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Business: A Journey through Innovation and Technology – Clare Hall EMBAs lead business delegation in the Greater Bay Area of China 

19 June 2024 Blog

Clare Hall students Dr Anyu Gao and Steven Lu, who received their EMBA degrees in May 2024, have recently led, with the organizing team, a delegation of 24 EMBA students and staff members from the Cambridge Judge Business School to explore the Greater Bay Area of China. The purpose of the trip was to explore business opportunities, and promote cultural and educational exchanges. 

Anyu has written a personal account of the Trek, with a focus of Shenzhen, to share with the wider Clare Hall community. Through his life stories and first-hand experiences as an organizer and participant of the China Trek, Anyu provides a glimpse of the significant transformations over the last 25 years in China from a cultural, societal, economic and business perspective. Read the full account of Cambridge University Judge Business School China Trek on the Judge Business School EMBA blog

“Friends from afar”  

In April 2024, I had the great pleasure of spending a week with my EMBA classmates in the Greater Bay Area (GBA) of China, a global cluster of finance, business, technology and innovation. The GBA encompasses major cities such as Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Macao, with a GDP of about $1.9 trillion, which would rank 12th in the world if GBA was a country. 

The Cambridge EMBA delegation consists of executives, senior managers and entrepreneurs from 11 countries across 12 industrial sectors. We visited 16 companies, 3 science parks and 2 universities and were warmly received by the hosting organizations. Or as Confucius put it 2,500 years ago: “Our friends come from afar (to visit us), are joyful things” – Confucius (551 BCE – 479 BCE). 

The EMBA China Trek organizing team enjoying punting on the Clare Hall punt to celebrate our graduations, and the successful completion of the China Trek. From left to right: Sunny Li (Hughes Hall), David Shan (Pembroke), Anyu Gao (Clare Hall), Hilary Wang (St Catharine’s) and Steven Lu (Clare Hall), missing from the photo is James Zhang (Downing), photo taken by Insta360 X4 – see later.

What can change in 25 years? 

The last time I was in Shenzhen was in the year 2000. I was very excited to be on our first-ever family holiday beyond the traditional borders of the north of China. Admittedly, we were only in Shenzhen in transit to visit Hong Kong – Shenzhen was not on our (or many other peoples’) bucket list at that time.  

25 years on, Shenzhen city has transformed beyond recognition and imagination. Its GDP increased from $27 billion in 2000 to $492 billion in 2023, fuelled by the incredible focus and development in Science and Technology. Shenzhen is now at the heart of the 2nd biggest Science and Technology cluster in the world, boosting many companies at the forefront of technology and innovation on the global stage.  

Thanking Peking University HSBC Business School (PHBS) for hosting us. We were warmly welcomed by Professor Christoph Loch from Cambridge, Associate Dean Young Joon Park, and we enjoyed the lecture from Professor Zhang Kun about Innovation in Shenzhen together with the EMBA students from PHBS.

“Connection, Communication and Collaboration” from Tencent 

Standing in the podium of Tencent Research Institute, I couldn’t help but “hear” the unique and once-ubiquitous beeping of QQ echoing across the room.  

QQ was the first well-known product from Tencent. Despite being a basic and sometimes buggy instant messaging tool, it did one thing well, extremely well: It connected millions of people who otherwise would never have the chance to “meet”. In my high-school years, the coolest kids on the block would walk around boasting how short their QQ account is (those accounts are made up of a series of digits, the shorter they were the older they were), and they would spend hours trying to impress their boy- or girl- friends thousands of miles away.  

Introducing the Cambridge EMBA delegation to Tencent

When I first came to the UK in 2000, QQ was a lifesaver for me to keep in touch with my friends, during a time when mobile international calls would cost £1 per minute, an extortionate amount for an undergraduate living on beans on toast.  

Many years on, Tencent has taken the “connecting people” mantra to a whole new level, this time with an app called WeChat. It’s not really an App but rather an ecosystem of inter-connected apps, some people call it a “digital personal life secretary”. Besides instant messaging, WeChat can help you with anything from making payments for your favourite bubble tea, buying home insurance on the train, to booking a foot massage in the comfort of your home. Watch how Elon Musk “explains” WeChat.  

It’s safe to say that WeChat really changed the Chinese society and business landscape through 3 C’s (sorry EMBAs like those 3Cs, 5Ps and so on): Connection, Communication and Collaboration. During my 1-week in China, I received 5 business cards, 3 connections on LinkedIn, but more than 150 WeChat connections! If you want to know China or do business in China, you’ve got to have WeChat.  

