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CEIBS Honorary Professor Wu Jinglian: My Story with CEIBS

Volume 2, 2019

“My CEIBS story can be summed up in one phrase: ‘growing up together’. After returning from an academic visit to Yale University in 1984, I taught at CEMI (China-EC Management Institute), CEIBS’ predecessor, and later sat on its academic committee. In those early days, CEMI’s primary mission was to introduce Western management practices to China.

In 1978, delegations from China’s State Council visited Japan and other Western countries. Upon returning to China, they shared their observations about Western management practices with Chinese entrepreneurs, leaving a profound impression. However, in those days, most Chinese entrepreneurs only had a superficial understanding of Western companies; those with a firm grasp of modern management practices were few and far between. Therefore, CEMI’s mission of providing education was of great importance, and the institute also had a great impact on my personal development.

Before I joined CEMI, I had very limited knowledge of how Western companies operated. However, in 1988, a company called Sitong Group, a former small town enterprise, commissioned CEMI to conduct research into modern enterprise management. This spurred me to fill in some gaps in my knowledge, including information about the organisational structure and operating mechanisms of modern enterprises. I learned a great deal from lectures given by foreign colleagues at CEMI, which proved to be an invaluable resource. With this basic understanding of the ways in which modern companies operated, I was able to complete the research project.

However, as China’s economic needs continued to evolve, the promotion of Western management practices alone was no longer enough. This became even more apparent in 1994, during the foundation of CEIBS in Shanghai. In 1993, the Third Plenary Session of the 14th CPC Central Committee passed a resolution on pushing forward economic reform and establishing a socialist market economy. The slate of reforms that ensued, which included enterprise reform, left China grappling with an assortment of problems. It became apparent that the teaching and research conducted at CEIBS should be geared to the practical needs of China’s business community. Indeed, this approach later became the inspiration for the CEIBS mission, which calls for the cultivation of ‘China Depth, Global Breadth’.

During the 1990s, I was asked by CEIBS to offer a compulsory course entitled China’s Economy. To prepare, I carried out thorough research into China’s reform process and the challenges encountered along the way. I later converted the substance of this series of lectures into a book, Understanding and Interpreting Chinese Economic Reform, which is still available in print today.

On a separate note, my teaching experience at CEIBS has offered me deeper insights into enterprise reform and how capital markets work, and my colleagues and students have also offered me considerable intellectual inspiration; the school has been a major influence on my academic journey.

Since the turn of the century, as China’s economic reforms have gathered momentum, the country has faced increasingly complex issues. I believe that it is the responsibility of entrepreneurs, professors, and scholars alike to propose solutions to these. One issue that is particularly dear to CEIBS professors is corporate social responsibility. CEIBS has long attached great importance to entrepreneurial behaviour. Indeed, as early as 1995, CEIBS made business ethics a compulsory course for the first MBA class. As China’s reforms have progressed, it has become ever more apparent that businesses should not only generate profits for their shareholders, but also fulfil their social responsibility. That means working with the government and non-governmental organisations to tackle increasingly complex social problems.

This observation was reflected in an update to CEIBS’ mission statement, which now calls for a ‘keen sense of social responsibility’ in addition to its original goal of cultivating business leaders with ‘China Depth, Global Breadth’. 

Today, I view the fundamental nature and mission of companies in a new light. In the 1980s, the corporate theories that we studied stressed that a company’s responsibility was to maximise profits for shareholders, although this viewpoint was challenged by management scholars in the late 1990s.

Since 2018, some scholars have pointed out that companies should hold themselves accountable not only to their leadership, but also to their other stakeholders, including employees, communities, and society as a whole. Therefore, we need to fully reconsider an entire framework of theories on corporate governance. I have personally been revising and updating my own theories in line with colleagues at CEIBS.

To conclude, although I may not have as much energy as I used to, I’m still ready to work towards further progress in this field alongside my colleagues and students at CEIBS.”