GBC 2017 at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, A Global Conference for MBA Student Leaders


“One of the speakers, Jeff Hoffman (founder of Priceline.com), said it best. ‘This conference is why people go to business school.'” – MIT


One of my MBA highlights was representing Taiwan at Graduate Business Conference (GBC), the only annual global conference for MBA student leadership. GBC 2017 was hosted by Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), a short 2-hour flight from Taipei. The first GBC was in 1983 at Columbia University. GBC 2018 will be hosted by Copenhagen Business School.

GBCers are elected student leaders, mostly from schools in the Graduate Business Forum. These are the top 50 top business schools in the world, now 70.

Each year’s GBC covers a theme around responsible leadership. What are some of the biggest issues in the world? How will they affect business? What are the roles we will have to play in solving them? How is the world we’re going to lead look like? Here’s what goes on at a typical GBC:

  • MBA student leaders sharing their challenges and successes, what’s working and what isn’t, bouncing ideas off one another.
  • Best practices for student government. How to work with administration, alumni relations, extracurricular activities, student discipline, academic affairs, budgeting, continuity, planning, career services, engagement, setting up new initiatives, etc.
  • Keynote and panel session speakers following that year’s theme. GBC 2017 was ‘Business 4 Good: The Ultimate Challenge.’
  • Networking with most of the top student leaders in the world

Business 4 Good: The Ultimate Challenge

For long, businesses have focused on profit and shareholder value as ultimate parameters of success. Instead, balancing a focus on profit with delivering positive impact to the world is believed to be the path to true prosperity. A complex challenge to innovate the status quo in business and economics today – maybe even the ultimate challenge!

Social business is that topic which comes up when we talk positive impact, and it’s often in the same sentence as startups. GBC 2017 speakers focused on how the new wave of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives is also changing corporate governance, board support, and what to pay attention to right now.

CSR Panel at GBC 2017, Hosted by CUHK

Not having a grasp on CSR is a bottleneck here. One speaker talked how in a recent divestiture, the other party required a CSR audit before the sale could be completed. Others talked how CSR is built into new business processes, so we are 1) meeting carbon emission standards. 2) It is integrated. And, 3) not done on an one-off basis. It’s designed into the way we look at and do business.

This means we’re going beyond community service, and into the vision set forth by The Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the United Nations’ Strategic Development Goals. It’s not altruism anymore, CSR is a cost of doing business. Depending on your views, this cost is also value for society.

Overall, it’s quite broad – fitting for a MBA crowd. Speakers included:

  • COSCO Shipping’s executive director
  • Tencent’s strategy director (WeChat)
  • Huawei’s corporate social responsibility head
  • Infosys Consulting partner
  • Head of IBM Cloud in Hong Kong

Also, that’s our OM Share Charging mentor and GBC keynote speaker at 2:04 in this video by CUHK. Meet Dr. Niven Huang, general manager of KPMG sustainability consulting, and one of my professors at National Chengchi University.

MBA Networking Insight from GBC 2017: People in Certain Positions Possess Certain Traits

You know, if there’s such a thing as an archetype of a MBA student leader, it’s here. As much as we talk about diversity, at the end of the day, people in certain positions tend to possess certain traits.

Here’s something Jim Deveau, founder of the Graduate Business Forum, pointed out in his closing remarks. GBCers relate to each other right away, before we start talking about what’s going on in our programs. It just takes a few minutes to meet someone who understands you, because we’re here for the same reasons.

Our programs also tend to follow certain paths, and maybe that’s partly because of accreditation guidelines. We also face many of the same pains. At a certain point, someone comes up with a fix. And because we know who each other are, we swallow the medicine.

My message to other MBA student leaders is, GBC is our people. I left with a stack of new connections — people I’d love to build something with. It’s these people who make GBC an incredible opportunity to test and talk out creative, constructive solutions.

The kind of student leader who attends Graduate Business Conference is someone who offers themselves to others in all realms, to improve the MBA experience. GBC is engaging, it’s thoughtful, it’s a capsule of the best a MBA has to offer. Come meet me, this March, in Copenhagen.

More Photos from GBC 2017 at CUHK

Keynote: "CSR and ESG Governance Matter for Asian Business Competitiveness" - Dr. Niven Huang

Keynote speech by Dr. Niven Huang from KPMG: “CSR and ESG Governance Matter for Asian Business Competitiveness”

Best Practices Workshop for MBA Student Government

One of several best practices workshops for MBA student government

Founder Jim Deveaux with Purdue University, Copenhagen Business School, and National Taiwan University. Carnegie Mellon and York University in the back.

