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The man behind Chicago Booth Asia - and one of its MBA class

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 September, 2013, 2:42pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 July, 2014, 10:59am

Now that Chicago Booth has done the groundwork in Hong Kong, Richard Johnson, the managing director of its EMBA Programme Asia and a student himself, shares a look behind the scenes.

Q: Can you tell us about your background?

I have worked for Chicago Booth for around seven years now, most of that time on the London campus. I moved to Singapore in April of last year to manage the Asia campus and, previously, had been with a small private company in the UK, which ran education programmes for American colleges and universities sending students to Europe. So, my background has always been education.

Q: Your degree is in French literature, so how did you move from that into education?

The great thing about the US educational system is that, as an undergraduate, you have a lot of opportunities to explore things. Unlike in some other systems, you don’t have to choose your degree subject right away. I started with science and other things and eventually settled on French. I went to France for years as a student, and that was a really transforming experience. From that came my interest in educating people in an international environment.

Q: What is it like being an MBA student and working for the programme at the same time?

It is a very good question, which many people ask me. In the years I’ve worked with Chicago Booth, I heard and talked a lot about the quality of the education, the teaching, and the kind of experiences people go through. It is great being in the programme as I can now speak very firmly, very clearly about that experience – and everything I’d previously heard and talked about is true. From my perspective, one of the better things about our programme is that the faculty “owns” the classroom and they run the academic programme. There is no central administration saying, “This is how you teach and what you teach.” They are very much independent as a faculty.

Also, being a student obviously allows me to see the programme from a different viewpoint. You have feedback from students all the time which lets me know what is really happening in the programme.

Q: What are the key parts of your daily routine?

When the students are there – a couple of weeks every month - my main responsibility is making sure the programme is going well and that faculty and students are happy. Things need to running exactly as they are supposed to. All sorts of things can come up but, generally speaking, it is about listening to students, understanding their experience, and working with our alumni to make sure they are involved in the campus.

Q: Would you consider China to be your next step after establishing the school in Hong Kong?

China is an important market, the second biggest in the world. It is important for us to have an influence there and to be recruiting students and spreading our message. But I think from the perspective of campus location, we are very happy with Hong Kong as an option for us. It is great for accessing China. People know that we are here and it is easier for people to come here to study. We will have a centre in Singapore, a campus in Hong Kong, and centres in Beijing and in India, giving us four platforms across Asia to run all kinds of programmes. For the moment, I think that is probably a pretty good set.

Richard Johnson

Q. How do you see Hong Kong, compared with other Asian cities, for further education?

Hong Kong has many strengths as a centre for education in Asia. One main reason for the school’s decision to relocate the Asia Executive MBA Programme to Hong Kong is its standing as a premier financial and business city and key education hub. This, combined with its proximity to China, offers the opportunity for us to educate and develop a wider range of world leaders in business and finance. Hong Kong’s location can also help in achieving a mix of students from around the region and, thus, a diverse group of students and alumni. A very strong alumni network in Hong Kong will allow us to support our students and the academic programme.

Q. How do you see the competition among schools in Hong Kong?

There are many outstanding programmes here: the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the University of Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong – offering their own courses, as well as joint programmes with partners from both the US and the UK are outstanding. But one of the fundamental beliefs of the University of Chicago and our faculty is that competition is a good thing. Chicago Booth brings a unique proposition in Executive MBA education – the Pure Chicago approach. With this, we teach the same courses, with the same professors, leading to the same degree anywhere we teach in the world. Our faculty will fly to Hong Kong from Chicago to teach the courses. We believe this will enhance the variety of offerings and, therefore, the choices for students in the region.

Q. What do you expect Chicago Booth to do in Hong Kong in the next five years?

Our first goal will be to establish the presence of our Executive MBA programme and recruit another class of top-quality students. The cohort starting in Hong Kong in the summer quarter of 2014 will be our 15th cohort of Executive MBA students in Asia. Initially, we will run our programme from a temporary campus in Hong Kong, but this space will be of the same high-quality, state-of-the art design as all Chicago Booth campuses. We are also working to gain the necessary contracts, approvals and permissions for the site at Mt. Davis to begin construction of a permanent campus. 

In addition to training leaders from Hong Kong and the region through our Executive MBA Programme, Chicago Booth will undertake other activities in the next five-plus years, which I believe will be of benefit to the people of Hong Kong. For example, we will conduct some non-degree executive education courses for companies, as well as open-enrolment courses for managers who are interested. When not in use for our own programmes, we will also make our facilities available for a variety of corporate training and other activities.

We also hope the school’s Social Enterprise Initiative will serve as a catalyst to encourage social entrepreneurs in the region. We expect that our class will include a significant number of non-Hong Kong residents who will fly in, become familiar with the city and, therefore, be inclined to continue doing business in Hong Kong after they graduate.