Update to innovate
In executive education, as in business, competition is tough and staying on top can never be taken for granted. Aware of this, the faculties behind the highly regarded Kellogg-HKUST EMBA keep every aspect of the programme - content, balance, electives and accommodation - under close review, and have made innovation and improvement a constant theme.
'A leading programme like this has to progress and adapt, to reflect the fast-changing global environment,' says Leonard Cheng, dean of HKUST Business School. 'And with a shift in gravity apparent in the world economy, it is especially important to understand Asia and China, and where they now fit in the macroeconomic picture.'
Cheng notes that many lessons have already been drawn from the financial crisis and duly incorporated in course modules and discussion topics, such as the need to make risk management, ethics, structure and corporate governance central to their strategic plans.
Another vital factor is studying how evolving attitudes on green issues, technology and social responsibility are changing the business landscape.
'The principles of leadership and managing a business remain the same, but as the broader environment changes, you have to challenge perspectives and change some of the skills,' Cheng says.
'Our job is therefore not to give a qualification or label, but to ensure executives have the comprehensive business knowledge and insights to take their companies into new areas in a changed or different environment, to do well, and to make an impact,' he adds.
Specialising in macroeconomics and international capital markets, Professor Milind Rao, of HKUST's department of economics, finds that his course can be the easiest and toughest for EMBA students. On the one hand, it is interesting for senior-level managers to analyse policies that can topple governments and move markets. On the other hand, unlike in other courses, an EMBA class will include a range of strongly-held, contrasting views.
'With a group of heavy hitters like this, I have to raise my game,' says Rao, whose efforts have been recognised with several 'top faculty' awards. 'They are senior executives who expect a lot - and rightly so. They have extensive experience, and so can all contribute to the discussion and to the understanding of the rest of the class.'
Using current events as a starting point, Rao might outline the fundamentals of the euro crisis and its possible implications. What brings the subject alive is that one student may be working for a European head office, another may be concerned about falling exports to Spain or Italy, and a third may be an expert in forex trading.
'In such cases, I'm helped by the diversity of the class - it works in my favour,' Rao says. 'It means that strong opinions and personal feelings are expressed, not vague comments or stereotypes. Also, the students see how these big issues are affecting everyday lives, so they walk away with something tangible.'
That achieves one of the course's main objectives: convincing people to look at things from the macro-level, interpret the big picture, and not simply skate across the surface.
'Things are often written up [in academic journals] two or three years after the event. But we have to be topical and get executives thinking about the effect of fundamental changes taking place now,' Rao says.
As director of MBA and EMBA programmes at HKUST Business School, Professor Steven DeKrey is working to improve two areas. The first is to ensure enough places are available for students wanting to take up overseas electives. At present, Kellogg-HKUST EMBA options include Chicago, Frankfurt, Miami, Tel Aviv and Toronto, but demand continues to grow.
The second is to get final plans approved for an on-campus block geared to the needs of business executives on part-time study. It will have tailor-made facilities and bigger breakout rooms, with an upgraded restaurant and accommodation nearby.
Other than that, DeKrey believes the EMBA is in 'very good shape', something confirmed by its consistently high placing in global rankings. 'Our partnership and the fact we have our own model make us quite unique,' DeKrey says. 'We are comfortable in terms of student intakes and our overall leadership role, and even though we don't have a direct benchmark, we still keep an eye on the competition.'
To maintain its standards, admission criteria and numbers are closely monitored. There is also a certain emphasis on ensuring that each class of around 60 represents a good mix of industries or sectors, international experience and cultural backgrounds.
'We are now seeing more candidates from industries like shipping which traditionally weren't as 'professionalised' as finance, real estate or manufacturing,' DeKrey says. 'These are very complex companies with a broad reach, and their executives see real benefits from a diverse global programme.'