MBA study tour connects Canada and Asia

MBA students visit Shanghai Hugong Manufacturing

Royal Roads Master of Business Administration in Executive Management (MBA) students participating in the Asia Pacific Trade and Investment (APTI) specialization visited Tokyo, Japan and Shanghai, China March 3 to 10 to meet with companies and government officials to learn more about doing business in Asia.

The study tour was developed and led by Royal Roads associate faculty member Jeff Kucharski and Prof. Charles Krusekopf, allowing MBA students to gain firsthand knowledge of how important events such as the implementation of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trade agreement and the diplomatic and commercial disputes between China and Canada have affected company operations and future business prospects.

After four weeks of online learning, the group gathered in Tokyo and made a series of visits to hear from government officials including the Canadian Trade Commissioners Service, the Japanese Ministry of Economy Trade and Investment, and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). The group also heard from local business leaders, including Sarah Cassanova, the Canadian head of McDonalds Japan, which has more than 3000 restaurants in Japan and over $5 billion in sales; local leaders in the Canadian Chamber of Commerce; and representatives of BC Wood, which plays a key role in Canadian wood exports. The group also explored manufacturing operations by visiting the primary Honda car manufacturing plant, where it observed that all employees must wear white suits to make sure the workplace remains pristine, a sign of the quality focus of Japanese manufacturers. They heard the new CPTPP deal gives Canadian business an edge on their American competitors, but that window will not be open long as the US and Japan are negotiating a free trade deal that will offer US companies the same duty-free advantages that Canadian firms in agriculture and other fields now enjoy.

After Tokyo the group travelled to Shanghai, marveling at the speed and scale of development, despite the "slow down" (to only 6% growth) in the Chinese economy. Here the group heard from Canadian firms buying and selling in China, including McCain, which expects to quadruple its potato product sales in China over the next 5 years by matching local tastes; Canadian Tire, which does the majority of its international procurement in China and explained that "despite tariff challenges, no one can match China for its manufacturing scale and expertise"; and Sinova Foods, a Vancouver-based firm exporting Canadian food and personal care products to China's growing middle class. While all have encountered some challenges given the political and economic disputes between China and Canada in recent months, they remain optimistic and all agree, "Canadian firms that want to be a part of the markets of the future have to be in China."

While in Shanghai, the current Royal Roads MBA students got to meet a group of local MBA graduates in China. Royal Roads has more than 2,000 overseas graduates who participated in a version of the MBA program that was previously offered in China by local partner institutions. The local grads were excited to meet current Royal Roads students, and offered a tour of video production company Shjungu, run by a grad, that produces commercials and online content for international and local clients. 

At the end of the eight-day program students made presentations to sum up their experiences and learning, distilled as 10 essentials to doing business in Japan and China. Key themes included the need to develop long-term relationships—it's not a region where a firm can make an easy entry or fast sale—and the need to pay attention to important trends, such as the aging demographics and the rapid growth of technology. In Japan the population is shrinking due to low birthrates and long life spans, spurring the development of robots to handle a wider variety of tasks. In China the majority of commerce and communications has gone online, with free, fast delivery and transactions handled efficiently using Alibaba's Alipay or other online mobile services that have almost eliminated cash and credit cards. Students noted that Asia is the market of the future not just due to its rapid growth, but also its technical advances that offer both opportunities, and challenges, for Canadian businesses.