The light bulb moment occurred while Dr. Daniel Skarlicki was teaching an organizational behaviour class in Shanghai. Speaking with his MBA students during one of the many social events that are an essential part of doing business in China, the Sauder School of Business professor was struck by how differently they thought about employers compared to Canadians.
Dr. Skarlicki's research, which focuses on how employees react when treated unfairly by their employer, had until then been conducted exclusively in North America. But a global approach to human resources research that could account for cultural influences would be relevant not only for companies with global offices, but for anyone managing a diverse workforce, he realized.
And thus was born Dr. Skarlicki's collaboration with researchers in Paris and Shanghai. "We found that the Chinese are highly collectivist," he said. "They recognize 'power difference,' or leadership hierarchy, more than North Americans do. They tend to think, 'If my boss mistreats me, he'll just get it back in the next life.'"
Like the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, many Canadian business schools have set up satellite campuses or partnered with universities overseas in the past decade; while the initial motivation was to find new markets of potential students, the indirect benefits of these programs − such as collaborative research like Dr. Skarlicki's − are more far-reaching than could have been expected.
"People sometimes say that business schools are out offering [international]programs just for the money, but that's not enough reason," says Dr. Harrie Vredenburg, a professor at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary. "We're getting essential knowledge and collaborations. Our experience informs our research back home. We learn as much from [our students]as they learn from us."
The benefits of offering international programs such as UCalgary's Global Energy EMBA extend beyond academia, according to Dr. Vredenburg. "This isn't just good for the university, but also for Calgary, being recognized as a global energy centre, and for Canada."
By training a generation of up-and-coming business leaders in fast-growing economies such as China, business schools are paving the way for Canadian companies by forging key relationships, raising Canada's profile and promoting Canadian business practices and values. "I regularly get calls from companies here thinking about growing their businesses in these markets," says Dr. Vrendenburg. "They want to know about the business environment there. They want our contacts."
Dr. Steven Murphy, associate dean at Sprott School of Business at Carleton University, believes Carleton's presence abroad also benefits the countries in which it operates. In 2002, Carleton launched the first MBA and master of business programs available in Iran in partnership with Qeshm Institute of Higher Learning. That an Ottawa-based university has set up shop in a country with decidedly strained relations with Canada may come as a surprise, but Dr. Murphy sees the school as a positive influence. "We want to play a positive role in [Iranian]society by being there," he says. "Politics will come and go, but we're a neutral arbitrator of whatCanadians stand for. We're playing an important role by providing the skill set for Iranians to move forward as they choose to."
When Carleton first began offering an MBA in China, the school was criticized for working in a country with such a dismal human rights record. Rather than boycotting certain countries, Dr. Murphy says Carleton "can make more of a difference on the ground."
Now with hundreds of schools from all over the world offering business education in China, Carleton is looking farther afield for its next global undertaking. Plans are in the works to launch an MBA in Colombia with a partner university there. "We see Colombia as a gateway to Chile," Dr. Murphy says, "but it also has its own story. Colombia is trying to attract foreign investment, and by us being there, we want to signal: Canada is here, we care about your business, we care about your people."
Of course, there are many other concrete advantages enjoyed by business schools operating internationally. Professors say that the programs boost recruitment of international students to Canada-based programs. Canadian students are typically given the option of completing one or more courses towards their MBA at foreign campuses, giving them an invaluable experience studying alongside young business leaders from different cultures.
But perhaps the most significant, if unintended, bonus is the knowledge professors bring back to Canada after they've been sent to teach in Shanghai and Qeshm and Bogota. "You get a deep understanding of how these cultures do business," Dr. Murphy says. "When you're armed with that knowledge, you can present to your students a perspective on global business that is more informed."
This knowledge is not limited to a deeper appreciation for the business cultures within which these schools are operating, but also insight into Canada.
"We're like fish," says Dr. Skarlicki. "A fish doesn't know he's in water until you take him out and return him. Like any travel, when you return home you notice what you took for granted.
"Teaching in other countries has made me see Canada differently."