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October 18, 2009

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Award glory shared

PROFESSOR Pedro Nueno takes my call in New York about 9am his time. He has been out of bed since 4am talking to people at the Shanghai campus of one of China's most successful international business schools, China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), of which he is executive president.

The professor is back on the road again after what could be termed a successful lead-up to the National Day holiday.

He was one of the exalted guests at the official celebration dinner in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing where he received the highest accolade for foreigners, the China Friendship Award.

This day in New York he is fresh from yesterday's full teaching schedule and after we finish the interview he's off to address a symposium attended by more than 1,000 people.

"These guys are the alumni of a leading business school, IESE in Spain, and I am going to tell them that alumni are the heart of a school," Nueno explained about his next appointment.

"And because they are the heart, we are going to start with an interview with the head of cardiology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York who'll talk about how to keep the heart in good condition."

The spring in the 65-year-old professor's step is reflected in his voice and his enthusiasm for teaching and education institutions is palpable.

Yes, of course, ask perhaps the world's leading cardiologist to help get your message across if it will sustain another school.

He is a hands-on executive leader and still enjoys the thrill of teaching which he continues at CEIBS, China's oldest, largest and top-ranked business school, and IESE in Spain, his native land.

"I teach in some programs in my field of interest, entrepreneurship, and have also written case studies about Chinese businessmen," said the Harvard doctoral graduate.

"I have done cases on companies launched by several fantastic Chinese entrepreneurs and I enjoy looking at the way they have built very successful companies, quite often without resources."

Aside from teaching at diverse locations in research areas such as internationalization, management of privatization and turnaround processes, industrial alliances and joint ventures, he is the author of 10 books.

Most significantly, he is the co-founder of CEIBS, a start-up whose gestation he drove more than 20 years ago and which he has helped shepherd through to being the eighth most important business school in the world.

It's one of those great China success stories, going from a standing start 15 years ago to knocking aside on its way to the top dozens of institutions many decades older.

In September this year, the main campus in Shanghai was the scene of pomp and ceremony as 702 Executive MBA students, the largest ever cohort, graduated from the rigorous two-year program in 11 individual classes.

Yet despite the school's success, despite the National Day award for his contribution to international relations and education in China, and despite a Shanghai government Magnolia Award (2004) for outstanding work in business education, among other international recognition, he insists on sharing the praise directed at him.

"No, I am not humble, I am extremely proud and learning everyday from everybody at CEIBS," he said. "You cannot believe, it's really a fantastic thing, this hard work, these values, these ambitions, these suggestions on how we can do things better.

"I say this to everyone around the world. I think that the values of the institution, this commitment of everybody, is really the big success of the school."

The professor has been working in China for 25 years since, in the 1980s, he helped launch China Europe Management Institute and an MBA program in Beijing in alliance with five European management schools.

They gradually became more ambitious and saw that Shanghai was in a mood to develop things a bit faster, so they moved south to build CEIBS.

A crucial point in the new school's growth was the start of a CEO's program run jointly with the renowned Harvard Business School.

"It's a very successful program that puts our faculty in a position where they teach jointly with the leading business professors in the world to the top business leaders of China," he said. "This is quite a challenge and we are doing it with tremendous success."

The next challenge is imminent with "one school, two campuses" when the university's Beijing campus opens.

"We believe that as China makes tremendous advances in growth and professionalism we need to follow that trend and help sustain it, which is why we have launched the new campus."

As he mingled with other recipients among 5,000 guests in the Great Hall on September 29, Professor Nueno, the first Spaniard to receive the award, noted how many were scientists.

"Most of them were leaders in areas like genetics, biotech or other fields like agriculture production or water conservation who had been working for years making improvements in technical areas in China," he said.

"Very few recipients had worked in complex inter-disciplinary fields in matters like finance or accounting or more social and human areas like human relations, globalization and international marketing.

"I was convinced that CEIBS' success in earning this award was recognition that China needs these kinds of ideas developed with this kind of education."

Professor Nueno doesn't plan to slow down and takes heart from his children's gift at his 65th birthday in Barcelona. They gave him a letter from his friend, the Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson.

"He is 94, in perfect condition, going to the office and writing every day," Nueno said. "He put in the letter: 'Everything important that I have done in my life, I did after 65 years of age, so keep going'."


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