Zhang Yuli, Dean of Nankai University’s Business School: Exploring the Management Models of the New Era from an Entrepreneurial Point of View

On April 12th, Zhang Yuli, Dean of Nankai University’s Business School, gave a keynote speech titled Business Education in the New Era during the 2nd Business School Forum hosted by Xinhua News Network. The title of the event was Open a New Era of Business Education. The forum aimed at encouraging everyone to carry out the current tasks with an entrepreneurial spirit. During the conference, Dean Zhang said, “Many people know that I am an entrepreneur. In fact, every day I think about exploring the so-called new era management models from an entrepreneurial point of view.”

What does Business Education teach us?

Dean Zhang Yuli introduced the development of Business education at Nankai University. Nankai University opened the Business School in 1929. Back then it included five departments: Business Studies, Banking, Accounting, Business Systems, and Economics. Chinese, English, Business History and Economic Geography became compulsory classes for Business School’s freshmen in 1931. From 1948 to 1949, first-year students and sophomores were required to choose one of the following courses: Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry, and Biology. However, do these courses have any connection with Business? “Times have changed, but our curriculum did not keep up with the pace of the changing times,” Dean Zhang said.

What’s the real orientation of the Management course then?

“First of all, a management course should have a goal and a plan, and then a method. Entrepreneurship wants to prove what we can do first and then it starts exploring. It is called Effective Theory.” Zhang Yuli said, “I am concerned about entrepreneurship, but I am thinking about the concept in a context of social changes because the industrial society already became the information society. So we need to think, what was effective in the industrial society, will be still useful in the information society?”

“There is no Entrepreneurship School at Nankai University. I do not encourage everyone to start a business, but I hope that we will be able to use the entrepreneurial spirit to carry out our present work.” Prof. Zhang became Dean of the School at the beginning of 2008. Under his leadership, the team of Nankai’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Research Center has regularly renewed the textbooks. By 2013, the idea that entrepreneurship is a mechanism was already formed. It means that entrepreneurship is a highly efficient and dynamic tool. Entrepreneurship must work rapidly: there is no space for slow moves. When talking about business, it is impossible to have a detailed guide plan, but it is necessary to verify the information. Therefore, the reduction of errors is not only an important process but also an essential element for success.

“Solve a mistake means exploring. The essence of entrepreneurship must be innovation.” After explaining this mechanism, Dean Zhang asked the audience a question: what will the mechanism bring if placed in a strategic or management field?

“It may bring competitive advantages, core competencies, even practical wisdom. It may also be the source of strategic resources.” Dean Zhang asked: where do the core competencies come from? Entrepreneurship is a process from 0 to 1, so many times entrepreneurship means to do research in other areas.”

Logical and Empirical Thinking in Entrepreneurship

“Today, when talking about marketing, we need to segment a market to find the target market first, and then determine the final market to provide the products. However, entrepreneurship is not like this. If you are considering to do a kind of business that others don’t do, you may not find space. Observing the entrepreneurs, I figured out that they play with what they know instead of doing something new. It is not about doing what the others are doing, but doing it better.”

“When talking about management, we must emphasize the concept goal-oriented, but entrepreneurship is more low-cost trials and errors. Regarding quality, we emphasize advanced control, process control, and final control. But what do advanced control, process control or final control do in a rapid interaction?” Dean Zhang Yuli explained that last week Nankai University invited two experts on big data, and one of them compared the two kinds of thinking: logical thinking and empirical thinking.

Dean Zhang said, “I think we use logical thinking more than empirical thinking. For us, logic is knowledge or theory and it proves a causal relationship. Empirical thinking is imperative, but it depends on how we cultivate it. Entrepreneurial mechanisms and actions should train valuable empirical thinking.”

The Innovation of Business Education failed to keep up with the Pace of the Times

Dean Zhang believes that theory is always the core of education. The main difference between the Business School and the training institutions is that MBA students focus on studying theoretical knowledge. Dean Zhang is convinced that the current core logic and ideas of management did not keep up with the pace of the times. The society is transforming rapidly, the environment is moving fast, but business education is only experiencing incremental innovation.

When teaching, A is the idea, S is the skill, and K is the knowledge. There is also DO: ask and do. Empirical research can enrich knowledge, but we can not only be empirical for the sake of empirical studies: we must pay attention to the meaning of the research problem. The development of ideas and concepts depends on practical research, but theoretical analysis based on practical innovation management should also be encouraged.

 Translated by Li Shujia

Proofread by Letizia Vallini

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