Why Get a MBA in Taiwan? Part 1 of 3: Doing Business in Taiwan

You’d like your career to be a more global experience. You’re thinking of getting a MBA in Asia. And, you’re ready to commit to living and working in the Far East. If so, than maybe a MBA in Taiwan is also for you. Because of its high-tech industries and educated workforce, business in Taiwan is a future direction for Asia.

Taiwan (Courtesy: CIA Factbook)

Taiwan (Courtesy: CIA)

Taiwan is like Switzerland, in some ways. Both punch above their weight class.

  • At $529B USD, Taiwan’s GDP is the global 22nd (Switzerland is 19th)
  • Taiwan’s GDP is bigger than Hong Kong’s $309B, and Singapore’s $293B
  • Comparing Taiwan to Japan, it’s almost as productive per square kilometer

I’ll go over considerations for a global career around business in Taiwan. This mostly means its links to China and Asia. I’ll avoid talking about personalities and culture shock. These are big topics and we already know Taiwan is a nice and safe place to live. In this series, I’ll discuss:

  1. The business case for and against Taiwan
  2. Reasons you should and shouldn’t consider a MBA in Taiwan
  3. Why I decided to go for it, anyway

Advantage: Taiwan, Greater China, and Asia


Taiwan has a few strengths other Asian economies don’t.


Getting a handle on Asia doesn’t have to mean going to mainland China, even if it’s the biggest piece not named India. Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore are all their own things, for example. All of them have good business schools. Have their own culture and economies. And, deal with China.

If you’re looking for a stronger Chinese and Asian connection, Taiwan has a few strengths other Asian economies don’t. In fact, Taiwan gets a lot of credit for preserving Chinese traditions.

Taiwan is Chinese without China, but not more China than China. Figuring Taiwan out gives you a framework for accepting China. Relating to the average Zhou. But, this also means they are still two different cultures. Recognizing what’s what is key to figuring out how Taiwan fits in.

Advantage: Taiwan’s Chinese Role in Asia

Taiwan is more Chinese. Waves of Chinese immigrants have been coming to Taiwan for centuries. This is also true of other places in Asia. Singapore is one of the first Chinese colonies outside China. However, after the Communists won China after WW2, the exiled Chinese government set up in Taiwan. They are the Republic of China (R.O.C.).

In some ways, Taiwan connects to Asia in a way that China doesn’t. Japan-Taiwan relations are pretty good. Taiwan was part of China for hundreds of years, then part of Japan for about 50 years, before the R.O.C. came around. Japan-China aren’t doing so great. If you need to connect to the Far East, but don’t actually need to be in China, Taiwan is more business and investment friendly.

Taiwan can also provide a Chinese perspective from the outside-in. There’s a kind of nationalism and group dynamic (thanks, Confucious) in Asian countries that makes it difficult for foreigners to learn what’s really going on. It’s easier to figure out what you’re dealing with when you’re in the middle of things, and not the thick of it.

Your idea of China (and Asian companies) might actually be Taiwan. Major Taiwanese companies include Foxconn (they make your iPhones), HTC (they make other phones, and VIVE), TSMC, Viewsonic, Delta Electronics, the power convertor module in Tesla cars is made by Chroma, Pou Chen Group is the world’s largest manufacturer of branded shoes. So on and so forth.

Growth of Business in Taiwan

Taiwan GDP Growth, 2006-2016

This report by the Brookings Institute nicely profiles Taiwan’s international trade.

Advantage: Taiwan’s Business Legal Environment

More protections than China. The mainland has weaker patent protection, so innovations have a better chance in Taiwan. A typical strategy is a Taiwan company will build factories in China, but keep their most proprietary manufacturing in Taiwan. Bicycle maker Giant is one example.

Taiwan is now more open to foreign investment than China, even if it’s not quite sure how to get it. Leu Horng Der is a professor in the Department of Business Administration at Chung Yuan Christian University.

“In the past China’s approach to soliciting foreign investment was to ‘draw in’ capital. Now the approach is to ‘choose’ foreign investors.” – CommonWealth magazine

Government programs like Contact Taiwan and Invest Taiwan talk up strengths, even if they don’t present many real differentiators. There’s an underutilized Taiwan Entrepreneur Visa program. Taiwan is positioning itself as a gateway to Asia, and is pursuing foreign direct investment.

More freedoms than China. Like, being able to take U.S. dollars out of the country, and no Great Firewall. A free flow of information is important for knowledge sharing. Taiwan is also more open, politically. When Hong Kong’s Umbrella movement organized protests to demand free elections, they were advised by Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement.

Taiwan is also #1 in media freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index. Media freedom isn’t the same as a commitment to media truth. This, and a lot of other moves, are steps in the right direction.

World Press Freedom Visualised

Disadvantage: It’s (like) China

Taiwanese may not seem as aggressive as mainland Chinese. But, much of what happens in China goes on at a scaled-down level here. Let’s just stick to some key points about doing business in Taiwan.

