by Peggy Harrison
School professor Ming-Jer Chen
Chen on teaching and lifelong
By Elizabeth Kiem
deans of the Darden
School had been trying to recruit Ming-Jer Chen for a long
time. Ever since 1996, when then-dean Leo Higdon asked him to
join the schools new initiative studying Asian business,
Chen had been sizing up Darden as an intellectual partner.
the time, the Taiwanese-born Chen was the only Asian faculty member
in Columbia Business Schools management division. He did
decide to leave Columbia, but went to the University of Pennsylvanias
Wharton School of Business, where he was founding director of
the Global Chinese Business Initiative program.
he was still drawn to Dardens academic philosophy. After
four years at Wharton, he finally accepted U.Va.s E. Thayer
Bigelow Research Professorship of Business Administration last
year. With his wife of 20 years and two young sons, Chen moved
to Charlottesville, where he hopes to stay permanently.
here can allow me to play out fully the integrative nature of
my professional activities. I can do basic research, applied research
and at the same time, the kind of teaching commitment and support
is just superb, he enthused recently, gazing out his office
window at the wide steps leading to Dardens main entrance.
I have always been very interested in making a bridge to
integrate classroom teaching and academic and applied research,
which is what Darden values.
The best teacher, the best researcher and the best manager
is asking the right questions.
E. Thayer Bigelow
Research Professor of
Davis, a first-year student from Donegal, Ireland, knows what
Chen is referring to. Darden is the business school that
is centered around teaching. You know right away if a professor
fits with the Darden culture. Professor Chen obviously does.
the classroom, Chen is vivacious, shuffling through moving blackboards
like a deck of cards and actively engaging his students, whom
he prefers to call learning partners. It is clear
that they are inspired by the implicit challenge of the term.
During a discussion on competitive response, one well-constructed
answer prompted an invitation from the professor to sign up for
his advanced course, and the rest of the class responded with
describes his teaching philosophy as life-long mentorship. I
value the close ties I maintain with many former students.
classroom reputation may be augmented by anecdotes, perhaps about
Apple Computer whiz Steve Jobs, or the inner workings of Morgan
Stanley or Bristol Myers Squibb. It is Chens close relationships
with the lesser mortals of the business world that most impresses
knows everyone in the class and their resumés off the top
of his head, said one first-year student.
both Columbia and Wharton, Chens courses were among the
most popular in the school, and he knows his worth as an educator.
But, he says of Darden, the teaching environment here is
so strong that Ive found myself pushed to another level.
In fact, he attributes the opportunity to teach undergrads at
the McIntire School of Commerce as one of the main reasons for
his accepting Dardens offer.
the other end of the spectrum, Chen says that consulting for executives
of top multinational firms in the U.S., Asia and Europe gives
him invaluable experience to bring to the classroom. Chen also
developed and conducted a nine-day regional training workshop
for management professors from all 52 MBA programs in the Peoples
Republic of China, arguably making him a founding father of modern
Chinese business education.
a world-renowned expert on business strategy and competitive dynamics
with a cultural background in the nuances of Chinese culture,
Chens curriculum vitae is studded with prestigious awards,
honors and memberships. But the credential of which Chen is unabashedly
proud is his five-year tenure as chair of the Business Policy
and Strategy Division of the Academy of Management, to which he
was elected by the divisions 3,100 members.
is not an administrative popularity appointment. It is for intellectual
leadership. They tend to elect those people who have made a major
contribution, says Chen.
is not shy about pulling down portions of a voluminous archive
of newspaper and magazine articles that have turned to him as
a source. His views are sought out even more regularly since Chinas
entry to the World Trade Organization and the recent publication
of his book, Inside Chinese Business: A Guide for Managers Worldwide.
Half a dozen binders hold carefully preserved clips from Newsweek
to Foreign Affairs.
meticulous cataloguing is not just a show of professional pride.
Its also a hint of Chens one lost love journalism.
years ago, Chen bucked tradition when he disregarded his high
math scores to choose the social sciences over engineering as
his course of higher study. In particular he was interested in
journalism. Walter Cronkite, Ted Koppel and Peter Jennings were
rather unorthodox role models for a Taiwanese son of accountants,
but they captured his imagination.
careful consideration, Chen decided not to pursue his first passion.
At the last minute I decided I wasnt ready, because
of a lack of preparation, to join the best journalism school,
he explains. Instead, in 1981 at the age of 27, he enrolled in
the University of Marylands business school. It was his
first trip to the States.
if his prominence in the scholarly world of business management
would seem a complete digression from the passion of his youth,
consider this Confucian business principle from Chens
creed: The best teacher, the best researcher and the best
manager is asking the right questions.