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Kathleen Slaughter is dean of the Hong Kong campus of the Richard Ivey School of Business at University of Western Ontario.

Photographer: Leong Ka Tai/The Globe and Mail

Kathleen Slaughter has a front-row seat on the Asian economic surge, as dean of the Hong Kong campus of the Richard Ivey School of Business at University of Western Ontario. Ivey offers an executive MBA to about 40 students a year, as well as custom-designed executive development programs for corporations throughout Asia. Ms. Slaughter, who has been dean of the campus for eight years and has taught in China for 12 years, describes what she has learned.

What has been the biggest lesson for you?

It's understanding the various cultures. We use case-based learning in our classes. But whether the case is based in Vietnam, Australia or France, you get a totally different perspective because it is seen through the eyes of people doing business in Asia.

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You might get someone from Japan saying 'That's not going to work in Japan.' Then you go through the process of why that would not work in Japan and what you might do differently. It's like having 40 professors, because everyone has something to teach the others. Because Hong Kong is a hub, we normally have 12 to 14 nationalities in our classes.

What has the Hong Kong school done for Ivey?

It's increased our international profile. But I don't think we've done enough of promoting it in Canada. I hear it referred to as 'the satellite campus in Hong Kong.'

But in Canada, you do have a lot of people who want to know about Asia. Canada is coming to realize that, yes, the world is going east-west, not north south any more.

But Ivey has been so Canadian about it - we do these things, but we don't talk about them, and we don't blow our horns all over the place. Then I hear someone say, 'Wow, such-and-such a school went and did something in Japan. They taught a whole course, and it happened in 1996 or something.' And [at Ivey]we might say, 'Just a minute - we've been in Asia since 1984.' We just don't promote it very well.

What does the campus mean for the faculty?

Rather than just teaching about international business, you've got to get yourself over here, get into the classroom and deal with 40 students who have on average about 15 to 17 years' experience. So now you have 600 years of Asian experience in front of you. You've got to learn from that, too.

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It's given us the opportunity to write more cases in Asia. We're no. 2 in total cases written, next to Harvard Business School, but we are No. 1 in Asian cases. It's because we know the companies, the people, and what the issues are.

Are you making money?

Yes - because we are doing both [the EMBA and custom executive courses.]The degree program is horrifically expensive to run. We are located in the convention centre, which is some of the most expensive property in Hong Kong, but it is central.

For students, an EMBA costs 700,000 Hong Kong dollars which, under the current exchange rate, is just under $100,000 Canadian. It is about the same as it is in Canada, but we are bringing all the faculty over from Canada for two to three weeks at a time.

But I honestly don't believe you can teach international business and never go international. It's like business people sitting in head offices in New York, Montreal or Toronto, and talking about what is happening in Hong Kong, Beijing or Bangkok - and they have never been there. I'm sorry.

So is there a market for this program among Canadians?

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If I were a Canadian company with business in Asia, and I had mid-career executives I wanted to develop, I'd say, 'We want you to go to Asia for two years. As part of the package to totally integrate you into this experience, we want you to take an executive MBA while you are there.' As an Ivey degree, it would be highly recognized back in Canada. You would not only get the experience of working in Asia for two years, but the company would get exposure to all those people in the EMBA program. And students in the program would get to know the region much faster.

What have been your biggest personal adjustments?

As dean of this campus, you have a certain profile. You get involved in everything that happens and when someone comes through from Canada, you meet them all, from company presidents to political leaders. Those things are fun.

The difficulty is you never stop talking about business here. Business drives everything. You are never actually unhooked from work. The only way is when you leave; you can't have a holiday by staying in Hong Kong. For a vacation, I went to Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef and they don't have here all the time. People will call meetings at 6 o'clock on Friday night or they'll say 'Let's have lunch on Saturday.' The only day that seems somewhat sacrosanct is Sunday. I think they don't organize everything because all the maids are off.

Do you have a message for Canadians in China?

Canadians are missing the boat. We haven't moved fast enough and used the things we are really good at, like clean technology, water purification and green building.

In China, they do five-year plans and the next one has about 12 new cities of over a million people being planned. And China is taking sustainable development seriously. I know they are the worst polluters in the world but they are also doing the most to remove pollution. When they decide to build these cities and that they will have green technology, that will be done. So why aren't we there?

What is the next frontier?

We're not preparing the next generation for a time when China will be a superpower. What are we doing to teach people about China? We still have people calling us and saying 'I'm going to China - what should I wear?' In reality, Hong Kong is a sophisticated city. And when you land in Beijing, you're in an enormous city where people are master consumers. And we are focusing all our attention on languages that might not be as useful as Mandarin in the future.

It's really about fixing young people's attention on the fact the economic powerhouse is not the U.S. any more. It is China and it is India and we don't know enough about this side of the world.

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About the Author
Senior Writer, Report on Business

Gordon Pitts is an author, public speaker and business journalist, with a focus on management, strategy, and leadership. He was the 2009 winner of Canada's National Business Book Award for his fifth book, Stampede: The Rise of the West and Canada's New Power Elite. More

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