A year in review: Visiting fellows find new perspectives

sfcityhall corporateaffiliates 2013 original The Corporate Affiliates Visiting Fellows meet with Mark Chandler, the director of the San Francisco Mayor's Office of International Trade in Nov. 2013. All photos courtesy of Denise Masumoto

On a rainy day last November, twelve fellows made their way up the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall, a true initiation to the town that’s often shrouded in fog. But the grey didn’t affect the day’s mood. Meeting with representatives from the Mayor’s Office, the fellows learned about California’s legislature through the unique lens of San Francisco, the only city statewide that is also designated as a county.

City Hall is just one of many site visits that the fellows attended during their time in the Corporate Affiliates Program at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, a cornerstone initiative that has brought professionals from Asia to Stanford since 1982.

“This year, our class was one of the most diverse ever, with fellows coming from Northeast to South Asia and representing a wide array of expertise from business to aerospace,” says Denise Masumoto, the manager of corporate relations at Shorenstein APARC. “We structured the program to support their interests and spur conversation with APARC scholars, and with those in the community beyond.”

The Corporate Affiliates Program provides yearlong fellowships for professionals from Asia who come to Stanford to learn about the United States, exchange ideas and participate in activities of mutual interest. The fellows keep a busy schedule: conducting a research project, auditing classes and attending site visits and seminars.

Now at the end of the academic year, the 2013–14 class has all but just departed. Before this, Shorenstein APARC spoke with three fellows about their experience: Tetsuo Ishiai from Tokyo, Japan; Tejas Mehta from Mumbai, India; and Wendy (Wei) Wang from Beijing, China. Highlighting moments and memories, the fellows struck conversations that underlined a few common themes.   

Thinking dynamically

At the heart of Silicon Valley, Stanford offers a unique base for fellows. As a hub for technology and venture capital, the area has an entrepreneurial buzz that grabs your attention, Ishiai says.

“To move toward open architecture, this entails movement to a more service-oriented structure,” he explains, and says that industry must ask the right questions. “What specialized services and facilities are required for this? What should be developed as the standard going forward?”Ishiai, who normally works at Mitsubishi Electric’s headquarters in Japan, has examined the shift in data management practices and its implications for business during his time at Shorenstein APARC, leveraging his experiences from over twenty years at the company.

When asked if he would share anything when he arrived back home, Ishiai says a message he will convey is the importance of creativity and determination.Ishiai says Silicon Valley offered an excellent environment to perform his research; he joined conferences at Stanford and visited many IT companies in the Bay Area. Ishiai also talked with industry executives through his courses at Stanford’s d.school.

“Exciting thinking and passion for starting new business ventures was very evident in Silicon Valley culture,” he says. “This type of support and ambition should be encouraged in Japanese corporate culture, especially among young employees, who can often be less recognized.”

Ishiai says he made many connections here, and looks forward to returning to Stanford in the future.

Finding partners

When asked to describe a favorite memory, Wang says that challenges have brought forth her richest experiences as a fellow. Speaking English on a daily basis and finding a stride in university life again were obstacles at first, she says, but when paired with the right people and resources, good things happened.

“I connected with a graduate student at CEAS, who I met with weekly to practice my language skills and share cultural observations,” she says. “We became close friends – I even hosted members of his family when they visited California.”Wang normally works in corporate banking at the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), an entity with an expanding scope of business overseas. To suit this trend, Wang says she sought to improve her English skills while in the United States. Masumoto encouraged her to seek out Stanford’s Center for East Asian Studies (CEAS), which offers advanced Chinese language instruction. There, Wang found a surplus of graduate students who were eager to help.

The theme of collaboration echoed in the courses she audited at the Graduate Business School, which allowed her to interface with top executives from JetBlue and Nike in a small group setting, and through dialogue with her research advisor, Jean C. Oi, a professor and director of the Stanford China Program at Shorenstein APARC. 

“Each time I met with Jean, she would offer up a slew of new questions,” Wang says. “She pushed me to really examine the details of my research – a different experience than I’m used to in China where expression is less direct, open.”

Comparative perspective

The global pharmaceutical industry sees extensive overlap between the government, business and academic sectors worldwide, but the variation across countries is what makes it so interesting, says Mehta, who has worked in medical marketing at Reliance Life Sciences for nearly a decade.

“A significant difference between India and the United States is the two country’s health care systems with respect to their insurance structures,” he says. “However, all stakeholders, whether in the United States or India or elsewhere, share the common objective of improving patient’s treatment outcomes and reducing overall cost of healthcare.”

Mehta analyzed challenges for pharmaceutical businesses through his courses at the Graduate Business School, such as “Leading Strategic Change in the Health Care Industry.” The course is structured to examine the environment for incumbent health care players like companies and hospitals, but also to look at the dynamics for entrepreneurial start-ups. A prime opportunity, given the budding initiatives for innovative treatment and health information services in Silicon Valley. A comparative perspective is necessary to learn from and question how things are done both at home and abroad. Mehta says being at Stanford, an institution with a strong foundation in medicine, greatly informed his research. His focus on theranostics, an emerging field of customizable testing and treatment for patients, was enhanced through dialogue on- and off-campus.

The classroom experience, coupled with visits to a variety of businesses in the Bay Area, gave Mehta a fuller view of the intricate market for U.S. medicine, and its relations with government and the private insurance system.

Looking back, he says it is hard to single out a few memories because there are many, but one that would top his list is visiting City Hall.