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Spotlight on Executive Education China Programmes: Dr. Alan Wu

Covid-19 has changed our way of doing business. While people await a ‘return to normality’, in reality we’re unlikely to revert to the way things were before.

Investing in leaders and managers to help navigate this period of change, and ensure the sustainability of businesses in the months and years ahead, has never been more crucial. Executive education, then, will have a huge part to play in helping business leaders adapt in the face of change and in solving critical business challenges.

Experiencing and understanding business through an international lens also has a part to play in an increasingly globalised world and as we continue to operate remotely from all corners of the world, it is crucial that we develop our understanding of different markets and cultures.

Alliance Manchester Business School’s Dr. Alan Wu, Executive Director of the School’s China Executive Programmes, has spent over 13 years working with a number of high-profile clients, including three of China’s largest banks, as well as many Chinese government organisations. We spoke with Dr. Wu to discuss the opportunities and challenges in the Chinese market, from an executive education perspective, in the months ahead.

“China is on track to be the world’s largest economy later this decade,” he said. “As the UK’s fifth-largest trading partner it’s an important market for British companies looking to build trading relationships across the world. AMBS realised the potential for the development of Sino-UK relations as early as 1986 with the establishment of the China Business Centre and our activity has gone from strength to strength ever since.

“The Centre was a dedicated unit set up to nurture links between the UK and Greater China, and to promote mutual understanding, predominantly via the provision of executive training to delegations from the Greater China region. The University of Manchester was in fact the first university in the UK to provide this type of formal training to Chinese managers, and in 1999 was also the first university in the UK to be recognised by SAFEA (State Administration for Foreign Experts Affairs) as an approved training centre.”

Dr. Wu highlighted the school’s work with the Chinese banking sector, an increasingly important market for executive education.

“We now deliver annual training programmes for three of China’s leading state-owned banks – Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (currently the largest bank in the world), Agricultural Bank of China and China Development Bank, and have also established partnerships with Chinese banks operating in the UK.

“Almost 400 Chinese bank managers have now received executive training at AMBS, and more than 350 of these have received their training in the past three years. The economy has obviously taken a colossal hit as a result of the coronavirus so helping organisations to meet their training and development needs, and to enhance their understanding of new challenges, is paramount.”

Attracting foreign investment in the aftermath of the pandemic is also likely to be front of mind for governments and businesses looking to bolster employment in the recovery phase. The UK boasts global leading sectors including financial services, advanced manufacturing, renewable energy, and health and life sciences and will be looking to showcase these strengths to the world. The China programmes team at Executive Education, AMBS, has already contributed significantly to developments in investment activity in recent years.

“Helping to attract foreign investment to the North will be critical in the levelling up,” Alan added. “Just over three years ago, the AMBS-led Northern Powerhouse Consortium was successfully awarded the contract to deliver the UK-China Infrastructure Academy, a prestigious joint venture between UK and the Chinese governments. The Academy is an executive education programme offering courses, seminars and workshops to senior Chinese business executives and government officials which aims to enhance their understating of UK investment opportunities and regulation. It’s a unique platform designed to bring together UK and Chinese infrastructure capabilities and is incredibly important for the infrastructure sector here in Manchester too.”

Dr. Wu explained that the UK-China Infrastructure Academy has so far focused on themes of renewable energy, belt and road initiative (BRI), regeneration and rail, and added: “Infrastructure has an enormous part to play in the recovery. History has shown us it’s the right thing to do and it ensures sustained recovery in the longer-term.”

But as well as bringing in global perspectives to organisations, Alan concluded that creating stronger internal networks will prove just as important as business leaders navigate the months ahead.

“China is a growing economy and has seen very rapid growth registered in the past 30 years. But to maintain this momentum once the world returns to normal, we can’t leave the “softer” skills behind. Investment in management skills and equipping teams to question the traditional way of doing things will be key in creating business cultures that are more innovative and adaptable. No one can know what lies ahead, but the one thing that is certain is change, and businesses will need to be prepared to deal with it. Whatever their training and development requirements, I am confident that the executive programmes team here at AMBS has the knowledge, skills and experience to support Chinese organisations as they prepare themselves for the business challenges of the future.”