial goods. As per the data provided by China Statistics Bureau, 25 provinces in China had a GDP of over $100 billion for the year 2011. The two major drivers of consumption have been economic growth and growing urbanization. Clearly, China is an opportunity which global heavyweights can’t afford to miss. In fact it needs to be an integral part of the strategy of these companies. Though, China is based on different values but it has still been able to prosper, which is a fact many people in the democratic part of the world find hard to digest. The government has played a dominant role in China’s economy until now and it seems it would continue to do so in future as well but off late it has been taking steps to enable the private sector improve its contribution to the economy.

The challenges of operating in China are as big as the opportunity. Companies are discovering that many industries are in the nascent stage of growth and this rapid growth is sometimes not turning into profits.  Also, consumers are not that brand loyal in China. Communication can also be a big issue for foreign multinational companies operating in China. It’s not being right, but being on the right side and having effective communication. Though it can be a difficult market to crack for businesses, the potential rewards can be enormous. In the words of Michael, “China changes, China adjusts.” The lecture provided us with valuable insights which not only helped us understand the Chinese market but also understand the nitty-gritty one can expect to encounter in an unfamiliar environment. These are lessons for lifetime and I would be looking forward to more such intellectually stimulating lectures.


Rahul Jindal



– Rahul Jindal, FT MBA 12/13


China Trip

Since I was always told that the International Trip is the highlight of the program, much expectation was projected long before going on the trip. Especially as being a native Chinese, feelings and emotions were mixed. On one side, I was very excited that my home land will be introduced to my MBA fellow colleagues in both formal and informal ways; on the other side, I was very nervous how they will view the nowadays ‘China.  I believe most of my worries boil down to my very deeply embedded Chinese part of culture, which is “Mian Zi”, known as “Face” in English terms. In addition, I myself packed a lot of questions (and clothes) for this trip, and hoped to find answers to them all.

As expected, there were quite a few surprises to me as soon as I landed in China this time. I have to admit I was skeptical and unprepared for these surprises, such as different standard charge of taxi fare in Beijing and Shanghai;  overpriced foreign brand luxury goods(Chinese Government impose certain percentage of tariff on foreign imported goods, luxury goods’ tariff are much higher than commodity goods).  Apart from the surprises on the side of daily life, there were few points to highlight:

1. Multinational companies operating in major cities of China, such as Shanghai and Beijing created a very unique operating/communicating  environment  where international standard are established and updated as while Chinese culture is thoroughly penetrated
2. China’s focus of next decade has shifted to sustainability, which reflects the change in leadership style. It sounds more promising to Chinese and to the rest of world. In major cities, I saw rapid change in mentality concerning overall wellbeing of our earth.
3. Communist party is more open today and they admit they make mistakes, they are more open to talk about sensitive topics such as human rights and how the party functions

The trip was very well prepared and tailored for MBA students. The organizer did an amazing  job by fitting in many events within days aiming at expose as much aspects as possible to us which was very much appreciated. I found most of speakers related their presentations/talks to MBA students’ perspective, which made communication a lot of easier in a foreign country of a complete different culture and language. Most of events focused on cultural issues, seemed to me that to understand Chinese Culture is the key step to the success in doing business in China. Many of cultural dynamics have developed to international standard, such as the directness and openness in business communication style; while some of them remained the same, such as the famous terms of “Mianzi”, “Guanxi” and equation of “Baijiu + Table = Contract Signed”.

As being a native Chinese, it was first time for me to get a close look at the insight of modern Chinese styled international business operations. I was very much inspired by the level of modernization of how knowledge is shared, how information is managed, how operations are run and how modern their communication styles are. In addition, it is still astounding that Tier 1 cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai are as modern as international cities such as New York in developed countries. When we went to The Old Shanghai and Forbidden City in Beijing I discovered more familiar settings from my memories as a child growing in China. I realized it was my first time in Shanghai, the traditional Shanghai lay-out I was longing for was really from pictures and TV series.  Somehow a picture came across my mind, which was the image  of China Town in San Francisco, where I found most of traditional Chinese community culture lives and multiplies in the 21st century, regardless how modernized outside world San Francisco downtown is, which located 5 minutes away by cable car.


