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Exploring economic complexity in China: DBi Hong Kong 2018

After a long fall semester and a snowstorm in New York, the thirty-five of us going to Hong Kong could not have been any happier.

For most of us, joining the DBi was a lifetime opportunity to witness and learn firsthand from the world-class faculty at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). Our core focus during this two-week experience was the complexity of doing business in China for multinational corporations.

The partnership between Stern and HKUST over the years gave rise to potentially the most perfect DBi program yet. Our calendars filled pretty quickly with classes that tackled today’s challenges of entering and maintaining a growing position in China, with cultural events that allowed us to connect with the local community and with touristy activities enabling us to explore and discover magnificent Hong Kong.

Many days consisted of a class lecture coupled with a corporate visit. An example of this activity was the class on operational efficiency and current challenges at Cathay Pacific. After the lecture, we visited Cathay’s headquarters in Hong Kong where we got a tour of the Cathay City and talked about Cathay’s financial challenges during the heated competition from local carriers.

Another example of academic learning applied to practice was the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) visit followed by a class on the competitive landscape in Hong Kong and mainland China. During our corporate visit, we learned that MTR, besides running the most efficient train system in the world with 99.9 percent on-time accuracy and reliability, they are also one of the largest real estate developers in Hong Kong. MTR is expanding the same business model in Beijing, Shanghai, Stockholm, and London.

While discussing competition, we were fortunate to be given the opportunity to acquire first-hand experience from the entertainment sector. Professor Sullivan from HKUST stressed the challenges of not only competing with foreign players looking to gain market share, but also the local players that have significant government financial backing. One of these examples was Ocean Park and Disney Hong Kong. Ocean Park is a local, initially government-owned and then publicly owned theme park focused on animal welfare and rare species preservation. It survived recessions, changes in consumer tastes, and more recently Disney’s competition. But their healthy competition and growth in Hong Kong ended once a third, local theme park opened in mainland China, an hour’s train—one with government funding—ride away.

While daytime from 8 AM to 5 PM we were engaged in academic and experiential learning, the evenings were filled with cultural immersion. During a dinner at the Jockey Club, we met and networked with other MBA students from HKUST. Unlike our two-year full-time program, their full-time MBA program is 18 months long, including an internship. With Shanghai becoming a free port city, like Hong Kong, these students cited professional opportunities that might not be available in their hometown.

In the evening, we explored the Ladies Market where we indulged in tea tasting and souvenir shopping. During the weekend we hiked the Dragon’s Back trail and discovered secluded beaches with fantastic local restaurants. During our weekend we also took a short boat ride to Macau, a place many might think of as the Vegas of the East. While there, we discovered its tasty Portuguese cuisine, local shops, and Panda Park.

We witnessed first-hand the ever-changing market and competitive landscape, and that tackling the Chinese market takes a lot of know-how that multinational corporations may not possess unless they partner with local players. In a global economy, we learned, successful market entry and growth in China might be more complicated than previously thought.

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