Taiwan talks up its capital markets. However, local accounting standards are very different from the West in generally accepted principles. Capital markets also serve publicly-traded firms — 70% of the TAIEX is family businesses and 10 families run 25% of itThis matters to you because Confucian societies are insider-outsider arrangements, and local capitalism works the same way.

It’s like X, but in Taiwan.” Venture capital often skews toward C2C (copied-to-China) or, copied-to-Taiwan ideas. This works way better in China, because Taiwan has fewer consumers. Proposals like these are easy to understand for practical, less technically sophisticated investors. While innovation can happen incrementally, there’s such a thing as inching the wrong direction.

The high-margin innovations Taiwan is known for require timing, patience, and risk capital. More than what investors are willing to give — but it’s possible. Apple’s OLED facility, for example. Government funds research. Family money. Some set up incubators, which leads to companies like Taiwan Mobile.

Pressure to deliver fast, if it’s not your money. Taiwanese sometimes take severe shortcuts. Like, New Taipei City’s pay.taipei — an online payment system for utility bills. If only pay.taipei wasn’t insecure and didn’t ignore basic protocols.

“pay.taipei app does not send HTTPS traffic, sends plain text passwords and uses fixed IPs for traffic…” – Thomas Kuiper

In some cases, fast makes sense. A lot of business in Taiwan is high-tech and tech has fast product development cycles. However, being practical doesn’t always mean doing things the cheapest way possible. 

Disadvantage: It’s Not Modern China

People say Taiwan is the way westerners wish China were. But most Taiwanese haven’t been to China. So they don’t know. People might give you Chinese perspective, but it’s not based on experience. Taiwan also has its own quirks.

Taiwan is culturally ambiguous. Chinese and Taiwanese culture are patchworks of different groups. However, because of Taiwan’s 20th century, management styles run the gamut from Japanese tactics to Chinese habits to clan politics.

Taiwanese businesses don’t operate like Chinese businesses. They can’t, because the laws are different. You can’t directly apply what you’ve heard about Chinese businesses with Taiwanese businesses. This goes from land ownership to human rights to labor laws. Yes, there’s less rule-of-law in China, though plenty gets swept under the rug in Taiwan.

Getting past law enforcement, China changes quickly, and a lot of Taiwan businesses aren’t up-to-date on new Chinese requirements. Wenhsiung Tseng is with Deloitte China. “Taiwanese employers used to enjoy saying ‘I’m firing you.’ But this kind of phrase can’t be recklessly used in the future…” Now, if you fire workers arbitrarily, companies must pay twice the normal compensation.

Many large multi-national corporations (MNC) are zeroed-in on China. Earlier, we pointed out China simply has more consumers. The population and size makes a case for itself to shareholders.

Taiwan is a good proving ground or staging area. But for companies like Frito-Lay that spent years trying to figure out how to grow potatoes in China so they could sell chips to Chinese consumers, Taiwan’s a sideshow. Big investments in infrastructure and production were made, and they’re staying put.

Finally, Chinese government policy shapes economic development to an enormous degree. Every bureaucracy speaks its own language. In short, there’s no better way to get to know the Chinese government than being in China.

Summary: Doing Business in Taiwan

  • Taiwan is not exactly China. But, being there gives you a baseline and some tools for making sense of Chinese thinking and behavior.
  • The talent, companies, and connections for bringing any kind of high-tech idea to life, are here.
  • The good news. Legally and socially, it’s easier for outsiders to figure out what they’re dealing with. The bad news? You’re not an insider.

I have some solutions for you in Part 2.

‘Our Time Will Come’ (明月幾時有) and its International Debut at the Taipei Film Festival

Zhou Xu plays protagonist Fan Lan in Our Time Will Come (Courtesy: NYT)

Zhou Xu plays heroine Fang Lan in ‘Our Time Will Come’ (Courtesy: NYT)

I was invited to last night’s debut of ‘Our Time Will Come’ 明月幾時有, at the Taipei Film Festival. I’ll get to the point. I really enjoyed it.

A true story, the film is about the day-to-day efforts of resistance fighters against Japanese-occupied Hong Kong during World War 2.

Our hero is Fang Lan, an unassuming but rebellious primary school teacher who grows to become leader of a guerrilla unit. The film centers on Lan’s personal relationships with young fighters and her elderly single mother.

Neo Noir

Director Ann Hui – Hong Kong’s most award-winning filmmaker – took an approach that’s part documentary-style, incorporating interviews with people who lived the story. Including, many stationery shots from the bottom-up, to give the audience a sense of spying on characters (who are hiding in plain sight).