The Old Shanghai in its 80’s

















Today’s Shanghai











China Town San Francisco














At the end of the trip, I got most of my questions answered. On top of that, I was very relieved that the feedback from my MBA fellow colleagues is very positive. I feel that now I can say it out loud as being a native Chinese “I am proud of my country.” And what the future holds for China.

– Christine Liu, Full-time MBA 2011/12



Since I was always told that the International Trip is the highlight of the program, much expectation was projected long before going on the trip. Especially as being a native Chinese, feelings and emotions were mixed. On one side, I was very excited that my home land will be introduced to my MBA fellow colleagues in both formal and informal ways; on the other side, I was very nervous how they will view the nowadays ‘China. I believe most of my worries boil down to my very deeply embedded Chinese part of culture, which is “Mian Zi”, known as “Face” in English terms. In addition, I myself packed a lot of questions (and clothes) for this trip, and hoped to find answers to them all.

As expected, there were quite a few surprises to me as soon as I landed in China this time. I have to admit I was skeptical and unprepared for these surprises, such as different standard charge of taxi fare in Beijing and Shanghai; overpriced foreign brand luxury goods(Chinese Government impose certain percentage of tariff on foreign imported goods, luxury goods’ tariff are much higher than commodity goods). Apart from the surprises on the side of daily life, there were few points to highlight:

1. Multinational companies operating in major cities of China, such as Shanghai and Beijing created a very unique operating/communicating environment where international standard are established and updated as while Chinese culture is thoroughly penetrated

2. China’s focus of next decade has shifted to sustainability, which reflects the change in leadership style. It sounds more promising to Chinese and to the rest of world. In major cities, I saw rapid change in mentality concerning overall wellbeing of our earth.

3. Communist party is more open today and they admit they make mistakes, they are more open to talk about sensitive topics such as human rights and how the party functions

The trip was very well prepared and tailored for MBA students. The organizer did an amazing job by fitting in many events within days aiming at expose as much aspects as possible to us which was very much appreciated. I found most of speakers related their presentations/talks to MBA students’ perspective, which made communication a lot of easier in a foreign country of a complete different culture and language. Most of events focused on cultural issues, seemed to me that to understand Chinese Culture is the key step to the success in doing business in China. Many of cultural dynamics have developed to international standard, such as the directness and openness in business communication style; while some of them remained the same, such as the famous terms of “Mianzi”, “Guanxi” and equation of “Baijiu + Table = Contract Signed”.

As being a native Chinese, it was first time for me to get a close look at the insight of modern Chinese styled international business operations. I was very much inspired by the level of modernization of how knowledge is shared, how information is managed, how operations are run and how modern their communication styles are.

In addition, it is still astounding that Tier 1 cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai are as modern as international cities such as New York in developed countries. When we went to The Old Shanghai and Forbidden City in Beijing I discovered more familiar settings from my memories as a child growing in China. I realized it was my first time in Shanghai, the traditional Shanghai lay-out I was longing for was really from pictures and TV series. Somehow a picture came across my mind, which was the image of China Town in San Francisco, where I found most of traditional Chinese community culture lives and multiplies in the 21st century, regardless how modernized outside world San Francisco downtown is, which located 5 minutes away by cable car.

MBA International Study trip to China












Life on the MBA Programme is just getting back to normal after the international study trips, this year a group of 35 students travelled to China as part of the Doing Business in Emerging Markets study trip for a busy, but interesting, week.



The week started in Shanghai with introductory presentation from Professor David Gosset (left) from CEIBS. Professor Gosset provided a valuable background to the political and economic situation in the country.

From there the group met with the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong (CELAP) where they got further insight into the government systems in China. Following these introductions to the country, the group met with companies to hear their experiences in doing business in China.  After meetings with 3M, TCT, booz&co and JWT in Shangahi, the group travelled on to Beijing and continued the trip meeting Motorola, Tesco and Kema.

