TRYING TO CLONE U.S.-STYLE MBAs Even the professors at Dartmouth's Amos Tuck School find themselves learning cautionary, and funny, lessons from their joint venture with a Japanese university.
By Patricia A. Langan REPORTER ASSOCIATE Mark D. Fefer

(FORTUNE Magazine) – A THREE-WEEK summer session in the U.S. looked like a nice break for MBA candidates from an innovative program to bring Western-style management education to Japan. Thus, Masaya Hirayama and some friends found themselves in a Hanover Inn elevator, near Dartmouth's Tuck School, when a Japanese businessman stepped in. A conversation began in Japanese. ''What are you doing in New Hampshire?'' the man asked. ''We're here to play and have fun,'' one student replied. ''You're here to work and study cases,'' growled another voice in Japanese from the back of the elevator, that of Tuck professor Stewart Black, a teacher in the program. Welcome to the wonderful, sometimes wacky world of international joint ventures in education. With Tuck's help, the International University of Japan is trying to import the U.S. business school drill. For the past two years, a small band of professors from Hanover, New Hampshire, have journeyed to rural Japan to preach the MBA gospel to students steeped in academic and workplace disciplines quite different from Western ways. Both sides are finding that misconceptions, cross-cultural snafus, and big surprises are part of the learning process. ''Does Japan really need MBAs?'' you might reasonably ask. Consensus is a long way off. Arguments pro range from the finishing school theory (a tour at a U.S. business school will improve the English of Japanese students and provide a chance to learn American folkways) to a longing for some sort of New Age manager who can communicate globally without misunderstanding. People on the other side of the argument are less interested in Yankee ideas about management. Says Father Robert Ballon, the Belgian director of international management seminars at Sophia University in Tokyo: ''Americans are so noisy about business. We don't want U.S. blah blah. We're very reluctant to use a U.S. textbook.'' Major Japanese companies with operations abroad run early-morning English classes and encourage their employees ''to challenge'' the American B-schools by applying for admission. Enrollment of young Japanese managers in U.S. graduate management programs is up over 40% since the mid-1980s, to about 3,000, according to a new study by Michiko Sugano of the Japan-U.S. Educational Commission. This still remains small potatoes, though, compared with the 70,000 MBAs that U.S. business schools turn out annually. Probably the sweetest and most prestigious deal for a young salaryman is to have his company send him to business school in the U.S. Every year giants such as Toshiba, NEC, and Sumitomo each dispatch ten to 20 men to certain of the better-known institutions -- Wharton, NYU, and Chicago are favorites. Reentry can be difficult. When MBAs return to Sony, says Kenji Wada, manager of international human resources, ''they will continue to move on the same track as everyone else.'' That is, rotate by undergraduate class year. Back to the old desk: no promotion, no raise. No one knows exactly how many MBAs are at large within the walls of corporate Japan. One estimate placed their ranks at 10,000 in the early 1980s. NYU's Stern School has 700 alums there; Wharton, over 400. For ten years, Keio University of Yokohama, with some initial help from Harvard, offered the only two-year MBA program in the country. It graduates about 85 people a year and is conducted in Japanese. In 1987 business leaders decided that it was time for Japan to produce English-speaking whiz kids on its own. The result was the International Management MBA Program at the International University of Japan. To find out how Western-style MBA education works in Japan, this correspondent, sponsored by the Fulbright Foundation, joined the campus community for six months. It turned out to be a case study of an offbeat startup. The managerial lesson: In an international joint venture like this one, even partners with the best credentials must look to the long term. The Japanese partner, International University of Japan, opened in 1982 after Sohei Nakayama, 84, ex-president of the Industrial Bank of Japan, and a few more of what the Japanese call very big men put the arm on 900 companies for donations to the cause of ''internationalization.'' Former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka thought his agricultural prefecture, Niigata, could use a bit of globalism. Miraculously, a bullet train stop near the institution was announced -- at tiny Urasa, 124 miles northwest of Tokyo and a backwater by any measure. | When it was decided that the school should have an MBA program, the