So this style isn’t out-of-place for films from the 1940s. ‘Our Time Will Come’ is a film noir played out in Hong Kong. Trust is a major issue. The central character is an anti-hero, the Japanese commander is an anti-villain. Even the documentary aspect is shot in black & white, and flashes back and forward. Hui hits a lot of other tropes of this genre. These are just the most obvious ones. There’s more you’ll spot in the trailers.

It’s also beautifully scored. That has nothing to do with film noir. I just felt like mentioning that.

If you can, see it in Cantonese — the language the resistance would have spoken. In Taiwan, Our Time Will Come is dubbed in Chinese, with English subtitles.

Our Time Will Come and Taiwan

The male leads are both from Taiwan. But why Taiwanese people should care is there aren’t many films covering life in Japanese-occupied Chinese (ethnically) territories during World War 2 (WW2). In these areas, it wasn’t daily business as usual. But people still had to do the same things they had to do. Residents weren’t always at odds with each other.

Those films that do, typically focus more on combat, love in the time of war, and have a very aggressive portrayal of Japanese soldiers. Hui made a character-driven piece, not a war epic. Identity, not international politics.

Anyway, what does Taiwan have to do with Hong Kong? Taiwan was also a Japanese-occupied Chinese territory, although for a much longer period of time. This topic is far more complex than I can give it space for. It’s also not really about Taiwan or Hong Kong or China or Japan.

The best way I know how to summarize it is how people’s sense of self and way of life is squeezed, when they feel like they are under the rule of an occupying force. Americans know this feeling (Brexit 1776, cough). People in Hong Kong and Taiwan have felt it at different times in different ways. I’ll leave it there.

The Resistance Against Japanese-Occupied Hong Kong


“The Hong Kong government has never officially recognized the efforts of the East River Column.” – Chang Sui-Jeung


Hong Kong’s WW2 resistance is a story that hasn’t really been told. Largely, only in local literature. And even then, mostly forgotten — try Googling it.

As Chang Sui-Jeung 陳瑞璋, author of “East River Column: Hong Kong Guerrillas in the Second World War and After” points out, the Hong Kong government has never officially recognized the efforts of the East River Column. This is partly because the group was supported by Chinese communist leaders.

It goes without saying that Hong Kong has a complicated relationship with communist China. Even today. Some believe recognizing the East River Brigade means acknowledging communist China’s role in freeing Japanese-held Hong Kong. I don’t like getting involved in politics. I do think it’s helpful for people to see that what once was true, wasn’t always, and may not be, in the future.

The most political the film gets is a scene depicting the smuggling of intellectuals out of China. A true story. Considering the Communist Party’s role in their own purge of many thought leaders, and the ups and downs of the Cultural Revolution, this is going to surprise people. Chinese history is complicated.

Some people mention there’s other Communist propaganda here. For example, our heroes, although spirited, are mostly tasked with ordinary things and honored for their bravery. Empowering young people with doing what is necessary, while encouraging them to come together for a common cause is a theme of films made during the Cultural Revolution. And, almost every other wartime movie ever made. I’m not a China scholar. It’s possible some people read too much into this. That’s just my personal opinion.

The Cantonese trailer for the Hong Kong market has more action:

Audience Q&A

Cast of 'Our Time Will Come' at Taipei Film Festival

Cast of ‘Our Time Will Come’ at Taipei Film Festival

A lot of the Q&A had to do with the film’s usefulness as a political tool. Is it a true story? What politics does it reflect? Is it really a true story? Understandable, since we’re on the lip of the 20th anniversary of the Chinese takeover of British Hong Kong. And, Taiwan has its own complicated relationship with China.

Filmmaking is an inherently political exercise. Although, character-driven movies are about people. Politics helps establish culture. The political machinery sets the scene. But this type of film is about the artistry revealed of the character’s emotions and decision-making process. This story is particular because of the protagonist’s courage. Sense-making. And strengths as an independent woman.


Sacrificing for each other while doing ordinary things at an extraordinary time.


A lot of people will be drawn to this film because of the war of that time, and the present debate going on over how Hong Kong should be ruled. However, people fighting for their everyday lives is a rich enough context, and this is where the film exists. Sacrificing for each other while doing ordinary things at an extraordinary time. Like ‘The Pianist,’ ‘Our Time Will Come’ is a glimpse into the treasure chest of forgotten stories from this era.

It’s controversial for a lot of the wrong reasons, which is unfortunate because there are a lot of other unintentionally “contemporary” themes here. The single mother. Lan’s refusal to get married for the sake of getting married. Maternal bonds. Parents just don’t understand. And a few others that are totally relatable.

Director Ann Hui and actress Deanie Ip share a moment

Director Ann Hui and actress Deanie Ip share a moment with the audience