A social enterprise panel hosted by Fyse gave the group an opportunity to learn more about the growing social enterprise and CSR field in China.  Meeting members of foreign press in Beijing gave another different insight to the country.  The week finished off with the Irish Ball hosted by the Irish Network China.

In between all this there was time to do some sightseeing, after all a trip to China would not be complete without seeing the Great Wall and there were also plenty of opportunities to sample the nightlife in both cities.

It is a very intense week with a lot to fit in a short space of time, but overall an awesome experience.


Mary O’Dwyer | Interim Programme Manager | Full-time MBA Programme | UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School | Blackrock, Co. Dublin.



The Manchurian MBA Candidate

I spent last week on a study trip in China along with my colleagues on the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School’s MBA programmes. During the visit we held a large number of meetings with business, community and academic leaders to gain valuable insights into the factors underpinning China’s recent success, and the opportunities and challenges facing the country over the coming years. Due to the relatively informal nature of these meetings, a lot of the information we were given was more qualitative than quantitative, but nonetheless I got a lot of value from these discussions. In this blog I present a number of key takeaways, some of which serve to reinforce a number of the preconceptions I had about the country (and which I have written about extensively on this site), and some which challenge my previous convictions. This is not an exhaustive list, of course, but I hope you will find them as valuable as I did.

China is more free than many Westerners think

One of the most interesting aspects of the trip was the emphasis many speakers placed on rights. I admit that going to China my views on this topic were coloured by its government’s egregious human rights record. While not diminishing the regime’s many abuses, it is fair to say that China has made considerable strides in recent years. As one of the academics we met noted, its citizens today enjoy “free travel, free trade, freedom to establish companies and freedom to study abroad”. On top of that, the recent election in Wukan is a highly significant development. Elsewhere, many speakers openly criticised the regime. One of them concluded by saying: “10 years ago if I had criticised the government to you, you wouldn’t have seen me again”. While much work remains to be done, this progress should not be ignored.

More modern does not necessarily mean more Western

This was another constant theme of the trip. One of the academics we met noted how many Chinese people residing in Western countries have retained a distinct identity and culture. Similarly, despite the economic progress China has made over the past quarter of a century, the country retains a distinct identity. This may be due to its long history of tension with many of its 14 neighbours. One speaker argued that the world may become as ‘Sinosised’ this century as it became Americanised in the last one. I disagree with that, believing that the widespread use of English in much of the developed world and the challenges faced by post-war Europe played a key role in America becoming a dominant ‘cultural power’, but it will be interesting nonetheless to see how this theme plays out.

China’s housing market represents a near-term clear and present danger

Before embarking on the trip, China’s housing bubble was an area that I was particularly keen to learn more about. I found the discussions with a real estate executive particularly helpful in this regard. While insights such as: (i) the 40% year-on-year increase in unsold housing units in China’s 10 largest cities (including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou); (ii) news that 48 of China’s 70 largest cities experienced year-on-year house price declines in January, with the other 22 all reporting no change; and (iii) his view that house prices will fall 10-20% this year, and will decline 30% before levelling out were not particularly surprising to me, they nonetheless serve as a sober reminder of what is the principal near-term headwind for the Chinese economy. Another valued insight was an estimate by a Western advertising executive that house prices in Beijing are at circa 30,000 yuan (€3,750) per square metre. Considering that the median household income in China is circa $5,000 per annum, the housing market does look particularly frothy. A Western newspaper correspondent based in China also made the point that due to restrictions on overseas investment many Chinese investors have little option but to park their savings into the housing market. He also made the interesting observation that the bubble appeared to be concentrated in the Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities, which means that the fallout from the bubble is likely to be concentrated in China’s wealthier regions.

The economy is increasingly opening up to foreign ownership

Before going to China, one frequent complaint I had heard from Western businesspeople was that they were dissatisfied with ownership rules that compelled Westerners to partner with local firms in a range of industries. However, as a management consultant we met illustrated, there has been a steady rising trend in the proportion of companies that Western firms can own across virtually all industries, with only politically sensitive areas such as the media remaining off-limits. This relaxation of ownership rules across the majority of the economy will presumably prove to be a pull factor for FDI into China.

