With Carl Benz Academy, Woodbury extends reach to China

Woodbury University is extending its reach east, helping to launch a customized MBA program in Beijing that is designed to prepare automobile industry executives for a global economy.

The Carl Benz Academy has launched a three-year pilot program in collaboration with Mercedes-Benz China and the Burbank campus, as well as Peking University in China and Free University of Berlin.

In an email from the kick-off earlier this week in Beijing, Andre van Niekerk, dean of Woodbury University’s business school, said the program facilitates collaboration among faculties of different cultures while allowing them “to produce scholarly work that will enhance their own careers and bring recognition to the school of business.”

The first Carl Benz Academy class includes 35 students hand-picked from the employee ranks of Mercedes-Benz China who will follow a customized curriculum that includes traditional classroom learning and distance education. Additional classes of 50 to 75 students will be added each year.

“Bringing together the best, from three continents, will give our Chinese executives and managers valuable global insights and provide them with practical management tools to further the development growth of their dealerships and the Mercedes-Benz brand in China,” Klaus Maier, president of Mercedes-Benz China, said in a statement.

Woodbury professors, who will travel to Beijing at the beginning of each term and then teach digitally from Burbank, are responsible for teaching organizational leadership, self leadership and automotive and luxury brand marketing, van Niekerk said.

The Chinese students will make a trip to Woodbury University sometime during their course of study.

“Since the inception of the Carl Benz Academy, the three partners have developed an amazing bond of collaboration and mutual respect,” van Niekerk said. “Discussions are already underway between faculty for collaborative research projects. This is exactly what we envisioned as a byproduct of this relationship.”

Woodbury’s role in the specialized MBA program was born out of a long-standing relationship between its dean and Mercedes-Benz, university officials said. A market strategist and expert on luxury brands, van Niekerk has helped the automaker sells its products globally.

He also brought Mercedes-Benz projects to his students. Most recently, Woodbury University students assisted in the launch of the brand’s Smart Car in China. They also helped with customer studies and design concepts of the Mercedes-Benz compact B-class sedan, which isn’t yet sold in the U.S., and R-class vehicle, which is sold here, as the company reassessed its position in the American market.

The Carl Benz Academy takes that relationship one step further, opening a door for Woodbury University staff and students in one of the fastest growing economies in the world, said university Senior Vice President David Rosen.

“I think having a foot in Asia is really very exciting,” Rosen said. “We have already had the benefit of being involved with them on exciting projects that have given students a chance they wouldn’t have had anywhere else.”

Carl Benz, the program’s namesake, was a German engineer who is regarded as the inventor of the gasoline-powered automobile, the Benz Patent Motorwagen, in 1885. He was a co-founder of the company that became known as Daimler-Benz, and later, Mercedes-Benz.

Photo: Dan Fahey of Mercedes-Benz positions a 2012 AMG Driving Academy Mercedes-Benz C63 coupe for display during media days at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times / November 17, 2011

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