Negotiations for pandas at Toronto Zoo multifaceted, says Schulich researcher

In a novel educational collaboration between a business school and a Canadian zoo, Schulich School of Business researcher Stephen Weiss has been granted full access to Canadian archival documents and major players in the decades-long Canada-China negotiations that recently brought two giant pandas to the Toronto Zoo.

The negotiated agreement marks the first time a North American zoo consortium, which includes the Calgary Zoo, has achieved an initial loan deal StephenWeisswith China based on five-year stays at each zoo. Typical panda loan agreements have previously involved a minimum 10-year agreement with a single zoo, Weiss said.

Stephen Weiss

“The Canada-China giant panda negotiations offer extraordinary lessons for all negotiators. They are so multifaceted and among other things, reshape traditional notions of how negotiations should be conducted – sitting at a table and hammering out an agreement face to face,” said Weiss, who plans to eventually submit his research findings to an academic journal. “Most of the panda negotiations took place by letter and e-mail.”

Last month, Weiss’s case, “Negotiating About Pandas for San Diego Zoo,” was published and posted on Harvard’s website as a teaching case for the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School (seeYFile, April 3).

Giant panda negotiations are ripe for study because they encompass a complex mix of diplomatic, legal, language and cross-cultural issues between not-for-profit organizations, government and other stakeholders, as well as concerns about animal conservation and the ethical trade of an endangered species, said Weiss.

“The Toronto Zoo has been very supportive in putting me in touch with key players on the Canadian side and relevant documents. From a research perspective, it’s been an extraordinary opportunity. This kind of access to primary material in recent international negotiations is very, very rare,” he said.

Joe Torzsok, chair of the Board of Management for the Toronto Zoo and a Schulich MBA graduate, said the agreement reached by the Canadian consortium “was a first in the zoo world.”

The giant panda exhibit at the Toronto Zoo is scheduled to open to the public on May 18.

While the Toronto Zoo often partners with universities in biology-related research, Torzsok said this collaboration between a Canadian zoo and a business school is an important new step for the Zoo. “I look forward to Professor Weiss’s analysis.”

Weiss is already using role-play exercises based on the Canada-China talks in the classroom at Schulich, where he teaches an MBA-level course, International Business Negotiations. The role-play exercises are also being tested with business students at New York’s Fordham University and Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and could eventually be used at other leading Canadian and U.S. business schools, he said.

“My students are all just nuts about the giant panda simulations,” Weiss said, noting the media attention surrounding the arrival of giant pandas Da Mao and Er Shun at the Toronto Zoo has added to their effectiveness as a teaching tool. “We may talk about this in class Tuesday night and then see something in the newspaper on Wednesday morning, so it really reinforces what we talked out in class and kicks up students’ interest and keeps their enthusiasm high.”

Weiss estimates that about 300 Schulich MBA students have experienced his giant panda negotiation lectures and role-play exercises during the past six years.