China is not just a manufacturing location

Another constant theme during the trip was that China has moved up the value chain significantly, to the point where it is unfair to categorise it simply as a low-cost outsourced manufacturing location. Seeing R&D facilities established by Western multinationals at first hand underlined how rapidly China is evolving.

There is more than one China

Another key theme from the trip was that China should not be approached as a single entity. With 56 different nationalities and significant regional variances in terms of GDP per capita, Western companies will have to adopt a flexible strategy when entering the country. This was particularly illustrated by comments from a senior executive at a Western retailer operating in China about how it doesn’t have a overall market share target for the country as such, rather it has different objectives in each of the provinces it has a presence in. On top of all that, it is also interesting to note the management consultant’s observation that regional variances in GDP could see some manufacturing move from the more prosperous eastern provinces to the lower-cost western areas of China.

Don’t ignore the emerging middle class

A presentation by an advertising agency provided many insights into China’s emerging middle class. Some 60% of Chinese households now enjoy an income of $3,000-6,000 per annum, a platform which provides significant opportunities for consumer facing companies. Several speakers during the trip noted Chinese consumers’ preference for conspicuous consumption. What’s interesting on that note is that Chinese people generally don’t like to entertain at home, leading to this conspicuous consumption being directed towards more ‘mobile’ or ‘portable’ goods such as luxury goods, cars and so on. On this point, it was interesting to hear one local guide admit that he had only driven his car ten times in nine years. What was also interesting was the advertising agency’s view that, as Chinese people become more affluent, demand for counterfeit goods is declining in favour of the genuine article. This challenges a perception many in the West have that Chinese consumers are indifferent about the authenticity of a product. On that note, in our meeting with a Western telephone company it was interesting to hear the presenter say that they were seeing fewer incidences of fake mobile phones in the market on the grounds that “a more prosperous China wants to buy the real deal”.

Government relations are key

This was another consistent theme during our week in China. Having harmonious relations with public officials was seen as critical to a successful experience in the Chinese economy, particularly due to what one executive noted were “inconsistently applied rules and vague laws”. While the subject of corruption was not explicitly mentioned, I got the distinct impression that this is a significant problem, particularly in light of the recent high profile sacking of a number of senior Communist Party officials.

The role of the media is evolving

Due to the rise of China’s version of Twitter, Weibo, government officials are finding it increasingly difficult to control the media. This was particularly illustrated by the unprecedented levels of criticism heaped on public officials following the high speed rail crash, a point highlighted by one media executive we met. As many leading Chinese firms have established a strong social media presence on Weibo, censoring it is becoming a more sensitive issue for the regime. This could lead to growing tensions over the coming years.

Environmental issues are a major challenge

There was no more vivid illustration of this than the pall of smog that hung over Beijing during our visit. Aside from air quality, other problems that China faces include water quality – despite the countless billions invested in infrastructure it was interesting to see that tap water in Beijing and Shanghai was unfit even for brushing teeth – and sustainable development. Given that incoming premier Xi Jinping has pledged to make sustainability and green development key themes of his term in office, it will be interesting to see how much progress will be made over the coming years in overcoming these significant pressures.

– Philip O’Sullivan, Full-time MBA 2011/12

MBA International Study Tour 2012

Time has never passed as fast as it has done since I began working on the MBA International Study Tour. I started planning the trips in October of last year, and March 10th seemed like light-years away.

Now here we are, only days before the group of 81 MBA students head off for their 8 day intensive trip, which is part of the MBA module ‘Doing Business In Emerging Markets’. This year, one group will be going to China while the other group is going to Brazil. The China group will be spending their time in Beijing and Shanghai. The Brazil group will be visiting the cities of Rio Di Janeiro and Sao Paulo. This is Smurfit’s seventh MBA Trip to China and the third year we will be visiting Brazil.

