YANG Baiyin: Work for Passion and Real Interest

When walking into Professor YANG Baiyin's office, one can’t help but notice that the walls are covered with books, magazines and family pictures, all symbolizing the things that take up his time. After taking some time to speak with Professor Yang, it was clear that his background is as unique and interesting as it is impressive.
 
Professor YANG Baiyin
 
Professor Yang was born in Jiangsu Province near Shanghai. He attended college in Nanjing, studying mathematics, but he gradually became interested in social sciences as well. Initially, Professor Yang didn't have any connection with the social sciences. However, after college he began working for the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Nanjing in the Human Resources Department, and was very pleased about the transition. He worked as a human resources manager in the Academy of Sciences for eight years, doing mainly administrative work. Growing tired of the kind of work he dealt with on a daily basis, Professor Yang was presented with the opportunity to study towards a Masters degree at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada; he then decided to take the chance. While he planned to come back to China after he got his Masters degree, he was offered the opportunity to study a Ph.D. at the University of Georgia in the United States. With his academic career in full throttle, he went on to teach in several universities in the United States, eventually receiving tenure in the University of Minnesota. During those years, Professor Yang kept in touch with Tsinghua alumni and would go back to China each summer break to see his wife and children and teach a few summer courses at Tsinghua. After many years abroad, Professor Yang decided to return to China after being offered a full-time teaching position at Tsinghua SEM in 2006. In the spring of 2008, Professor Yang was appointed as the Chair of the Human Resources Department at Tsinghua SEM, a position he holds to this day. Professor Yang also acts as the Chief Editor of the Human Resource Development Quarterly.
 
Currently, Professor Yang also holds a chair professor title sponsored by COSCO, acting as its representative with regard to both current and future Tsinghua SEM activities. Professor Yang emphasized the importance of having a sponsor, who among other things can also fund further academic research. 
 
Professor Yang's hobbies include sight-seeing, watching movies – especially the James Bond 007 types, watching the History Channel, listening to music and reading classical books, mostly about history as well.
 
After getting to know Professor Yang a little better, we asked him several questions about his work and research in China:
 
How do you manage your extremely busy professional and personal lives and still find time to produce quite a lot of academic papers?
--"There is a price, but it is done out of passion and real interest. I drive myself really hard because this is my calling – to contribute to further research, Tsinghua SEM and the rise of China as a leading powerhouse and the Chinese people. Teaching management also requires you to manage people and to cope with a heavy work load through delegation. Teaching indeed takes up most of my time, primarily teaching the executive programs."
 
In your view, is traditional management style changing? If so, in what way? What can we expect to see in the coming years?
--"Traditional Chinese style is more paternalistic, stressing good moral standards, authoritative behavior, benevolent leader - follower relationship, but this trend is changing. People are now more open-minded and innovative. In fact my next research area is innovative leadership. On how it will affect the hierarchy - I thinks it’s a mystery. Innovation can be initiated and examined on different levels. China has more institutional innovation–innovation of the company and society as a whole, and not innovation from the bottom up using specific employees, as is done outside of China. It remains to be seen. Innovation is a complex idea – to generate an idea, going from the top down as they do in China may not be very effective, but promoting an idea and its implementation which are done from the top down are much more effective. There is no one formula."
 
What is your opinion regarding the differences between the EMBA students and the IMBA and FMBA students? What is your advice for each group?
--"I work mostly with EMBA students. These students are usually more experienced and situated higher up in the corporations. I don’t teach them a specific technique – they want to learn some principles and they have a lot of experience so the teacher needs to have more interaction and dialogue. IMBA and FMBA are relatively in the beginning of the development stage. As a teacher I try to give a comprehensive review and give some case studies and questions regarding actual implementation. I think experience sharing is very important. Because EMBA students are older and have a more defined value system they need to reflect more on the experiences they already have."
 
Describe your interactions with top businessmen in China. Who is a good leader in your opinion?
--"I have daily interaction with some EMBA students who are already top businessmen. I also do some consulting work for companies and build competency evaluation systems, training development in companies to identify gaps between employees' skills and capabilities, and I teach high level officials in government, which I continue to give advice to after graduation as well. I think some good leaders today are GUANG Tongxian of Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industry Co. Ltd. and REN Zhengfei of Huawei. I also think a lot of EMBA students will be good leaders in the future. My past heroes are SHANG Yang – he was a great innovator; I also admire the late Steve Jobs, Sam Walton – the founder of Wal-Mart, LI Ka-Shing – who was very skillful and has integrated east and western philosophies."
 
What are your experiences teaching MBA students from multiple universities, and in what way can Tsinghua MBA student improve?
--"Tsinghua students are smart, they have an analytical intelligence. However, they need to improve in professionalism – students are not punctual and allow themselves to be constantly late. Tsinghua is good in comparison to other Chinese universities, but not in comparison to foreign universities. Students don’t pay enough attention to formal requests - design of documents for example. Students must also develop a strong personal career aspiration and not just satisfy the needs in the present. It's important to keep the interaction and dialogue with other students – learn from others' experience."
 
What is your opinion about the phenomenon of MBA students switching industries to more profitable ones?
--"People are becoming more materialistic, but we need to focus on what we really want – long term or short term satisfaction. Money is only one factor – we need to consider the long term. One needs to work for one’s own interests. As I always say – if you work for passion and real interest, money and social status will eventually come". (Interview by Tal Badt, Charles Yikai and Danny Tsen, edited by Neil Schwartz)