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Unveil the Secret of Tsinghua SEM's Think Tank: ZHU Rongji as its Honorary Chairman
Jul 13, 2020

On October 23, President XI Jinping met with overseas members of Tsinghua SEM's Advisory Board at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse,according to Xinhua, China's official news agency. The Advisory Board,also known as Tsinghua SEM's think tank,has attracted much public attention as aresult. The reporter from The Southern Metropolis Daily learns that, this low profile think tank is full of heavyweights,with former Premier ZHU Rongji as its Honorary Chairman. Its 61 members are all significant influencers in the world,including Chairman, President or CEO of top multinational corporations, Dean of world-famous business schools, typically domestic entrepreneurs and China's senior finance officials, such as Co-Founder and Co-CEO of The Carlyle Group, Chairman & CEO of General Motors Company,Global Managing Director of McKinsey & Company, Inc.,Chairman & CEO of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., and Finance Minister LOU Jiwei as well as Governor of the People’s Bank of China, ZHOU Xiaochuan. New faces this year include Jim Breyer, Board Member of Harvard Business School, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple,Jack MA, Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, and LIU He, Minister of the Office of the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs. Although this think tank has been frequently received by state leaders in the past 14 years, little information has been made public about it. This is the first time the secret think tank has been officially revealed with the Advisory Board convening its 14th annual meeting last week, which included the meeting between President XI and its overseas members.

Advisory Board’s Overseas Members’ First Meeting with China's President

"As world-renowned entrepreneurs, you have profound understanding of the global economy and China's economic development. I'd like to know about your insights” and "your suggestions will be a significant source of inspiration for the Chinese government", said President Xi with a smile when he met with the 22 heads of celebrated foreign companies at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse.

These entrepreneurs are from all over the globe across various backgrounds and industries, except one common unique identity – “overseas members of Tsinghua SEM's Advisory Board".

The reporter found out that, since 2002,members of the Advisory Board had been received by China's state leaders like LI Lanqing (then-Vice-Premier), WU Bangguo (then-Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress) , ZENG Peiyan (then-Vice-Premier), WANG Qishan (then-Vice-Premier), and LI Keqiang (then-Vice-Premier). This is the first year they are meeting China's President.

Many higher education institutions insiders told the reporter that the reason the think tank was received by many state leaders is due to the great interest in its members who are high profile business leaders.

Large-scale Teaching by 14 Advisory Board Members at Tsinghua

"I went for Risto's lecture and gave him a hand fan as a small gift. I also explained to him about the four Chinese characters written on the fan-Ning Jing Zhi Yuan,which literally means Inner Peace, as Master Shifu told Po in Kung Fu Panda.He was exhilarated." said a Tsinghua SEM student excitedly reflecting on the lecture a week ago by Risto K. Siilasmaa, member of the Advisory Board and Chairman of Nokia Corporation.

Just the day before meeting with President XI, 14 Advisory Board members entered Tsinghua classroom and had face-to-face communication with students in small classroom sessions.

According to Tsinghua SEM, the board members mainly teach in high level topics which vary from member to member depending on their expertise and experience. Risto's theme is "Entrepreneurship is a Life Style." Li Rongrong, Former Chairman of State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, shared his view on China taking the opportunity in the "Big Data and Cloud Era". Victor 

K. Fung, Honorary Chairman of Li & Fung Limited and Group Chairman of Fung Group, lectured on the history of the family business and his managerial experience. Some overseas board members had interactions with students on topics like "How could China and Europe Work Together to Promote the Stability of Global Financial System", "To Cultivate 21 Century Leadership", "Academic Growth and Individual's Role in Family Business","Interaction with Political and Academic Circles", "Bilateral Relations of China and Chile", etc.

"We confirm with board members about their topics in advance, and students select the topic they are interested in and attend classes accordingly", said a liaison officer who was involved in organizing such classes. This is the first large-scale teaching by the board members at Tsinghua and their lectures are not open to media.

