Interview: Rick Foristel on connecting China and Seattle by way of Webster University
By Wen Liu Feb. 16, 2017
Last August, I got an email from Prof. Rick Foristel from websterchina.com. He was reading through my book “Connecting Washington and China—The Story of the Washington State China Relations Council” and founded it so useful that he decided to send a note of thanks. One fact he wanted to make sure was whether Shanghai and Seattle were sister ports and was glad to find it in the first part of the book. He had just visited Seattle, working on a 2017 study tour for his China MBA students, and was returning to Shanghai. Interesting! Webster University, I found out, was the first U.S. university to win approval for an American MBA program in China, and Foristel had been director of Webster China since 1997. Last month, I caught up with Foristel again, after his second trip to Seattle, and asked him about the wonderful tangle of Webster, China, Shanghai and Seattle.
WCWD: Could you tell the readers a little bit what Webster China is about, its MBA programs, its various campuses in China?
Rick Foristel: Webster University of St. Louis, Missouri started conversations with Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (SUFE) in 1996 and together they started the first classes MBA students. There are now two Webster MBA Programs in China, the first at SUFE, and another started fifteen years ago in Chengdu at the University of Electronic Science and Technology China (UESTC). At both of our programs, students study with us for about 20 months from start to graduation. The two MBA programs combined have 142 students. They meet for a full day each weekend, making it an intensive, full MBA.
At Beijing, Webster University cooperates with Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU), a partnership includes the operation of the Confucius Institute (CI) at St. Louis. The CI operates from Webster facilities at Downtown St. Louis and on the Main Campus at Webster Groves. Harbin has a rich history of Chinese culture, heavy industry, Russian emigres, lush agriculture, and now arts, science and business. Harbin University launched a Business English degree a couple of years ago. Students can complete the degree at Harbin, or take two of the four years at Webster, and get a dual degree, Business English and a B.S. in Business Administration.
WCWD: You said that you had taken your China MBA students on study tours to Washington D.C. and Palo Alto. But last August, you came and scouted out Seattle. What drew you to Seattle, Washington?
Rick Foristel: This year, 2017, will be our tenth China MBA Study Tour. In the beginning, it was the Washington, D.C. Tour, because there is so much to learn from associations and institutions in D.C., including the IMF, World Bank, government agencies like the Federal Reserve Board, Energy Department, Agriculture, Transportation, and even the U.S. State Department. The Silicon Valley Tour three years ago was extremely helpful, including a tour in the Tesla plant.
Seattle is a question of learning, doing and being. It is one of the closest U.S. cities to China for both flying and sea shipments. It’s not just a place where people are making yet another application for mobile phone, but making a variety of products, shipping goods, offering services, and building brands that people all over the globe respect and admire. It’s creative and analytical. We think Seattle is a place where our MBAs can find and build business relationships.
WCWD: And you were in Seattle again this past month. What did you do and accomplish this time?
Rick Foristel: We have made inroads at the Starbucks Roastery, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Microsoft, MOHAI, Geekwire and at the Everett Boeing location. We had a good visit with the new president of the Washington State China Relations. We’re still adding to the list of visits and conversations. We have made arrangements for use of the dorms at University of Washington, and we have been scheduling the use of the Metro, a number of bus excursions, and heavy use of Uber.
WCWD: So you will bring your MBA students from China on a study tour to Seattle this summer, from July 23 to July 29. What would the students be doing here?
Rick Foristel: Since the start of the new year we have been providing information to all of our current MBA students about facts and developments at Seattle companies including capitalization, equity value, and production news. They know about the new Amazon Go Groceries, Microsoft and LinkedIn, 777-9s and 787-10s for Singapore Airlines, and Starbucks Roastery coming to Shanghai this year or next.
The goal of the 2017 Study Tour is a better understanding of the region’s success as a powerful economic entity. In a way, since its 1851 start, Seattle reminds me a lot of Shanghai’s charge-ahead attitude. They are kindred spirits. This year we want to help students and alums make-contact with people, companies, incubators, and institutions. From the very start, it has been innovative, full of entrepreneurs, but also a big dose of community collaboration. It just seems to continue.
WCWD: As an American academic who runs a college or graduate program in China, what do you enjoy most and what do you find most challenging?
Rick Foristel: In the past few years, we have taught our way through SARs, which almost closed China from the outside, weaved with the NATO bombing of the PRC Embassy in Belgrade, worked to send lecturers to Hainan Island when the P-3 Navy personnel were detained, went to the Dujiangyan relief center shortly after the Sichuan earthquake. We’d like to see the world more comfortable and secure about China. It has gone through a great deal, and has made huge strides.
More than anything I appreciate my staff, and our 2500 alumni. They are the actual people in concert with others, who are pushing China forward, showing their ability, literacy, mathematics, cooperation, and very individualistic competitiveness. I like seeing them succeed, especially when I get to succeed with them.