Portrait of a pioneer spirit

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 March, 2011, 12:00am

Professor Judy Tsui cautiously concedes that it can sometimes be difficult to fit everything in, but then she is juggling more responsibilities than most people would dare even contemplate.

As vice-president for international and executive education, and director of the graduate school of business at Polytechnic University (PolyU), Tsui is one of the city's foremost academics, organising and teaching elite courses, while also shaping policy.

Besides that, she sits on government committees related to grants, broadcasting and economic co-operation, acts as visiting professor at several mainland universities, is a non-executive director for CLP Power and China Vanke, and helps edit the Journal of Contemporary Accounting and Economics.

'I'm happy working so hard,' says Tsui, who first qualified as an accountant before switching to teach at the then-new Hang Seng School of Commerce in the early 1980s. 'There are pressures and the travelling can take a toll, but I'm able to make a difference sharing what I've learned and hope my three children have also learned my work ethic.'

When things seem particularly hectic, Tsui is apt to recall her own mother's oft-repeated advice. Essentially, that was to realise you never lose out by doing more. You only gain through involvement in different areas and enterprises and should not be too short-term or calculating in your approach.

It is an outlook and mentality she tries fervently to instil in students, whatever their level, background or choice of course. Her firm belief is that motivation and enthusiasm to learn can take anyone a long way in life. And what still gives her a real sense of pride and fulfilment are the stories of alumni who have taken the chances that education offers, transformed themselves, and gone on to build successful professional careers. 'I want students to have that hunger to learn, not a complacent attitude,' she says. 'We exist in a dynamic world where you must have an open mind and be able to process information into knowledge. Our young people must continue to be bi-literate and tri-lingual, but I also want them to exercise individual judgment.'

That kind of individualism, indeed pioneer sprit, has been evident at various times throughout Tsui's career. Having originally gone into education in part for the flexible hours and on-campus housing that made it easier to start a family, she never saw a reason to slow down or take a career break, even as her commitments multiplied.

A move to the-then City Polytechnic in the mid 1980s, followed by a master's in London, the progression from principal lecturer to chair professor, and a PhD in accounting at Chinese University allowed her to achieve a series of firsts in academic distinction.

'I felt I could contribute more by balancing work and family life, and I have had very good support from my husband,' she says.

'My children tell me I am very lucky they did not go bad. They have very good values and take care of each other, and we have been able to stay close.'