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China Lab: Global Collaboration in Practice
Jul 13, 2020

Tim Hesler, GMBA Class of 2017

As the collaborative relationship between Tsinghua SEM and MIT Sloan has grown over the last 20 years, so has the range of cross-national options available to the schools’ MBA students. China Lab is one outgrowth of this expansion, and I had the privilege of participating in the program’s tenth iteration.

As the program’s name might suggest, China Lab is oriented at practice-based experience rooted in a China-specific corporate context. With each installment, several teams are assembled from across Tsinghua and MIT MBA cohorts, traditionally in teams of four with two student participants from each school. Each team is assigned a Chinese company sponsor for whom the team will engage in some variety of consulting project. Reflective of the emerging nature of global business, much of the project work is typically conducted virtually, with an MIT student visit to Beijing and on-site corporate presentation in late March and a Tsinghua student visit to MIT in late April for a week of curricular programming and final poster session to share key findings with other China Lab teams from MIT, Tsinghua, and a few other Chinese B-schools.

Tsinghua China Lab delegation with MIT's mascot, Tim the beaver

I had the fortune of being placed on a team dedicated to a project for YiQiFIN, a supply chain finance arm of CreditEase. Supply chain finance was a relatively unknown arena to me, which meant that I had much to learn to simply bring myself up to speed and offer meaningful contributions to conversations with my teammates and our sponsor. At the same time, however, it felt somewhat appropriate that even in my final semester, I was being nudged to start nearly at ground zero and build up my knowledge in yet another sphere. I was also tangibly reminded again – as I was on many occasions throughout my GMBA experience – of the importance of being aware of and fully drawing on the resources and knowledge of each member within the team.

Charles Rivers Lab team

In our case, we were matched with local sponsors who were willing to meet on a roughly weekly basis, yielding an overall high-contact experience with opportunities to regularly provide updates on our findings and recalibrate the next phase of our research for the following week. The constant refinement was especially helpful for me, given my lack of familiarity with the field.

By the time we reached our on-site week at MIT, my team members and I had developed several working theories with the guidance of our YiQiFIN sponsors, but we were eager to glean additional faculty insight. We kicked things off on Monday with a campus tour hosted by current Sloan students and a welcome luncheon complete with coveted photo-ops with Tim the Beaver (MIT’s mascot – note that “TIM” is “MIT” inverted). Much of the rest of the week was filled with flexible time slots for last-minute team meetings and a wide range of Sloan MBA class visits. A handful of social activities, such as a Red Sox-Yankees game (by many accounts, the biggest rivalry in all of professional baseball) and local tours of the Harvard and Boston areas, were available, and the entire group of visiting students had the privilege of sitting in on a class titled “Managing in Adversity,” instructed by MIT faculty extraordinaire Peter Kurzina. The class was also graced by the presence and input of Ocean Spray CEO Randy Papadellis, the protagonist in the case of the day.

 CreditEase team

We also had lunchtime faculty lectures, one of which – on blockchain – bore special relevance to our team’s project research. Professor David Birnbach was gracious enough to make himself available after his lecture for more targeted dialogue related specifically to our project, and we were grateful for the opportunity to confirm some of our hunches as well as to be pointed in the direction of emerging publications and unique insights stemming from an intersection of research and practice.

MCC team

Even after the program had officially wrapped up with a Thursday evening farewell reception at the local staple of Firebrand Saints, we were given one final complimentary tour by a current Sloan student who showed us to some of her favorite local spots that didn’t always get picked up in the “official” tours. We spent our last evening together as a cohort on the banks of the Charles River, basking in the hospitality of our MIT hosts and savoring one of the true capstones of our GMBA experience.


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