For William Riley the Center for Chinese Business (CCB), founded 20 years ago in 1994, has been a broadening experience in many ways for many people on both sides of the world.
Dr. Riley, who is turning over leadership of the Center this month to Victor Chow, professor of finance, said the CCB has branched out in several directions and that "we have learned as much from the Chinese as they have from us."
Back in 1993-94, along with Dr. Riley and other faculty, Dr. Chow, who grew up in Taiwan, started a leadership training program that continues to this day. Three Chinese government officials made up the first group that academic year. Last year the relationship with China brought 34 participants from Bao Steel Co. and the Tianjin Finance Bureau to WVU during the summer. To date, 270 government and business leaders have attended classes in Morgantown at the CCB.
Last fall, for example, 12 students from Shanghai and Shaanxi Province participated in the Center's leadership training program. Also six Chinese undergraduate students attended classes and 20 enrolled as graduate students.
Yet the CCB's programs that grew out of the 1993-94 beginning could have easily been abandoned. Only a few years before, in 1989, the Tiananmen Square incident occurred, and many U.S. educational institutions, contemplating relationships with the Chinese, who seemed to be emerging from hardline affinities, withdrew while nascent friendships cooled.
WVU's didn't. Indeed, as Riley puts it, "We have tried to stay clear of politics," he said. "I assumed that these (political disagreements) were short-termed events, and the Chinese thought the same."
Today it would be difficult to find a university that isn't recruiting Chinese students and sending students there for study-abroad experiences. Indeed, the study of Chinese language is burgeoning, obviously because that nation is the new economic powerhouse that some expect will overtake the United States as the world's leading economic driver by 2020.
Riley believes the University's decision to stay in China after the Tiananmen Square incident created a trust with Chinese government and business leaders and a fundamental confidence that has led to two decades of friendship. "We had a series of discussion over time," he said. "We had to decide whether to do it or not. It (not pulling out) gave us some credibility and respect."
If there is any measure of the CCB's success after 20 years, notwithstanding the irony, it might be that the Homer Laughlin China Co. of Newell, W. Va., is a participant of an outgrowth of the College's relationship with China, the export management course.
Taught in conjunction with the West Virginia Export Council and the United States Department of Commerce, the course involves students and company representatives who develop an export marketing plan targeted to the specific needs of the participating company. This program is designed to promote exporting in West Virginia by helping participants assess their export readiness skills and by guiding them through every aspect of exporting. Homer Laughlin, one of four companies and 23 students this semester, hopes to export its popular Fiestaware line to international markets, Riley said.
Another measure of success, and perhaps permanence of the CCB, is that last year for the first time in two decades a full-time staff person, Michael Zhao, was hired to help coordinate the Center's programs.
Zhao, a former employee of the Shanghai government, learned about WVU while coordinating educational programs there.
"WVU was the first university which Shanghai government was working closely with for executive education programs since 1994 and had very good relationship with the city of Shanghai," he said. "Every year, I met WVU faculty and students from WVU in Shanghai, and I felt that faculty and students from WVU were all very nice and easy-going. And I also learned from them that WVU has many great programs, such as MSIR (Master of Science in Human Resources and Industrial Relations), and the University is located a very safe and beautiful place (almost Heaven)-Morgantown. So I decided to go to study at WVU in my favorite program."
Zhao received his master's degree in industrial relations in 2012. He added that the CCB "is a great window for Chinese people to know about WVU and West Virginia."
Riley said that from his perspective the Center has had one crowning achievement. Many children of former participants in the Center's programs for government and business leaders have come to the College of Business and Economics for undergraduate and graduate education.
"I think that it is significant that these leaders in China trust us with their children's education," he said.
Building a lasting relationship with China has had additional value: last fall the first WVU alumni chapter was established in Shanghai. Two more chapters are planned, one in Tianjin in northern China, and Xian, in central China and one of the nation's oldest cities.
Dr. Chow said the association with China has been good for West Virginia.
"The Center has been very successful," Chow said. "I believe that a lot of people in China now know and understand West Virginia, too. No one in China knew about this state before, but now many leaders speak positively about their experiences here."
"Some of us in the College of Business and Economics recognized at that time (early 1990s) that China would be a rising star economically and that there was a huge potential market that the United States could not ignore," he recalled. "China was just starting to open its doors in the late 1980s, and there was a lot of potential for educating students there on western business practices."