Cheng Siwei, one of China’s leading management education scholars, says that the country’s economic future depends on a flexible, empowered workforce without organisational pyramids. Interview by George Bickerstaffe.
Professor Cheng Siwei is one of China’s leading economic, financial and managerial scholars, as well as a noted chemical engineer and expert in such esoteric areas as complexity science and the fictitious economy (See box on the following page).
He is also the Dean of the Management School of the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a relatively new business school that says it is committed to acquiring a deep understanding of China’s economic development, theoretically and practically, and expanding its teaching and researching fields while striving to be a first-class research-based management school for China with significant international influence.
Dean Cheng has played a significant role in the internationalisation of the school, driving a number of strategic alliances with business schools around the world. Chinese business schools, he says, “need to be global”.
Although he has spent most of his working career inside China, he is an inveterate traveller with wide international experience. A period spent studying in America proved to be particularly influential.
Following the turbulence of the Cultural Revolution in China (which ended around the mid-1970s), Professor Cheng left China for America to study at the Graduate School of Management at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), gaining an MBA in 1983.
His return to China coincided with the “opening up” of the country that led to its great economic expansion. He became, and has remained, deeply involved in this change. He used complexity science (the study of complex systems and the interconnection of system components and systems architecture) to study economic reform in China and produced many proposals for change to China’s top leaders in his then roles as Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China and Chairman of the Central Committee of the China National Democratic Construction Association.
His experience in America made a deep impression on him and changed the direction of his career. Already a leading scientist and engineer in the chemical engineering field and a pioneer and leader in China’s borax industry (borax is a mineral used in the manufacture of many detergents, cosmetics and enamel glazes), he now combined this with a passion for management education.
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