If there are two things my professor knows extremely well outside of his field of academic study (Chinese history since the late 1800s), they are education systems and wine. Being a dean at two internationally-renowned research universities gives you some cred, as does a great deal of time spent in Europe traveling and studying.
This past week we taught cases on companies involving those very subjects on which my boss can be considered a powerhouse and a connoisseur, respectively: Xi'an International University (XIAU) and Grace Vineyard. XIAU could be viewed as a Chinese equivalent of a highbrow University of Phoenix, and Grace Vineyard is a Chinese wine company that challenges whatever expectations you might about the production of alcohol in China--the company is solid with respect to CSR and the wine, from everything I've heard, is pretty good, or at least better than the omnipresent Great Wall brand. They wouldn't be offering Grace on business class wine menus on Cathay Pacific flights if it were anything less than pretty good. (A flight round-trip from Boston to Beijing on Cathay Pacific is over 3,800 USD for economy, a figure that should inform you just how nice this airline is. If it doesn't, first-class round-trip is over $27,000 USD).
Despite a gigantic midweek scare regarding one of our revised cases, last week was a difficult but good one. I finally got the chance to use my Chinese when entertaining the president of XIAU, his colleague, and his wife, who gave me an adorable silk notebook as a token of thanks (though I'll admit my happiness with it was blunted because four slackers in the course who happened to ask the President a question at the end of the class--including "Fascinated CR" from the previous post--received them, too).
Prof was totally in his element teaching XIAU and its business model, and it was a real pleasure to watch, but it was his teaching of Grace Vineyard that really deserved a standing ovation. I couldn't describe it in any other way but triumphant.
In discussing agribusiness, he gave the example of some Chinese company that raised chickens for eggs and meat. This company also happens to put green stickers on their eggs, at which point my professor makes the joke "and we all know, nothing goes better with green eggs than ham." Sadly, I think I was the only person in class who started laughing at this. The MBAs have read Dr. Seuss, right? Because anyone who hasn't read Dr. Seuss might not have a soul. I'm going to write this off as people being tired on a Friday afternoon or drunk on the idea of wine from Grace Vineyard. Come to think of it, I'm almost surprised no one pregamed in the spirit of the case--if you were going to pregame any class, a class in which you're teaching a case on the wine business would be a decent one, don't you think?
At any rate, the best part of the class was the beginning. We had prepared to target the people in the class from Germany, Australia, South Africa, China to talk about wine from their respective countries. My professor has also brought in an unopened bottle of wine to class. I thought it was a bottle of wine from Grace Vineyard, but it turned out it was a French wine from the Bordeaux region. He goes up to a student whom we have identified as being a member of the HBS Food and Wine club to grill him about this bottle of wine:
Prof: "[Name], I know that you are a member of the food and wine club here at HBS."
Student ( laughs, slightly embarrassed): "Yes, that's true."
Prof: "What can you tell me about this wine?"
Student: "Well, it's French...a Bordeaux."
Prof (pointing to fine print on the front of the bottle label): "Is the producer from Bordeaux? Can you read the name of the proprietor for me down here?"
Student :[reads text aloud, the part of the name of the propietor matching the student's own surname].
Prof: "And who is that?"
Student (nervously laughing, like he's been found out for something): "Uhh...yeah, that's my sister."
Prof: "Yes, and she gave me this bottle when I taught her six years ago."
I didn't know Prof knew this and the student certainly wasn't expecting him to either. This was pure brilliance. Class could have ended there and been a resounding success, and it also set a good precedent, albeit midway through the course: my professor is a nice guy and seems super chill and harmless, but for all you know, he knows your mom, your dad, and with the help of his research associate, maybe your credit card number.
MBAs, consider yourselves warned?