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The Johnson Cornell Tech MBA program is all about doing. This focus on hands-on work is apparent in many of the program’s cross-cultural and cross-functional initiatives, such as iTrek, and the Startup Studio. Another great example is the FinTech Challenge, recently held in New York City and engaging cross-cultural teams of Johnson Cornell Tech and Cornell-Tsinghua MBA/FMBA students.

The challenge was this: Chinese nationals have money to spend, and U.S. real estate is a market ripe with opportunity. Unfortunately, due to Chinese regulations, citizens are allowed to invest the equivalent of just $50,000 per year outside the country. This makes any significant real estate investment virtually impossible.

To tackle this business case, we formed twenty cross-cultural teams, made up of 42 Johnson Cornell Tech MBA students and 59 Cornell-Tsinghua MBA/FMBA students from China. Each team took a different approach to the problem, with most focused primarily on the financial mechanism itself. But the team that ultimately won the competition decided to flip the underlying challenge assumption on its head by asking: What if the funds did not have to actually leave China? By reframing the problem in such a simple yet counter-intuitive way, the winning team came up with an innovative and creative solution to the problem.

Johnson Cornell Tech MBA students walked away from the experience with a greater appreciation for cross-national differences.

“The Cornell Tsinghua students were great people to work with,” says Murat Akdeniz, MBA ’16, a member of the winning team. “I’m glad I had the experience of working with Chinese students, and of establishing networking contacts for future opportunities, as well.”

The FinTech Challenge was the brainchild of Ya-Ru Chen, Academic Dean for China Initiatives at Johnson, and Jason Hogg MBA ‘02, Senior Lecturer at Johnson and Senior Lecturer in Residence at Cornell Tech. Hogg was previously CEO of B2R Holdings, L.P., which provided support for the challenge.

According to Chen, participating students from both programs developed a better appreciation for cross-national differences and the opportunities to be gained by working with colleagues from other cultures.

“What I hoped for in bringing these two groups together materialized,” Chen says. “The students learned how to explore and manage their various layers of differences, across nationalities as well as functional disciplines, and the most successful teams were even able to turn some of these differences into strengths.”

The FinTech Challenge highlights one of the key differentiators of the Johnson Cornell Tech MBA program: a focus on using today’s technologies to solve real-world business challenges.

“Years ago, technology used to be considered its own separate sector or a department within a corporation,” Hogg says. “Now, technology is woven into every aspect of the business and customer interaction.”

Hogg emphasizes that today’s workforce must understand how to leverage new product-development strategies and corresponding technologies to capitalize on dislocations in the marketplace.

“The FinTech challenge was specifically designed as an exercise to leverage such skill sets,” Hogg says.

“It promotes creative problem solving and the application of technology solutions to complex, international business problems,” adds Akdeniz. “While other MBA programs mainly focus on traditional business topics, such as marketing and finance, we receive training in those disciplines, as well as in using cutting edge technologies for our solutions. I think the Cornell Tsinghua students recognized this as well; our knowledge of technology allowed us to be effective team players.”

The corporate sponsors of the challenge, JD.com/Finance and Everpine Capital, both expressed interest in sponsoring the event again next year. JD.com is even planning to offer its own case study challenge for the second iteration of the event.

“For me, this challenge represents exactly what we are trying to accomplish with both programs,” Chen says, “which is to bridge boundaries and divisions across both countries and cultures.”


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