During the trip, the students will be meeting with a vast and varied group of International Businesses and Institutions. These include CELAP, Treasury Holdings Shanghai, 3M, JWT, Motorola, FIA Business School, Deloitte and Tesco, but to name a few. They will also attend a number of social outings, and for the China group, this includes the St. Patrick’s Day Black-Tie Ball in Shanghai.

At first, the task of co-ordinating two international trips for over 80 people was extremely daunting. However, as the first couple of weeks passed, I became more confident with the task in hand. The strong  relationships that Smurfit has built up over the years with the various International businesses and institutions became very apparent to me. The companies whom we have visited before were delighted to have us visit again and likewise, we are delighted to be returning. The strong relationships between the MBA Team, the businesses and Legacy Ventures, made working on the trip a pleasure. The reputation of Smurfit also meant that setting up visits to new businesses was warmly welcomed.

The great itineraries for both Brazil and China are surely going to guarantee an excellent, once in a lifetime opportunity for the MBA students to develop their knowledge of International Emerging Markets, expand their professional networks and of course strengthen the bonds of the friendships formed since they joined the MBA Programme.

I have thoroughly enjoyed working on the organization of the trip. It gave me the chance to communicate with the students on a regular basis and get to know them (even if it was just to give out to them for not meeting deadlines!) I can safely say I won’t know myself when the students depart on Saturday. Although I will miss working with Legacy and everyone involved in the International Tour, after one incident (or maybe two) of waking up in the middle of the night wondering if had forgotten someone’s visa or given out the wrong flight details, I will also enjoy the fact that the preparation is now over! Working on the trip taught me a lot of new and amazing facts about China and Brazil, it helped me to build new relationships and expand my business network. Overall, it was a great experience.

So now, it is just days until the students depart, I’d like to wish each and every one of you every success on your journey. Make the most of every opportunity, get involved as much as possible and most of all, ENJOY! I look forward to hearing all about it on your return. Safe travels.

– Avril Donohue, MBA Programme Assistant

Enter the Dragon










Excitement is building for the upcoming international class trips to China and Brazil. I was lucky enough to visit China a number of years ago at the end of a round-the-world backpacking trip with my wife, though it was a very different experience to the one that awaits us in March.

After 5 continents, 16 countries and 6 months of travel, the nomadic lifestyle had left me looking rather unkempt and quite different to my passport photograph.When we arrived from Hong Kong into Shanghai it took 20 minutes of suspicious examination and a second opinion from another border control official to convince them that I was in fact the person in the passport photo. By that stage of the trip my beard had me looking like a cross between Confucius and confused. Beards must be unusual in China as literally hundreds of people took my photo wherever we went– this really took some getting used to!

The Shanghai maglev train took us 30km into the city in a mere 7 minutes; it was a strange feeling to be travelling at 430 km/h on land.Shanghai is a very modern and impressive city. We had the pleasure of sharing hostel rooms with Chinese people which was a good way to learn more about their fascinating culture. After a great week there we left China to spend two weeks in Japan before finally returning to Beijing for the final leg of our trip.

Beijing is a sightseer’s paradise. Some of its highlights are the famous Tiananmen Square, the incredible Forbidden City, the amazing Great Wall and the quirky Tiantan Park, where locals enjoy everything from tai-chi to tango dance classes to taking their birds for a walk in their bird cages. Beijing is also a shopper’s paradise. For 6 months my wife and I had upheld a strict ban on shopping, partly because of our shoestring budget and partly because we needed to travel light. As Beijing was the last leg of our trip, we finally lifted that shopping ban.My wife drew her credit card like a samurai sword and charged at the shops with a crazed look in her eyes. I found her 10 hours later collapsed in exhaustion in a fitting room on Xiushui Street.

Last time we were backpacking on a shoestring budget and it was certainly a different experience. This time we will have 5 star hotels, a fantastic itinerary and a great crew of MBAs. This time we will be digging deep into Chinese business to learn what powers this country’s economic engine. This time we will be there for Paddy’s Day. This time it’s the year of the dragon. Bring it on!

