When the Yale School of Management announced in November that it would organize a summit of business heavyweights in Beijing during the 2008 summer Olympic Games, it hoped to take advantage of the University’s connections in China to host an attention-grabbing executive-education program. But less than five months before the games open, administrators have been forced to pare back their plans.
Although the docket of speakers participating in the program — dubbed the Global Business Leadership Program — has swelled, organizers have shortened the conference’s length in the face of a lack of interest in sessions to be held during the later weeks of the Olympics. The four planned five-day sessions will be condensed into one, to be held in the middle of August.
The decision to condense the program is meant to maximize efficiency and meet the interests of both participants and speakers in attending the opening ceremonies, organizers said.
While the first session was nearly filled to its capacity of 100 participants by March, the three following sessions were “a lot softer” in terms of interest, said program organizer Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at the SOM and senior executive dean of the school’s Executive Education Programs.
To accommodate individuals signed up for other sessions, the program has expanded its first session to accommodate 125, said co-organizer John Needham ’79, CEO of the Clinton Global Initiative. The decision was made in conjunction with the program’s partner, Jet Set Sports, which specializes in organizing luxury accommodations for tourists at the Olympics.
Even so, Sonnenfeld and Needham still insist the enrolled participants will get what they signed up for. The program’s curricular offerings have, in fact, been expanded and will feature a new panel on social responsibility and globalization, as well as over a half-dozen new speakers.
“All the benefits of the program are fully intact,” Needham said. “The consolidation of the schedule has no impact.”
Participants unable to switch sessions will still be able to attend the Olympics through the same amenities packages offered by Jet Set Sports, said William Crocker, executive director of Corporate Education at the SOM. No scheduled participants have backed out thus far, Needham said.
Sonnenfeld said the change allows for increased focus on a single session, with no negative financial impact for Yale. The altered schedule better coincides with the plans of prominent speakers, Sonnenfeld said, and it is also more convenient for faculty, who will no longer have to remain at the Olympics for its entire duration.
New speakers will include an anchorwoman for China Central Television as well as leaders of non-governmental organizations devoted to responsible economic development. The new components of the conference, such as the panel on social responsibility, are especially pertinent given recent protests by followers of the Dalai Lama in Tibet, Sonnenfeld said.
“No business happens in a vacuum, and we are all very mindful of the societal context of the relationship,” he said.
William Donaldson, founding dean of the SOM and a program speaker, said he remains optimistic that recent happenings in China will only contribute to dialogue in the program.
“One hopes that it will be a real learning experience within an environment of inquiry and that there will be a full and frank discussion of these issues,” he said.
But those involved in the program are keeping an eye on the situation. Victor Vroom, the BearingPoint professor of management at the SOM and a faculty speaker at the conference, said he has some worries about being in China during the conflict.
“The events in Tibet in particular are concerning to me,” he said. “They certainly cast China in a less-than-favorable light.”
Should the program proceed successfully, organizers said there remains strong potential to repeat it at later Olympic games.