Information released by Tsinghua SEM reveals that, from the year 2008 to 2012,there have been only 8 board members entering Tsinghua classroom so far. This large-scale teaching, according to Tsinghua SEM, is beneficial for both students and board members, because students get the rare opportunity to interact with board members face-to-face, while board members are able to understand what China's youngest and most talented students are thinking about.

ZHU Rongji Reflecting on the Board's Origin in his Farewell Speech

Tsinghua SEM, founded in 1984, is the successor to the Department of Economics. In October 2000, the Advisory Board of Tsinghua SEM was initiated by SEM’s Founding Dean ZHU Rongji, who elaborated on its origin in Dean's farewell speech in 2001.

"In 1984, I accepted LIU Da's invitation to work as Dean of Tsinghua SEM. Although I never learned economics, I took courage to rise to the challenge because of my great interest in management." said ZHU Rongji.With little time left for SEM's work due to his busy political schedule, ZHU Rongji always felt he didn't perform the duty well to his alma mater. "Therefore I invited top managers across the world to set up the Advisory Board in hope that it would help SEM's development." ZHU Rongji has made it clear that he would only be the Honorary Chairman of the Advisory Board after leaving SEM. "As Honorary Chairman, it doesn't matter whether I come or not, and I will never delay the function of the Board," he said.

After leaving his post in 2001, ZHU Rongji maintains the yearly meeting with Advisory Board members. On the same day as President XI received the overseas members, ZHU Rongji met with all the board members who attended the annual meeting. During the one and a half hour discussion, ZHU Rongji raised a humorous question, "Why do our board members look younger?" Dominic Barton,Global Managing Director of McKinsey & Company, Inc., replied with a smile,"Because we are with Tsinghua students."

After a comparative survey and interview of China's other well-known higher education institutions’ Advisory Board,such as Peking University's Guanghua School of Management and South University of Science and Technology of China (SUSTC), the reporter concluded that they have fewer high-profile members than Tsinghua SEM's.

"World-renowned universities and colleges all have special agency and personnel to offer consulting. It is the same in China. We are seeing more Advisory Board, Committee of Experts and Board of Trustees being established in higher education institutions." said ZHU Yongxin,Deputy Secretary-General of National Committee of the CPPCC, Vice-Chairman of China Association for Promoting Democracy, and Vice President of Chinese society of Education. "University should not be isolated from society. Practical subjects like economics and management,is supposed to connect with real life," he said.

The Think Tank Provides Intellect, Fund and Resource Support

What function does the Advisory Board perform? A Tsinghua SEM alumnus sums up as follows: data, project, academic opportunity,scholarship and cooperation.

Tsinghua SEM's recent public information shows that the Advisory Board connects SEM and the world, and it plays an important role in various aspects, such as SEM's cooperation with multinational corporations,construction of international standard research centers and labs, strengthening collaboration with celebrated foreign business schools, professional lecture series and internship opportunities.

On September 17, board member Dominic Barton, Global Managing Director of McKinsey & Company, Inc., signed with SEM a cooperation memo. He will offer global leadership course at Tsinghua and join in Tsinghua MBA Integrative Practice Project, in which he mainly carries
out leadership project. At the meeting with ZHU Rongji last year, many board members said they were impressed to see suggestions they had provided for SEM's development the year before being put into action, which reflected well on SEM's excellent execution ability. In response,

ZHU Rongji said, "I'm confident that, with your assistance, we could build Tsinghua SEM to be one of the world's first-rate business schools like Harvard Business School, Stanford Business School and MIT-Sloan."

Several Presidents of China's higher education institutions told the reporter that, heads of world-famous corporations make great suggestions in cultivating economics and management talents,and more importantly they also assist the university to broaden the vision and strengthen its connection with the outside world. “Although Advisory Board members visit the university only once or twice a year, their suggestions are critical in guiding the school forward,”said ZHU Qingshi, President of SUSTC.He also stressed that SUSTC used to invite board members to have face-to-face panel discussion with students in order to promote direct interactions. 


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