By Lori Keith

If someone had told us at the beginning of our Executive MBA program that in two years we’d be touring a brand new motorcycle manufacturing facility in Chongqing China, we would have looked askance at them and kept on studying…too far-fetched. Quite a far cry from our careers in Ottawa Canada. However in April 2010, there we were, being escorted by a mix of company executives through a very clean and energy efficient Chinese motorcycle factory.

Our final team EMBA consulting project was for a multinational engineering firm seeking a market assessment of energy efficiency consulting opportunities in Chongqing. We began by energetically researching the energy efficiency and consulting environments to determine where the opportunities lay. The magnitude of available information was overwhelming; however, after two years of study, we had become quite proficient in sifting through layers of data. Our journey to Chongqing capped off five months of intense work which prepared us to meet with local industry and government officials. Interestingly, in China, they are often one and the same.

The visit to the Jianshe Motorcycle Company Ltd, a State-owned enterprise, dispelled many of the images we'd held about Chinese manufacturing. As we wound our way around production lines for gleaming silver chassis and newly painted gas tanks, we were struck by the efficiency of the operations. Take for example the water used to wash tailings, it was captured and reused in another part of the plant, and finally completed its journey as a decorative courtyard fountain. Nothing is wasted. Even the architecture reflects a functional approach. What we took to be an interesting design arch connecting the two large main buildings actually contained an overhead system to transport motorcycle parts across the production chain...reminiscent of the robots in I, Robot. Brilliant.

As part of the municipal campaign to move heavy industry out of the city of Chongqing, instead of being retrofitted, aging factories are being relocated to new facilities beyond the city limits. This provides an opportunity to maximize building structures and incorporate the latest in energy efficient designs. Jianshe Motorcycle had successfully done that and it was obvious that the company representatives were extremely proud of what they had accomplished.

After our visit we understood better that China is determined to transform in order to become a world leader; not just in what they create but also how.

In a nutshell, this represented the essence of our EMBA program - the importance of global business defined by the pace and reach of innovation.