ZHAO Chunjun: a Visionary Educator Turning Seeds into Forests


ZHAO Chunjun, the winner of Fudan Award for Lifetime Achievement in Management Science 2019, is widely recognized as the “Dean” of all the deans of business schools in China. He is one of the pioneers of China’s MBA education and was the Dean of the School of Economics and Management (2001-2005), Tsinghua University (hereafter referred to as Tsinghua SEM).

 

"Professor ZHAO Chunjun introduced the MBA education in China and devoted to the development of business administration discipline. As a scholar, he did pioneer work by promoting the applied research on the dynamic input-output model and the decision support system in 1980s, and led the study on the theories and practice of Chinese enterprise management," said CHEN Xiaohong, the CAE academician and president of Hunan University of Technology and Business.

 

In 1986, ZHAO, who was then a visiting scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Vienna, returned to his alma mater, Tsinghua University, and was appointed a leadership position at the School of Economics and Management. It was both a surprise and a challenge for ZHAO, who studied electrical engineering and had taught automation and system engineering as his profession.

 

At that time, Tsinghua SEM had been founded for only two years. And the road of Chinese economy was still unclear. ZHAO Chunjun was also a newcomer in the field of management. The visits to MIT Sloan School of Management and other world renowned business schools in 1980s and 1990s inspired him with a blueprint of a world-class school of economics and management. However the grim reality was that the School admitted only 30 undergraduates each year and less than 200 enrolled students in total. In addition, the office space was borrowed from other departments, and the faculty members were with different educational backgrounds and uneven capabilities.

 

How could the School seek development given these difficulties? "Faculty development, disciplinary structure adjustment, scale expansion, and bringing in external resources" was the solution offered by ZHAO and his colleagues who racked their brains about it day and night. This solution still sounds highly relevant nowadays."We went to any length to improve faculty quality, worked to target the number of the Tsinghua SEM students up to 10% of the total number of Tsinghua students, transformed the overall structure of the discipline by shifting the focus from operations research, management science, to the mainstream business administration disciplines such as finance, marketing, accounting, etc., thus meeting the needs of transforming from planned economy to socialist market economy. We also managed to get funds and recourses for the School’s development."

 

ZHAO had started to assume the Executive Associate Dean of Tsinghua SEM since 1986. From 2001 to 2005, he was the Dean of Tsinghua SEM after ZHU Rongji, former Chinese premier and the founding Dean of the School. In his tenure of 20 years as the executive leader of the School, he had managed to enlarge Tsinghua SEM’s student number exceeding 4,000, the rise of the Weilun Building and the Shunde Building, and the growth of the faculty, so that the majority own doctorate degrees from top universities home and abroad.

 

“There are real needs (for management expertise) out there,” said ZHAO. Crowned as one of the trailblazers of Chinese MBA education, he believes it’s better to say that everything went as a spontaneous response to the call of the time: In early 1980s, Tsinghua SEM ran a factory cadre training program, which turned as a prototype for the executive education in China, by incorporating Western experience; the graduate degree education system was officially established in 1980s, which laid the foundation for the emergence of professional degrees; the proposal of building a socialist market economy and educating a large number of economic management talents was raised at the 14th CPC National Congress in 1992, and all these events were "boosters" for the prosperity of China's business education.

 

In the 1990s, the number of domestic universities offering MBA programs increased from 9 to more than 20, with over 1,000 enrolment of students. However, the admission standards varied a lot, and there were no reference indicators such as GMAT scores. The quality of MBA students has thus been questioned by the society, which has led to serious discussions within the National MBA Education Committee. The Committee finally decided to set a unified “threshold”.

 

As the Deputy Director of the National MBA Education Committee, ZHAO witnessed and participated in the planning and launch of the National MBA Entrance Examination in 1997. Unlike other academic-degree entrance examination, this examination focuses more on the practical experience of the students while taking analytical and English capability into account, which is a localization attempt for the selection of professional-degree graduate students.

 

ZHAO’s vision and leadership has been praised by many. In addition to his numerous efforts in improving the quality and scale of China's MBA education, include promoting the practice of MBA teaching evaluation and inspection and counseling on schools that recently open MBA programs, formulating the outline of the “Ninth Five-Year Plan” and the “Tenth Five-Year Plan” for MBA education, demonstrating the feasibility of the EMBA program based on China's huge demand of upgrading the education level of enterprise managers, and setting up the fundamental principles for the program, ZHAO still bore in mind that Western China was suffering from unbalanced educational resources.

 

In 2007, ZHAO signed a donation agreement with Temasek Foundation on behalf of the National MBA Education Committee, which started a six-year two-phase campaign to enhance the capability building of MBA instructors as well as the institutions in Western China. The program covers twenty to thirty schools and universities, hundreds of faculty members and school leaders and thousands of students.

 

In his academic career, ZHAO has made many contributions in the modeling and optimization of the national economic comprehensive planning system based on the dynamic input-output model in the early 1980s, and later he completed the applied research on “Dynamic Interactive Decision Analysis and Support System (DIDASS)” at IIASA. He proposed the idea of establishing a decision support system combining the economic model and computer technology. ZHAO also introduced DIDASS into China and developed one of the first decision support systems in China, documented in his publication: Expert Systems for Integrated Development: A Case Study of Shanxi.

 

"China’s economy has enjoyed rapid development for several decades, and the enterprises have as well. In light of the remarkable achievement, there must be something we should study about these enterprises." ZHAO realizes that it is the historical mission of Chinese management academia and business leaders to do research on the management practices of China's outstanding enterprises in order to find out their commonalities and sublimate them to a theoretical level, before gradually shaping a new school of corporate management and relevant theories infused with Chinese characteristics.

 

The voices of ZHAO and others eventually led to the project "A fundamental Study on the Chinese Way of Management", which was carried out by the Development Research Center of the State Council, the China Enterprise Confederation and Tsinghua University. This project, lasting nearly 3 years, surveyed more than 60 outstanding Chinese companies such as Baosteel and Lenovo, and included a number of corporate cases and 14 special studies.

 

In the final report, ZHAO and his team proposed for the Chinese way of corporate management a "nine-word" summary: “Practical and Rational” thinking, "Adaptive" strategy, "Heroic" leadership, "Family-like" organization, “Inclusive" culture, "Harmonious" environment, “Integrating” innovation, "Aggressive “marketing and “Agile “operation.

 

ZHAO hopes to tell the Chinese story in the field of management by leading and inspiring a group of new generation scholars. He said, “Compared to the conclusions drawn from the project, ‘the academic climate change’ may be more important.”

 

ZHAO is an outstanding leader. YANG Bin, Vice President of Tsinghua University, who was ZHAO’s student and now colleague, said that ZHAO was particularly good at striking a dynamic balance between different demands. He is a master in dealing with the entangling clues and for ZHAO it is about integrating all the forces to achieve greater results than making simple additions.

 

As a teacher and leader, ZHAO is already at the age of retirement, but he has never stopped caring for the development of China's management education and continues to facilitate the work of the Fudan Management Award Foundation.

 

In the face of the rapid development of China's economy and the growing demand for management talents, he hopes that his colleagues will carry on what he has achieved by doing the fundamental work that may not manifest itself at the moment. He also expects that the well developed institutions can help the underdeveloped counterparts and improve the overall performance of MBA education in China. Eventually, "the results will be seen in students' future."