Spring 2014 IBD Student Joseph Kim shares his IBD team’s experiences in Shanghai China.
Our team is working in Shanghai, China for a large lab equipment distributor to improve the partnership and product selection process. We had the chance to interview current customers from top research universities and leading multi-national companies while in Shanghai. Although the project was challenging at first, as none of the team members had scientific backgrounds, the team pooled its collective experiences together and delivered clear process recommendations that will be implemented both internally and externally.
When we found out that we would be working for a lab equipment distributor, we looked at each other in bewilderment; first, we weren’t entirely sure what the company did, and secondly, we weren’t sure why they had selected a group of MBA’s all with finance backgrounds instead of a group of scientists in white lab coats. Upon doing some company and industry research, we quickly learned that the company was a mature, industry leader in a growing Chinese market but that the U.S. parent company wanted to continue to grow its already large footprint. It became clear that given our backgrounds we could help analyze the market opportunities and introduce processes that would increase success in product launches and finding new relationships.
Although the team was prepared to conduct a lot of analysis and have customer interaction once in Shanghai, we underestimated the large culture shock, especially for the members of the team who hadn’t worked overseas before. Shanghai and its 24+ million citizens kept us on our toes and there wasn’t a dull moment that passed by. Whether it was being hoodwinked in expensive cab rides or trying to find a restaurant that met all four team members’ dietary needs, we quickly realized that working in a developing country would be challenging even if our surroundings appeared to be developed. Luckily for us, there were two other Haas IBD teams to share travel and experiences together.
Even with the language barrier, our best insights about the business came from interviewing customers. We learned how culture can affect so many aspects of a business. For example, one customer pointed out that Chinese workers prefer opening windows instead of turning on the A/C like her French counterparts. Albeit a subtle difference, the smog and dust accumulation from opening a window affected lab results given the sensitivity of experiments, leading to opportunities for our client to introduce more durable machines.
Overall, IBD was a once in a lifetime opportunity. We had the chance to put our MBA core learning to work from start to finish and had a blast while delivering recommendations that we know will make a difference.