Posing in front of Tencent’s Global Headquarters in Shenzhen 

“Taking it all 360 degrees” in with Insta360 

Some of you may have seen me walking in Clare Hall with a selfie-stick last May, but not pointing to anywhere in particular. Sorry about the confusion, that was me having a lot of fun with a 360-degree camera trying to capture my graduation with every detail.  

We visited this astonishing company called Insta360, who are market leaders in 360-degree and sports cameras. Founded less than 10 years ago by a group of university students and friends, and with an average employee age of 28.5, they have now taken over 50% of the global market share for 360-degree cameras. 360-degree cameras really challenged my way of looking at the world: it takes everything in from all angles, it doesn’t restrict you to fixed views.  

Incidentally, many participants of the China Trek told the organizers the same. Most people had a fixed and somehow outdated view of China including the country and its people. Just like the little camera, the China Trek also gave people an immersive and all-rounded view of China: “being there is the best way to understand it”. 

2022 Clare Hall EMBAs Taking a 360-degree photo with President Alan Short during their Graduation

Bringing customer service to new “heights” with DJI 

The EMBA delegation visited the exhibition hall of DJI, the global market leader of commercial drones. But my encounter was a personal one. 

On a stormy and thundery Tuesday night at 21:30 in Shenzhen, I took my old faulty drone and arrived at DJI’s flagship store. After receiving a quote of £35 to repair and a 2-week lead time by the female customer representative, I was ready to leave with the faulty drone: “I can’t do it because I am flying back to the UK tomorrow”, I told her. 

She politely asked me if she could discuss the matter with her manager. She emerged with a smile 5 minutes later, “Because of your situation, we would like to provide you with a NEW drone at the same cost (of the repair), would you like to proceed?” I was stunned. These drones sell for 500 pounds in retail, I couldn’t believe what I heard. 

She took out a brand-new drone from a cabinet and assembled all accessories. “It’s after 22:00 now and raining heavily outside, sorry we won’t be able fly it.” She said to me, “I am sure if will fly just fine”, I still could not believe what just happened. She then walked me to the subway station under her umbrella because “it was some distance away”. I wrote the most glamouring feedback in my life to DJI.  

In business, there are customer service playbooks and actual customer needs, and they sometimes don’t match. It’s hard to see how to outcompete a market leader who not only produce innovative products but also provide excellent customer service. 

If you want to buy a new drone, go to Shenzhen and find her. 
Selfie in DJI headquarters with fellow organizers Hilary Wang (St Catharine’s), Sunny Li (Hughes Hall) and other participants

Speed and Efficiency: BYD Came to the Rescue 

Our last visit in Shenzhen was to BYD, or Build Your Dreams, an Electric Vehicle (EV) and EV Batteries manufacturer just outside of the centre of Shenzhen. BYD has been on the news recently after surpassing Telsa’s dominance in its global EV sales in Q4 2023

On our way to the BYD headquarters, an organizer’s worst nightmare happened, our coach broke down! The driver started to call the helpline, the travel agency was frantically sending a replacement, and the coachful of EMBAs started to share their diagnosis (not a good sign…). We reported the issue to BYD (through WeChat of course), and within a few minutes, a message came back, “stay somewhere safe, we are coming to get you”. Thirty minutes later, we were sitting comfortably in the conference room of BYD, discussing two of the most innovative clusters of the world, Cambridge and Shenzhen. 

Until this day, some Trek participants still “argued” that the incident must have been a publicity stunt. Joking aside, the determination and ability of responding to unforeseen customer problems effectively with speed, is going to go a long way in helping BYD continue to expand into the European and global market.

Roadside rescue of the Cambridge EMBAs by BYD 
Participants Abigail and Hilary enjoying the test drive of the BYD Yang Wang U8

What’s next? 

During my EMBA journey with the Judge Business School and Clare Hall, I’ve had the privilege to deeply interact with and learn a great deal from many talented people of many professional and cultural backgrounds across the globe. We have come together as individuals to these great institutions that promote freedom of thought and expression without discrimination. 

I have also learned that in a time of division and uncertainty in the world, cultural, business and education exchanges are some of the most effective ways to help promote peace and prosperity in the world. To that end, several like-minded individuals of Clare Hall, Judge Business School and beyond are joining forces to promote and facilitate future exchanges. I openly invite you all to join us with your ideas, if you want to help in any way, or just to find out more.  

Invited by the 2024 Global EMBA class representative to share the China Trek Experience with the class, with fellow participants Clare Hall EMBA Classmate Marcin Zarakowski and Judge Business School head of Careers Sadia Cuthbert