Is an MBA a good stepping stone into Asia? The founding director of the Kellogg–HKUST EMBA program shares some thoughts.
What should prospective MBA or EMBA students look for in an Asia-focused program?
There are definitely not enough Asia-related components in most US MBA programs. The need for that depends on an individual student’s career plan. My advice to prospective students is to be very open to global opportunity which will almost certainly require some time in Asia. Asia is such an important business destination for big and growing companies. An Asian component will be critical now more than ten years ago. Having an Asian base is also very important. This is where the growth is.
Prospective students need to make an assessment in terms of their skill path, career level and opportunity. This requires some research, from the websites, rankings, and publications. I encourage a candidate to find their match, not to “blanket” apply to ten schools. Students should look to find their dream school, 2-3 maximum, make sure that they are qualified and pursue that school. MBA forums can also be helpful. I recently attended forums in Hong Kong, London, and Dubai, and can report that the numbers are up and interest in Asia is also up.
A caution: Language skill is very critical especially in China, and without those language skills opportunities will be far less.
Is this program useful for students coming from an Asian cultural background? What sort of jobs would a graduate be competitive for?
We have a mixed background in our student population. There are 55-percent culturally non-Asian from birth, but it’s very difficult to categorize. Our students come from very global background, for example, someone born in the US working for a French company in China.
There has never been a dominant culture in the classroom. We have students from around 20 different countries in any given year. The highest percentage is usually Hong Kong, China or the US, at around 20 percent. Most EMBA programs are culturally dominant. The fact that we are based in Hong Kong, we’ve been finding candidates coming from the US, London, and Russia because they want to connect to Asia and see a future here. This trend is increasing.
How relevant is a program like yours for prospective students with the economic downturn in mind?
For me, education is defendable in any economic climate: getting further educated, better prepared, more qualified. It seems highly motivating when the economic climate is in a downturn. There are careers stalled, people losing jobs, the search for opportunities intensifies.
The demand for education is accelerating. I used to be an admissions dean in the 1980s. During the time when Black Friday occurred and Wall Street was in turmoil, applications went up about 30 percent. I think it’s reasonable to expect a considerable increase in this downturn.
Do we modify our curriculum to take the current context into account? Business schools organize and stay current automatically. The faculty stays on top of the market, focusing on the downturn, how to position one’s self. It’s a natural modification. For example, during Enron, we had a lot of Enron case studies, ethics-based studies.
How do you see the future of business in Asia in general?
The word on the street is that it will be a tough year, but that Asia will come out stronger than many other regions. There is optimism, but there’s still uncertainty about how Asia will end up. The average length of the recession in Asia is predicted at 1 to 1.5 years, which I think is a reasonable prediction.
Would a program like this have helped you through certain difficulties in Asia?
I’m an MBA graduate. I went to Northwestern in the 1980s. Leadership roles are difficult to prepare for. I came to Asia 13 years ago anticipating it being the new growth center. I came before the sovereignty change in Hong Kong, have seen ups and downs and have no intention on leaving. There are many challenges, but the growth, rewards and opportunities are huge. Exposure to diverse cultures has helped me to stay open and flexible – both key leadership attributes.
Are there going to be more partnerships like the Kellogg-HKUST program?
I foresee more and more partnering and collaboration among institutions. There’s a branding war where the reputation of the degree is critical. There are short cuts one can take, but as growth expands in these types of programs, a candidate’s review should be more and more particular about reputation. There is a quality hub in Asia: new programs are operating, older programs are improving, and the need is huge.
Photo Courtesy: Steve DeKrey