While three leading Chinese business schools in Shanghai are getting ready to celebrate their 10th anniversaries, another one in Beijing is mired in scandal.
Located on Chang'an Avenue near Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business was founded by Shantou University and Hong Kong business tycoon Li Ka Shing's foundation.
It was one of the first business schools in China to offer Executive MBA (EMBA) programs to senior managers and entrepreneurs in 2002, along with the Shanghai trio of Fudan University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Shanghai University of Finance and Economics.
Cheung Kong claims on its website that it has trained more than 4,000 elite people, including chairmen of large State-owned enterprises (SOEs) and listed companies, and 76 deputies and members of the National People's Congress and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
But because of a sandal over one of its high flying alumni, the school's reputation has taken a battering.
Married but available
A Caijing magazine reporter with a Sina Weibo account name of Cibing Caijing wrote on October 28 that according to several sources, Wang Shi, 61, founder of Shenzhen-listed property developer China Vanke, had divorced his wife earlier this year to elope with his mistress, Tian Pujun, a 31-year-old actress, Shenzhen Evening News reported on October 30.
News of the affair immediately became a hot topic in the media, and paparazzi photos of the two quickly turned up on the Internet, with public criticism running amok.
Online rumors said that the actress became intimate with the real estate tycoon while they were both studying for an EMBA at Cheung Kong in 2009, but the Guangzhou-based tabloid website smweekly.com reported on November 5 that they met each other in 2008.
"Cheung Kong is a natural place of rendezvous for the talented and the good-looking. Many of them have harvested knowledge and careers there … even love," Liu Weiyu, a senior MBA program manager at the school, responded through his Weibo account, smweekly.com reported.
Rich man's club
Whether talented or pretty or not, there's one feature all of the EMBA students do share: They're all rich.
According to Cheung Kong, the tuition fee for its 2013 EMBA program is a hefty 688,000 yuan ($110,165). Meanwhile, China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai, which got seventh place in the 2012 Financial Times global EMBA rankings, the highest ever by a China-based school, charged 538,000 yuan for its 2012 program.
The US-based Executive MBA Council, which counts Cheung Kong and the CEIBS as its members, said in April that the global average fee for an EMBA program was $73,217 in 2011, up 3 percent year-on-year.
Over 70 percent of the EMBA students at the CEIBS are vice-presidents, presidents and chairmen or founders of their companies, and many are millionaires and even billionaires, Chen Jieping, director of the EMBA program at the CEIBS, told the Global Times November 9.
Cheung Kong said over 76 percent of its EMBA alumni held positions of vice president and above before enrolling.
However, there are also some problems with these courses, Hugh Willmott, research professor of organization studies at the Cardiff Business School at Cardiff University, told the Global Times by e-mail.
Most of the business schools are "implicitly or explicitly supportive of the institutions and values of corporate capitalism," Willmott wrote in a 2005 edition of Oxford Critical Management Studies.
So the managers graduating from these courses may be ill-prepared for an economic crisis, as crisis is endemic to capitalism.
In these situations, "they will be like rabbits caught in the headlights, not knowing what to do, except what they have always done," Willmott told the Global Times.
The CEIBS tries to diversify its student composition by offering scholarships to senior government officials from the bureau level and above, Chen said.
In China, where income inequality is increasing, exclusive activities like EMBA classes often draw cynicism and criticism from the public. Some depict the EMBA classes as clubs for high-end socialites.
There are two kinds of women in an EMBA class, popular columnist Muzimei wrote in a satirical piece for business portal 21cbh.com last month: single female executives who seek contacts, and hot young gold diggers who are aiming for the rich guys.
In fact, after the financial debacle of 2008, business schools around the world have suffered similar denigration, including criticism of their failure to offer a sense of morality and ethics.
They are also seen as cash cows for the universities they are connected to, according to a conference report by Howard Thomas, dean of the Lee Kong Chian School of Business at Singapore Management University, released in April on the EMBA Council's website.
Nepotism is not unknown in Europe, Willmott said, and it "reflects and reinforces 'group think' and sustains institutionalized corruption."
China has seen fast economic growth, but there have also been negative social effects, such as an expanding wealth gap, crony capitalism and environmental pollution, said Chen Jieping of the CEIBS.
"The puzzle we need to solve (in the business school) is what is and should be the role of the Chinese government in the economy?" Chen said.
Wang Shi once said he would never bribe an official in China, but amid the scandal over his affair there have also been rumors that he profited from his former wife's government connections.
Wang Ning, Wang Shi's former father-in-law and a revolutionary comrade of Wang Shi's father, held the position of deputy secretary-general of the provincial committee of the Communist Party of China from 1985 to 1988.
Li Hongbin, an economics professor at the School of Economics and Management at Tsinghua University, published a thesis paper together with his colleagues in China Economic Quarterly in April, which argued that parents' political positions have a positive correlation with their children's incomes in China.
Others take business school as a career investment, but "Wang Shi went there to consume, and consummated it with a new (girl-friend)," Li told the Global Times.