By Lynda Taller-Wakter

When I enrolled in the EMBA program, I did not envision being in Chongqing, China for a week on behalf of an Ottawa-based start-up biotech company in meetings with internationally renowned medical research teams and medical device companies. China had never been in my vista as a potential country to “conquer” from a business consulting point of view. Chongqing would never have been on my list of beachhead cities in China. And biotech was far off from my career moorings in wealth management.

Yet, there we were on a trip one would typically only take as the CEO or by invitation on an exclusive trade mission. We, a team of five different individuals with various professional backgrounds, were in tandem for the pinnacle experience of the Telfer EMBA: an international consulting trip.

Our professor’s message was to prove that doing business in other countries was really no different than doing business at home. We began with an objective, learned the business, conducted market research, analysed strategic alternatives, evaluated the appropriate go-to-market strategy, identified target customers, developed a plan and, then, we were expected to hit the ground running, conduct our business and craft a report for our client with our strategic recommendations.

The program’s focus on experiential learning propelled us into real issues. To begin, we did not know anyone in Chongqing nor did any of us speak the language or know much about China’s high-context culture. We would be expected to conduct meetings with jetlag in a city of 25 million about a topic that was as foreign as the place we would visit. Going through the experience proved that any challenge is surmountable and every problem has a solution. Some challenges and problems simply take more time, planning, know-how, patience, teamwork, discipline, analytical tools, focus and creativity to work through.

We had six meetings in five days. We were advised by one of Canada’s trade commissioners in Chongqing—an extremely helpful, devoted local staff by the name of Peter Liao-- to hire a translator and we found ourselves in the company of intelligent, delightful hosts who ensured we found our way to each meeting, whether by foot, by taxi, by metro or by a high-speed Bombardier train. At each meeting we were met with a warm welcome and jasmine tea. The Chinese people were quite open to students, to Canada, to opportunities to further their research or even to partner with and take on European competitors in the same field.

We had the opportunity to explore Chongqing, the original capital of Sichuan province, a city on growth steroids determined to catch up to and surpass Beijing. Skyscrapers, cranes, construction 24/7. And a Starbucks right beside a KFC—two brands you would never see adjacent to each other in western countries—around the corner from the famous snack street where it is customary to eat rice noodles (or a McDonald’s frozen cone) and even have your picture taken by a local for whom westerners are still novelties. We also travelled to Chengdu, a smaller city of 7 million. Standing at the very crowded train station, we were witness to the so-called “miracle of China”: migrant workers moving in droves to find factory jobs in Gangzhou. We watched in amazement and shock as the throng of penniless hopefuls, some with their belongings packed on their back, began their long journey away from their families and homes to find work in a factory without the rights we take for granted to produce goods that we consume in abandon. And, in turn, they watched us, stared at us, foreigners, strangers, who were also far from home, sampling the sounds, tastes and odours of a country that would become part of an unforgettable experience.

Lynda is a graduate of the 2008-2010 EMBA class with her own consulting firm at [link no longer available].