Faculty in Focus: Dr. TONG Chunyang
In his role as Associate Professor at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, Dr. Tong teaches MKTG 390 China as a Global Market and INTS 380 Internship at the Alliance’s International Business in China program in Shanghai. He earned his Ph.D. at the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California and has published papers in numerous journals, including Production and Operations Management, Operations Research Letters, and the Harvard Business Review (China Edition). We recently discussed the Chinese economy, healthcare reform, and the importance of doing internships in China.
What sparked your interest in business?
Almost twenty years ago I graduated from one of the best engineering schools in China with a degree in electrical engineering. I went to work for one of the largest state owned enterprises, which is now called the State Grid Corporation of China. I was pretty young and started to feel that life was kind of boring, just sitting in a cubicle and drawing some graphs.
I decided to go to America for Ph.D. study. Business was my major – actually I don’t know why I chose it but primarily because I was working for industry – and I realized that I wanted to change to something new. I was lucky to get a fellowship from USC Marshall School of Business. I spent a couple of years there, got my Ph.D. and some teaching experience, and then went back to Shanghai.
What was it like to go from studying in Wuhan, where you earned your B.S. and M.S. in electrical engineering from Huazhong University of Science and Technology, to studying in the United States?
I did have some challenges when I started studying at USC. The first and biggest challenge was language, actually. In the first couple of semesters, I had difficulty following the professors, and when I was asked to make a presentation, it was very tough for me. But after two years, I think my English improved a lot and I was able to start using it as my working language.
The second transition was academic. In China, being a good student is just sitting there and finishing all the homework, and doing well on tests. That’s it. Being a Ph.D. student in America requires quite a lot of independent thinking – you have to be knowledgeable, and you have to be extending the frontier in the field that you are working on. I enjoyed that whole challenge and found it quite rewarding.
You’ve received a grant and led a project Several research topics on service quality based on service time. Can you tell us more about this project?
It’s purely a research project on the Chinese National Natural Science, a four year research grant based on a healthcare problem. In China, healthcare service is publicly funded. There’s more demand than what is available on the service provider side. One of the biggest challenges of managing the whole service operations is actually that patients wait for too long to get a service, but once they do, the time they get from the service provider is too short. In Chinese, we say it’s ‘waiting for three hours to talk to a doctor for 3 minutes’. I started a research project to analyze the emerging service innovation – better ways to do surgeries, provide treatment, so on and so forth.
What do you think are the most important issues in the Chinese economy today?
One issue is that people might be starting to think the Chinese economy is going into a recession. But I tend to call it a restructuring rather than a recession. The Chinese economy has been rapidly growing for the past three decades. It’s caused issues with environmental damage and the sustainability of the economic growth. Labor in China is not cheap anymore. When the cost advantage disappears, how is the Chinese economy going to sustainably grow? We are deliberately slowing down the growth rate, but focusing on innovation and entrepreneurship. This is what we are talking about every day in China.
Healthcare is one of the areas where I’ve been focusing – the healthcare system in China has so far been totally regulated and foreign firms cannot open their businesses in China. But now, foreign hospitals can come in and send doctors here and hire local doctors and see patients here. One of the other changes is actually that we have to learn something from America. You have to first visit your family doctor, and then if the problem is severe they refer you to a specialist. In China, we don’t have such a layer based service system, but we’re reforming it.
What should study abroad students know about doing an internship or studying business in China?
I would suggest if possible to do both. It’s an experience they will remember for their lifetime. If they do not speak good Chinese and the working environment is Chinese, their internship requires a lot of speaking, especially if it’s a private company or state owned enterprise in China, not foreign firms. But I tend to put things in a positive way – this is a way they can improve their Chinese. Knowing both Chinese business and American business, it will bring very promising things for their future because these two countries are the first and the second largest economies in the world.