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Tippie Beijing MBA Program Builds Iowa-China Ties

The University of Iowa recently graduated its first class of students from the Tippie MBA Program in Beijing, building China's agribusiness industry and strengthening ties between Iowa and the world's fastest growing economy.

On top of that, the program has offered Iowa business scholars the unique opportunity to witness firsthand the evolution of an agrarian economy into a modern, post-industrial economy.

"It took the United States many decades to make the transition from an agricultural economy to a knowledge-based economy," said Gary Gaeth, associate dean of the Tippie School of Management. "China wants to make that transition in just 10 or 15 years and it's been an amazing thing to watch."

The Tippie MBA Program in Beijing, offered in conjunction with Purdue University, focuses on providing management training to mid- and senior-level executives in China's food processing industry. The first class of 38 graduated on Thursday, Dec. 8, with a master of business administration (MBA) degree from Iowa and a certificate in agricultural business from Purdue.

"This was a wonderful group of students who came from all over China to learn more about agribusiness, which is a critically important industry in that country," said Gary Fethke, dean of the Tippie College of Business, who presided over the graduation ceremony. "China's economy is developing rapidly but agribusiness poses special challenges. These graduates will help solve those challenges."

The classes started in October 2004 with students who work in such industries as fisheries, food and beverage production, and product distribution. Eleven UI faculty traveled to Beijing to teach business courses, while four Purdue professors taught agribusiness courses. A third partner in the program is the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, which hosted the classes.

Gaeth said the program is designed to help China's food production and agribusiness sectors that are still not competitive when compared with those industries in developed countries.

"The Chinese estimate there are close to a billion farmers who still work with hand-farming techniques and don't use any technology more advanced than an ox-pulled plow," he said. "Structural reform and management improvements are critical, but the most important need is to develop people with the required qualities."

Aside from helping China, however, Gaeth said the University of Iowa's participation in the program will also benefit the state's economy.

"First, there's the knowledge exchange, the experience that our scholars are bringing back from watching China's economy change so quickly," Gaeth said. "That firsthand experience will be immensely helpful when it's shared with our students and with Iowa businesses."

In addition, Gaeth said there will be real opportunities for Iowa businesses to build relationships with Chinese businesses as a result of the Beijing MBA program. Several graduates are planning to visit Iowa next spring to participate in May graduation ceremonies on the UI campus and Gaeth said they will meet many business leaders while they are here. On top of that, many of the program's graduates are decision-makers in their organizations and will keep Iowa in mind when planning their companies' futures.

"Many of them have asked us how they can form alliances with U.S. companies, or how they can access the U.S. market," Gaeth said. "Iowa could be the entrée to the United States and North American economies for many of these companies because of the relationships we're helping to build, and that will help build Iowa's economy."

Along with Fethke, the university was represented at the Beijing graduation by two Tippie alumni, Frank Rydzewski and Jerre Stead. Rydzewski is president and CEO of Cedar Rapids-based American Profol, and Stead is the former CEO of Ingram Microcomputer and current executive chairman of Holland America Investment Company. Together, Fethke, Stead, and Rydzewski team-taught a course on strategy in the program.

This is the Tippie School's second venture in China. In 2002, an Executive MBA Program was launched in Hong Kong. The Tippie School is conducting the Executive MBA program in cooperation with the Franklin Institute of Management, which is recruiting students and providing on-site logistics in Beijing.


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