Tsinghua International MBA Program

Anyone who has spent time in China knows that Tsinghua University is one of the, if not the leading university in the country. Many of China’s top leaders are graduates of the school which will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year.

I was very honored when Tsinghua asked me to address the 2010 graduates of the Tsinghua International MBA Program at their Graduation Commencement last Tuesday. One of the most prestigious programs of its type in China, The Tsinghua International MBA Program is a collaboration between the Tsinghua School of Economics and Management (“Tsinghua SEM”) and the MIT Sloan School of Management. Founded in 1984, Tsinghua SEM, was the first economics and management school in China. Professor Zhu Rongji, the Founding Dean, later became the fifth Premier of the People’s Republic of China.

The Class of 2010 had 108 graduates, 43 of whom are international students from 11 different countries. The graduation ceremony was presided over by Professor Qian Yingyi, Dean of Tsinghua SEM, and Professor Wang Jiang of MIT Sloan School of Management.

Following is what I told the graduates:

Dean Qian, Professor Wang Jiang, Parents, Friends, Honored Guests, and Members of the Tsinghua International MBA Program, Class of 2010,

I am very honored to be here today and to have been asked to speak to you, the future leaders of tomorrow.

I didn’t have an opportunity to attend Tsinghua — I received my MBA across the river from MIT in Cambridge. In my time in China, though, I have learned what an outstanding organization it is, and have had the opportunity to be involved in many ways with the school.

It doesn’t seem that long ago, and in many ways it’s not. However, approximately 40 years ago today, I sat where you sit, patiently waiting to receive my MBA degree after two years of very hard work.

As I reflect on all that I have experienced since then, I can’t help but think about how much the world has changed just during the course of my career. While all of the changes I have witnessed are far too numerous to mention in the time I have this afternoon, there are two which stand out because they have literally re-shaped the world we live in. These two are the amazing development of technology over the past forty years, and the equally amazing development of China over the past thirty.

It’s hard to imagine a world without laptops, but 40 years ago, that was the case. No one had one because they hadn’t been invented yet.

In fact, computing technology was at such a premium that a simple handheld calculator — one that you might buy in any one of the thousands of electronic stores here in Beijing for as little as RMB 100 — might cost as much as $1,000 then. My first MBA course was learning how to use a slide rule, a computing device invented in the 1600s! Few students had calculators because they were too expensive.

Companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and Baidu did not yet exist, and no one had a cell phone, let alone an iPhone. Cell phones were not commercialized until the 1990s.

The impact of the tremendous technological developments we have seen has been to make the world not only flatter, but also much smaller. Parts of the world that seemed unreachable before are now only a click away.

And that brings us to the development of China. In the 1970s, very few people outside China knew anything about what was happening in this far away land of 1 billion people. Closed to the world, with a GDP of less than $50 billion, events in China seemed of little concern to those in the rest of the world.

As we all know, however, Deng Xiaopeng changed all of that, beginning in 1978. As a result of his vision, and the efforts of more than a billion hard working Chinese, China will be the largest economy in the world during your working career. Everything that happens in China today, no matter how large or small, now matters a great deal to the world outside.

If so much has changed during my working career, imagine how much it will change during yours. With continued developments in technology, and the rapid changes now occurring in China, the pace of change is accelerating, not slowing down.

In this context, I have three suggestions for you as new MBA graduates:

1. Keep an open mind. No one can predict exactly how the world will change in the years ahead. We can only be certain that it will in fact change. What is true today may not be true tomorrow, so it is imperative that your mind be open at all times — ready to accept and deal with the new realities as they develop.

2. Be flexible. My career has taken more than a few unexpected turns, so I am sure that yours will take at least as many. When I received my MBA, for example, I would have been the last person in the world to predict that I would live and work outside the United States, let alone in China. In a changing world, new opportunities arise suddenly and unexpectedly. You have to be flexible to take advantage of them.

3. Remember, you never stop learning. Receiving your Tsinghua MBA is not the end of your education, it is only the beginning. At Tsinghua, you have learned how to think and process new information. You will be using this skill the rest of your life.

By deciding to further your education, you have demonstrated that you value learning and understand the need to be prepared for the new world we live in. By choosing Tsinghua, you have shown that you understand that the ability to bridge cultural divides will be a key success factor in the years ahead.

With your Tsinghua education, you have demonstrated your open-mindedness and readiness to embrace new ideas. As the newest members of the elite group that has already received this prestigious degree, I am confident that you will enjoy much success in the years ahead.

Congratulations, Thank You and Good Luck!

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