established faculty -- mostly specialists in international relations -- wanted the job of conducting it. But influential business backers such as Jiro Ushio, then chairman of IUJ, and Yotaro Kobayashi, president of Fuji Xerox and a Wharton MBA, pressed for an infusion of U.S. blah blah. Akira Ohtomo, now president of Cartier Japan, knew his way around the U.S. and agreed to scout top B-schools there as potential partners. ''I liked Tuck,'' he says, ''because of its size and because it's kind of isolated.'' For its part, Tuck saw a way to internationalize itself without a big commitment of people or resources. Says professor James Brian Quinn: ''We had to get the Japanese to finance everything and provide an endowment.'' In late 1987 the parties reached agreement to collaborate for five years, with a provision to review their positions after the first three. Tuck, as contractor in effect, was to provide half the faculty and Quinn as part-time -- and reluctant -- dean: ''I wasn't interested in deaning, but I had become distressed at the willingness of American academics to accept as gospel what was in the press about what was going on in Japan.'' The plan called for the school's curriculum to follow the Tuck model. Rotating professors from the U.S. would stay a semester and share teaching duties with an equal number of Japanese faculty, leaving the Americans plenty of time to see the country and do a little research. The deal included generous salaries and travel allowances for the Americans, along with cars and apartments. Students could spend three weeks at Tuck each summer, and Tuck MBA candidates could go to Japan as exchange students. IUJ would award an MBA approved by Japan's Ministry of Education. IN APRIL 1988 the project got the go-ahead from the ministry, giving IUJ- Tuck a meager two months to hustle up 50 students before summer classes in English began. That's when the joint venture hit the first bump. Tuck, which styles itself as the ''second most selective B-school in the U.S.'' (after Stanford), had insisted on high admission standards. But the Japanese simply asked companies supporting IUJ to send an employee. Accepting their choice was, of course, the honorable thing to do. ''When we met with corporations, they all said they had a serious need for MBA education but were too busy to spare anyone,'' recalls Hiroshi Murakami, IUJ's unflappable secretary-general, who came to help from Mitsubishi. IUJ ended up with only 19 Japanese students in the class that convened in September 1988. The draftees and volunteers tended to be selected by their companies at the last minute. Most had marginal command of English, but even then some companies wouldn't cut them loose in time to attend intensive English classes beforehand. It was also too late for the first class of Japanese to take GMATs, the standardized B-school admission test, so the requirement was waived. As one student put it, ''All of us got in, although some of us failed the entrance exam.'' Stateside recruiting by Tuck produced six American students. IUJ's location didn't help. What Japanese planners saw as an academic enclave sheltered from urban distractions was generally viewed by their countrymen as Siberia. The spartan gray campus is a cluster of concrete surrounded by rice fields and mountains. The nearest town, 2 1/2 miles away, has a dozen shops, a post office, and a statue of Kakuei Tanaka, Niigata's favorite son. The first Japanese MBA candidates to arrive were an urban lot with a sense of adventure. The class of 18 men and one woman ranged in age from 26 to 38. All but three came at company expense and most were married. Mamoru Kobayashi, 31, and Tohru Miyaji, 34, quit their jobs to tackle the program at their own expense with scholarship aid. Takako Yamada, 33, returned from a dead-end job in Germany. Some wives were left behind with parents. Most students came from banking and financial service companies in Tokyo and Osaka. Some were graduates of prestigious Tokyo universities. But as Yasushi Okamoto, 30, of Isetan Co., recalled, ''In our universities there were 400 in the class; people slept and picked up notes from the guy in the front row to memorize for the exam. Then you could pass.'' Many expected IUJ to be much the same, a vacation from long days at the office. Tuck-style education was a shocker. Giant textbooks appeared. While American business school students often fight for a chance to speak in class, the concept of ''air time'' was totally alien to the Japanese. Suddenly they found themselves pressed for answers by American professors. ''It's as difficult for them to speak as for American students to keep quiet,'' says professor Masaru Yoshimori, who teaches comparative management. ''Traditionally our culture penalizes arrogance, and eloquence is a vice.'' First names were used in