Academics in Action

CONTEXTUALIZING CHINA: 
Business Course Brings U.S.-China Relations to Light

From The Rock, Spring 2012

FOUR DECADES AFTER PRESIDENT RICHARD M. NIXON MADE HIS HISTORIC TRIP TO CHINA, 16 Whittier College students spent 10 days in China as part of their Jan Term class, following in his footsteps, and learning first-hand about the important role that this country will have in the global context. Along the way, they met with the scholars, diplomats, and executives at some of the top companies in the world.  

Leading the trip were business administration professor Jeff Decker and alumnus Edwin Keh '79, who was a recent lecturer at the Wharton School of Business. 

"We don't think that students should have gone on the trip for this reason… but when Edwin and I met with them, I said 'if you come on this trip and get serious about your education and career, you will probably make a million dollars more over your lifetime having been exposed to it.' The idea is that you can really tap into this global phenomenon rather than just being wiped out by it," said Decker.  

Taking this to heart, the students hit the ground running upon arriving to Beijing. Their first stop was Tsinghua University where they first spoke with the author of a significant case study on Walmart China, and then toured of one of the most energy-efficient Walmart stores in the world. Their final stop was a meeting with dean of the Peking University Business School, who hosted the group along with some international MBA students.

"Prof. Decker led a great discussion on Walmart China, and our students held their own—even outshined their Peking counterparts," recalled Keh.

Before leaving Beijing for Shanghai, the Whittier group was hosted for a tour and talk at the U.S. Embassy by former Whittier professor Bob Wang, who serves as the Deputy Chief of Mission for the American site.

"It was like I was back in his classroom again," said Keh, a former student of Wang. "Bob gave us a brilliant, comprehensive lesson in U.S.-China relations, and our students asked great questions."

Arriving in Shanghai, the group met with top business leaders at Google China, Nike, GE, Daphne Shoes, GLP, and Yihaodian, one of the fastest growing companies in China, among others.

"We had the opportunity to speak with executives and high ranking leaders who use some of the very management techniques that we are learning about in class. They gave us real life examples of how they use these techniques to effectively lead their organizations," said Brian Blank '12, who went on the trip as a way to give his career a jump start.  

In addition to adding discussing business models, the students had a first-hand opportunity to consider the recent cultural and political shifts in the country.

"We did not miss the chance to consider the historical and global significance of the recent rise of China," added Decker. 

Keh adds, "The important thing for students in a liberal arts education is that they have good context. An understanding of what is happening in the world [is critical]. Experiences like these give them that context," said Keh.

For economics and business double-major Richard Hoover '12, the course was definitely an eye-opener.

"I wanted to see the impact our two cultures have on one other, and [how that may affect] our future dealings with China. I understand now that this can be a relationship we build, but if not managed it right, it could be devastating."