– Dave Byrne, FT MBA 2011/2012

An “epic” trip

One of the hallmarks of the Smurfit MBA is the international study trip that every fulltime student takes part in each March. In the programme brochure, the trip is described as an opportunity to “visit a dynamic market and enhance your global perspective.” While these would both be true statements, after my recent experience in China, it’s my suggestion that Smurfit add a few more adjectives to the description such as ‘extraordinary’ and ‘monumental’ to illustrate the overall opportunity the trip provides. Indeed, after a quick informal poll from my classmates, I’d say the most common word they used to describe the experience was: ‘epic’.

The trip was filled with highlights on both a professional and personal level. From the space age city of Shanghai (felt like visiting the future) to the booming cultural and political capital of Beijing, we were treated with a line-up of interesting meetings, presentations, tours and networking events with local and international businesspeople.

Although I could go on and on about some of these experiences, there was one event in particular that I’d like to share about: The Irish Ball. In honor of St. Paddy himself, every year the Irish expat community in China throws a huge black tie event in Beijing. This year, the event was attended by 750 people and it was easily one of the coolest parties I’ve ever been to. Champagne reception, 5 course meal highlighting Irish cuisine, Guinness/open bar, with musicians and dancers flown in from Ireland – the place was electric. At one point it occurred to me while I was standing in a crowd of people (fresh off a really embarrassing attempt at Irish dancing!) watching the Irish rugby team dismantle the English in the cup of nations tournament – I’m from the US, studying in Ireland for the year, and right now I’m having the best Paddy’s day of my life in Beijing surrounded by loads of new friends from all over the world.

I tip my hat to the Smurfit MBA.

– Patrick Hillis

Here are a few pictures from the trip…

River cruise in Shanghai
Tour of Forbidden City
Tour of Forbidden City

Smurfit MBAs before the Irish ball

China: Free-Market Economics in a Command Economy

Prior to our International Trip to China, I had heard the rumour that China was a communist country. Having spent two weeks there, I’m certain that this is not the case. China exhibits all the elements of a free-market economy, with a healthy display of consumerism and a liberal sprinkling of capitalist greed and exuberance. However, in contrast to traditional capitalist societies, we were told that China is governed by a decisive and strong central governing body, which acts unilaterally to control the market.

There were several examples of where government control is all-powerful in determining the power of the individual players in the market: Continue reading China: Free-Market Economics in a Command Economy

Smurfit MBA Int’l Study Trip – China

Life is just returning to normal after our return from China which was one of the two MBA study trip destinations for 2011.

This tour was an 8 day intensive trip to Shanghai and then Beijing which took in a range of educational, political, business, social and cultural visits and meetings.  Between Monday and Friday we visited with a large and varying group of institutions and businesses – the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), the Chinese Executive Leadership Academy Pudong (CELAP), Bristol-Myers Squib, Deloitte, Coca Cola University, JWT, Treasury China Trust, Tesco, Motorola, the China Education Initiative, Enterprise Ireland, and Aramark. We also had a climate change panel comprising representatives from orbeo, Azure and Rhodia who are companies in the renewables business at the prestigious Chang An Club in Beijing.

In between the business and educational elements of the trip we managed to fit in a river cruise in Shanghai, a visit to the Birds Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing, a walk on the Great Wall of China and under our own steam visits to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City among others and any number of markets, pubs and restaurants in both Shanghai and Beijing.Smurfit MBA Int'l Stuiry Trip 2011 - The Great Wall of China

The group celebrated St. Patricks Day twice, on the day itself in Paddy O’Shea’s pub in Beijing and then on the 19th March at the Irish Ball in Beijing run by the Irish Network China with approximately 720 members of the Irish ex-pat community in China and their friends, this ball is a major social event and is one of the largest in the region.  Some other things may have happened too during the course of the trip but it is probably diplomatic to forget them!

The word I heard most commonly to describe the trip was ‘intense’ but this was always said with some satisfaction and not a little awe at how much we managed to fit in.

– Roisin O’Loughlin, MBA Programme Manager

Smurfit MBA Int'l Study Trip 2011 - China