Steven White: Be Aggressive and Proactive in Learning

Being thoroughly familiar with the world’s three largest economies and the innovative development that has taken place in these places is an asset that virtually every professor of entrepreneurship and innovation would want. Having spent many years working, studying and researching in China, the U.S. and Japan, SEM Professor Steven White has this asset and puts it to work as he is passionate about sharing his insight on these very diverse places, not just only the business environment, but also the cultural environment.
Professor Steven White
Professor White’s journey began at Duke University, where he studied zoology and Asian Studies. From there, he pursued a Master of Japan Studies in International University of Japan where he focused on Japan’s biotech industry. After graduating, he spent three years at the leading global corporation Sumitomo in their Business Planning Investment Department. Beginning in 1992, he went to MIT to obtain a PhD, where he spent time in Beijing doing research fieldwork from 1995-96. From there, he did a post-doctorate in Kobe, Japan. After this, he has been a professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Chinese University of Hong Kong, INSEAD in both France and Singapore campuses and CEIBS before coming to Tsinghua in 2010.
Before starting our interview, Professor White showed us some old pictures of him with people that have became big names in SEM, like Assistant Dean GAO Jian. Professor White’s lasting friendship with them is one of the reasons that he chose to come to Tsinghua. In terms of choosing Tsinghua SEM, Professor White talked with us about his opinion from a faculty’s point of view. Compared with independent business schools, such as CEIBS, business schools in a top, comprehensive university like Tsinghua have great benefits, particularly the possibility of cross-department collaboration. For example, there could be design labs for students from different schools to work together to design new services or products. “This age is not in shortage of money, it’s on shortage of good ideas,” Professor White said. “So that’s what we should work on.” Professor White also mentioned the outstanding feature of SEM by embedding in a comprehensive university like Tsinghua as a main reason for coming.
After all of his very valuable and diverse experience all over the global at many highly respect schools, Professor White stresses that the IMBA program is a great place to gain essential experience and knowledge and build a future.
"China in present era is almost like Japan in 1980s,” Professor White said. “China-root corporations are struggling to extend overseas and become a world-class brand. To unveil these reforms and compete with multinationals, they need well-trained employees who are adept at cross-culture cooperation and competitions. To attain this kind of capability is a process of learning. That is what IMBA program can offer - the experience with people from different culture, country or social regimes.”
Professor White continued by talking about the differences between independent business school and SEM is the balance between western and eastern culture and business.
"For newly designed independent business schools, it is easier for foreigners due to the elements of teaching, like cases, books, even ways of thinking etc., are all produced abroad,” he said. “However, for those who want to integrate the global mindset with Chinese roots, local prestigious business school could offer some outstanding advantages.”
Professor White explained that Chinese corporations are facing the world market now just as the Japanese corporations in 1980s. Employees competent in multinational cooperation are in shortage, just as it was in Japan in 1980s. And this capability is a kind of process knowledge; knowledge has to be learned during the process, and he believes strongly that the IMBA program offers the chance to experience this process. That’s why Professor White’s Managerial Thinking course not only focuses on the team projects themselves, but also focuses on the reflection of the teams. For IMBA students, Professor White’s lectures are usually demanding, inspiring and informative. Students are pushed to discuss more and dig more to reach an unexpected level of thinking. Students are always inspired by the dynamic cases and his vivid narratives. Professor White believes the content of teaching should both be experiential and conceptual, and every five minutes of the teaching flow should be well designed beforehand.
When asked to give some suggestions to future IMBA students, Professor White wants to remind everyone: "Come here with the idea of taking responsibility of getting something out of this rather than expecting it to be served to you at your table. Come here like a hunter or gatherer rather than king or queen waiting for room service. Professors are here to structure the process and facilitate your study rather than do it for you. Meanwhile, there are lots of opportunities on campus and outside campus, internships, access to EMBA students, etc. Take advantage of them. Be aggressive and proactive rather than passive and waiting.” (Interview and article by Gateway)