Business education must meet demand and adapt to the times, and in the current environment that means turning the spotlight more than ever on Asia. Students being trained as future corporate leaders need an understanding of everything from China’s economic policies and Hong Kong’s financial hub to the region’s manufacturing powerhouses and emerging markets.
The importance of these forces – and the people who influence them – will only grow in global terms. Recognising that, business schools around the world are therefore accelerating their efforts to establish partnerships, create programmes and invest as necessary to give students the exposure and expertise needed to make their mark in “Asia’s century”.
“Intensified competition leads you to reflect in the best sense on where the market is moving and what the ‘customer’ wants,” says Wendy Alexander, associate dean for degree programmes and career services at London Business School (LBS). “Our observation is that Hong Kong is pulling ahead as the regional centre for business and executive education. So, as an institution, we are trying to grow here to help students advance their customised learning journey whether they are self-funded, [company sponsored], looking for self-transformation or promotion, or are more entrepreneurial in their thinking.”
Wendy Alexander, associate dean for degree programmes and career services at London Business School (LBS)
LBS is already well known locally for the EMBA Global -Asia programme it offers in collaboration with HKU Business School and Columbia Business School in New York. In addition, it has introduced the Global Business Experiences (GBEs) concept for students taking London-based courses. This entails a week-long class visit to Hong Kong, as one of five global centres, for lectures, workshops, panel discussions, company visits and meetings with bankers, business leaders, regulators and alumni.
With such initiatives, the aim is to go beyond the “cookie cutter” approach to business education by offering more electives, on-site experience in different parts of the world, and practical, personalised advice. The latter comes in the form of “diagnostics”, helping individuals identify early on which path or combination of electives will best serve them with their current employer or for a possible move elsewhere.
Some may want an all-round education in general management if, for example, they work a mainland-based company with ambitions of extending its international reach. Others may incline more towards one function, region or specialisation, like funding a start-up and getting it off the ground.
“The EMBA, in particular, can be tailored to different learning requirements,” says Alexander, who visited Hong Kong in late March. “We think this is very valuable and, increasingly, it is what executives want as they prepare for career transitions.”
She notes too that, 10 years ago, two-thirds of the students from Asia who came to LBS would stay on in London to work. That trend has now reversed, with the majority of such graduates returning to find roles in Asia.
“We see a very strong desire in the financial community to spend time in London to understand the depth of the capital markets there and learn the lessons of the financial crisis,” Alexander says. “And, of course, one of the ways you stay number one is by helping to develop capital markets where they are needed.”
With this in mind, the school has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE). It gives SAFE employees access to the LBS master of finance programme and, with it, the chance to study the intricacies of, say, asset management and derivative products, while also being able to take interdisciplinary electives from the general suite of courses.
“We are creating more of these ‘mix and match’ opportunities, which we see as the way of the future,” Alexander says. “And in keeping with most other schools, we emphasise the need for executives to be culturally ambidextrous, so they are able to operate with ease anywhere around the world.”
As the millennial generation advances, it is also important for business schools to adjust accordingly. The headline numbers show fewer students are interested in a career in banking and finance. Instead, more are looking towards corporate management, involvement in start-ups, or having a role in social enterprises.
“The question for us is how to give people experience of both the business and ‘non-business’ cultures and quickly generate an understanding of the different stakeholder environments,” Alexander says. “It is all about creating ‘crucible’ moments during the learning journey which students carry with them.”