London Connection Q&A: Global MBA Specialism Convenor, Dr Lutao Ning

We speak to Dr Lutao Ning about the Entrepreneurship and Innovation specialism, and challenges and opportunities for new business
Dr Lutao Ning, Global MBA Entrepreneurship and Innovation Specialism Convenor
"Innovation isn’t just about topics that hit the headlines. Smaller changes can have a big impact": Dr Lutao Ning
The course provides a systematic overview of the innovation and entrepreneurial processes, as well as the skills required to turn an idea into products or services and successfully take it to market

Dr Lutao Ning is a Reader in International Business at Queen Mary, University of London. He is the specialism convenor for the Global MBA pathway in Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Can you tell me about your own career journey?
I started my research career at the University of Cambridge, where I conducted my doctoral research on strategic development issues affecting multinational enterprises from emerging markets. I then moved on to my first academic post at Durham University as a lecturer in international business where I taught a number of executive, full time MBA courses on global strategy and strategic management. In 2012, I moved down to London and started working at the School of Business and Management at Queen Mary. During this time, I took on the directorship of international learning, overseeing the internationalisation of our school. I have also started editing journals aimed at understanding innovation in China and served as special advisor at various organisations. Throughout my research career so far, innovation in the global context has been the key theme and I have published over 40 articles on the subject.

"Entrepreneurship and innovation are fundamental drivers of the growth of our economies."

What sparked your interest in the area of Entrepreneurship and Innovation?
Innovation and entrepreneurship are all around us and they have been mentioned everywhere from government policy, through to the media and in schools. The successful stories of business icons such as Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Ma Yun (Alibaba), Sachin & Binny Bansal (Flipkart) inspire millions to start up their first business. I have a long term interest in understanding and explaining what drives people and countries to innovate. This is because entrepreneurship and innovation are fundamental drivers of the growth of our economies.

Can you tell us about your involvement with the Global MBA?
I have been involved in the Global MBA programme since its inception. As the specialism convenor of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation programme, I have overseen five key modules covering aspects of business relevant to entrepreneurs who need to innovate, market, finance and successfully manage competitive advantages in the global market place. 

What value would an MBA specialising in Entrepreneurship and Innovation bring to someone looking to start their own business?
The course provides a systematic overview of the innovation and entrepreneurial processes, as well as the skills required to turn an idea into products or services and successfully take it to market. Most importantly, entrepreneurs can gain the managerial tools required to prioritise tasks, collaborate and operate globally in order to be more innovative and increase the chance of success.

What industries do you see holding the greatest opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators in the next few years?
We are living in a world of considerable innovative change. In my view, there will be opportunities in any number of industries. IT and digital technologies (for example, Internet of things), automotive (e.g. electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles), robotics, bio-technology and healthcare should continue to see a high rate of innovation. However, innovation isn’t just about topics that hit the headlines. Smaller changes can have a big impact in other areas too.

"Entrepreneurs should always be on the lookout for new opportunities, experimenting with their findings, constantly reviewing and re-configuring their new ventures according to the market trends."

For every successful new business, there must be many more that fail – what do budding entrepreneurs need to do (or not do) to increase their chances of success?
It is true most start-ups do not last for long. There is no one single solution for all firms, and there is no one who is perfect in managing new venture and innovation. However, entrepreneurs should always be on the lookout for new opportunities, experimenting with their findings, constantly reviewing and re-configuring their new ventures according to the market trends. It is also important to remember business new venture or innovation itself is not a sole act. Entrepreneurs need to learn how to collaborate and cooperate with others in bringing new ideas to the market. They also need to learn from both their own or others’ successes and failures in order to accumulate knowledge for future survival and growth.

With Brexit looming in the UK, what impact do you think it could have on small businesses?
In Chinese philosophy, risk means both opportunities and threats. There will be opportunities for UK SMEs to trade with the rest of the world outside EU trade agreements. It will also be true that SMEs in some sectors will be hurt significantly. However, some UK entrepreneurs will also benefit from this event. They need to be prepared for the short-term bumpier economic climate while reassessing their own competitive advantages and exploiting new opportunities, perhaps in areas where other firms are struggling to cope with a loss of business or shortage of workers. 

You have experience in developing training courses for a range of corporate clients, are there any skills that they particularly value?
Our business world has become more integrated than ever before. This requires the modern business person to develop strong ‘people skills’. This is because connecting and collaborating effectively and efficiently with talents from all over the world will enable you to work on a global platform which widens both your business and career opportunities, and fulfils your personal aspirations.

"Overestimating the extent of globalisation and attempting to engage in total standardisation strategies will lead to problems winning over foreign customers and employees."

One of your research interests is Chinese and East Asian business – what do you think the West could learn from how business is done in the East?
One of the main themes I highlight in my global business teaching is the need to recognise that differences in cultural, economic, and political systems still exist. Overestimating the extent of globalisation and attempting to engage in total standardisation strategies will lead to problems winning over foreign customers and employees. Firms located in different countries have developed their own unique successful business strategies in their business environment. On of the principles of international business is that firms need to recognise that differences exist in different business systems, try to overcome them by adapting their business models accordingly and making use of these differences to create value across borders. 

What’s the most important piece of career advice you can offer?
I have in fact two pieces of career advice. The first thing is that you need to develop a passion for what you do. You need to transfer such passion into self-motivation. The other advice is that learning is something you need to be constantly doing in order to further improve yourself. You can learn a great deal about success and failure from people you meet and work with.