class, but among themselves students used traditional patterns of address by age and rank. With Americans in most classes, buzzwords flew. Discussions idled for explanations of ''down the tubes'' or ''cost drivers.'' AFTER CLASS, groups of four hashed over assignments in study groups long into the night, sustained by the ubiquitous cans of hot, sweet coffee. For the Japanese the group was the lifeline. ''We are from various business fields, so we can help and exchange information,'' explained Ryo Sadayuki, 26, of All Nippon Airways. The Japanese solution to homework -- divvying it up -- raised some ethical hackles in the Tuck camp. Coping with English was a problem, but not the only problem. After his first weeks of teaching operations management, David Pyke wondered how much was getting through: ''Tuck students love to strategize, conceptualize, think big picture. They hate computation. These IUJ students breathe a sigh of relief when we get to the computation side.'' In his first year financial accounting class, Clyde Stickney noticed that students had difficulty integrating ideas from different fields, trouble he traces to myopic Japanese education, not language problems. The only Tuck professor who spoke Japanese, Stewart Black, found that his stateside teaching manner sometimes wouldn't work. ''I've given up on how to get Japanese students to disagree with me,'' he says. For the first time in their lives, the MBA candidates were asked not only to talk back to the sensei, or master, but also to evaluate him at the end of the term. Perhaps surprisingly, the Japanese professors took the biggest hits. Students were even more frank in conversation: ''The U.S. professors relate more to the students,'' ran a typical comment. ''Some Japanese professors don't speak English well.'' The American professors didn't fare as well in faculty meetings. They found the Japanese approach sometimes authoritarian, often difficult to comprehend. ''Compared with Tuck, it seemed like we were moving from one ambiguity to the next,'' says Brian Quinn. Even mundane details of scheduling -- who would teach what when -- provoked flare-ups. ''It was the darndest thing I've ever been through,'' says Quinn. ''We almost had a walkaway by Tuck over curriculum.'' The agendas of the joint venture partners sometimes seemed to drift apart. While the U.S. side was fretting over uncut grass and unforeseen politics, the Japanese worried about revolving professors and mounting expenses. Japanese faculty members grumbled, discreetly, about low wages and the quality of education their children were receiving in the boondocks. While Japanese professors handled administrative chores, Americans traveled to Tokyo for research and other pastimes, and stayed in the best hotels. Because the Tuck contingent left for home at the end of the term, the Japanese faculty ended up advising all the students doing thesis work during the break. Neither side realized how hard it would be to recruit professors. Finding Japanese academics with Ph.D.s who had MBA backgrounds and would teach in English proved tougher than finding students. Professor Norihiko Suzuki of International Christian University estimates that there are only about 20 in Japan who are qualified. Tuck professors didn't jump at the chance either, so Quinn turned to luring visiting professors from other U.S. schools. THE PROGRAM graduated its first class of MBAs on June 29, but few expect the Tuck-IUJ relationship to remain the same. Top officials of IUJ now talk about integrating the MBA program with international relations after all. Sohei Nakayama nods to Tuck's success in teaching management but expresses concern about its commitment to globalism. ''Maybe there could be improvement on the international management side,'' he hints. ''Tuck and dean Quinn recognize this small shortcoming.'' With only a year left before both sides reconsider their agreement, the word ''affiliation,'' suggesting looser ties, is now sometimes bandied about. Whatever the eventual outcome of the venture, it's clear that Tuck-style education has had a big effect on the first class of 19 young Japanese managers who graduated in June. But the kind of thinking they take away may not be what their companies had in mind. ''I've never asked 'why?' in my business career,'' says Tohru Miyaji. ''My classmates and I now want to know why very quickly. My wife says I ask why too often. She wants me to be careful outside MBA circles because I might be kicked out for insulting the existing way of doing things.'' Some students have discovered, to their great surprise, that they prefer living in the country. Several have decided their companies are ''stingy'' and that the MBA is ''a good passport'' to change jobs. Which may only go to show that in some respects, MBAs are the same everywhere.