Industry's bright, young things
Big multinationals can take nothing for granted. They know that sustained success and developing new markets requires constant analysis, innovation and improvement if they are to maintain an edge and stay one step ahead of the competition.
'We realise how important it is to keep transforming,' says Helen Bao, Greater China corporate marketing and sales manager for chemicals giant DuPont. 'Historically, we have always been strong around product innovation. But we are becoming a more market-driven science company [so we] are looking to hire people who can make that happen.'
Possible recruits must meet two basic criteria. They should have the flair and hard skills to run major marketing projects likely to involve extensive research, product launches and promotional campaigns. And they should show the leadership potential to handle complex big-budget assignments and, in due course, take on senior executive roles.
'We know MBA graduates from HKUST will bring an analytical mind, creativity, critical thinking, and a broad international perspective,' says Beijing-based Bao, who also oversees DuPont's marketing effectiveness for Asia.
'Typically, when they join, we don't expect specific market knowledge, but that they have the range of skills and experience to learn quickly and make an impact.'
Bao says MBA recruits enter an in-house programme with two job rotations of 18 months to two years each. This introduces them to the functions and challenges of the business units. It also gives early, hands-on responsibility in marketing, business development and strategic planning.
Such roles can involve everything from testing opportunities in target markets to co-ordinating a new product launch in China, assessing internal capabilities, and going out to talk to potential customers in the field. The company's aim is to provide breadth and depth of practical experience and not simply to throw people in at the deep end expecting them to meet, say, a US$5 million (HK$39 million) sales quota with inadequate preparation.
'I also head an internal consulting group, so the kind of people I look for may have some experience in consulting prior to taking their MBA,' Bao says. 'Our MBA hires tend to have sales and marketing backgrounds. Some candidates may previously have been in commercial banking, but usually such people don't apply for positions in industry.'
Weighing up the comparative strengths of leading MBA programmes around the world, Bao suggests that, in terms of financial knowledge and management theory, students can expect to cover fairly similar ground. What makes the big difference is each school's approach to teaching the softer skills - such as team building, public speaking and self-awareness - and creating opportunities for personal networking and overseas exchanges.
'When we consider China, I also think 'local' MBA graduates, for example those from HKUST, have some home turf advantage,' Bao says. 'They are really in tune with market developments in the mainland, but also have the necessary global outlook from being in classes with a very international composition.'
Recruits joining DuPont's leadership development programme are left in no doubt about the need to perform. They come in at a higher level than most, which understandably brings with it a different scale of expectations.
At the outset, they may have marketing knowledge and the vocabulary that goes with it. They won't, though, have the specific market expertise about the division and industry, so seeing how best to apply classroom theory to practice is one of the first tests to pass.
'The company culture is very nurturing and won't leave a person on his or her own,' Bao says. 'But for MBA graduates, there is definitely a greater level of expectation. We are looking for leadership traits and want them to use all their skills. This is all part of our philosophy of people development.'
As a general point, Bao notes that every employer of new MBAs has to find a balance. It is essential, on the one hand, to give ambitious, energetic and talented recruits early opportunities to show their mettle. On the other hand, the new hires, whatever their skills and self-belief, must go out of their way to understand the culture and environment in which they are now working. 'It takes time to understand how to influence management and how to communicate effectively. It is a sign of maturity to be able to adapt and get things done through others.'