Calibrated 'like a well-oiled machine'
It takes more than academic rigour and changing curriculum content for the Kellogg-HKUST EMBA to place consistently among the world's top executive education programmes.
To achieve excellence and attract the best in terms of students, faculty, guest speakers and partners across the global business community, it is also necessary to set and maintain high standards in every area the programme touches.
This extends from admissions procedures and administrative support to accommodation and the general teaching environment. All these factors - and more - have a direct impact on its reputation and effectiveness, meaning that no item, be it long-term strategy initiative or small detail to help a single student, gets overlooked.
'Anyone in my business knows you need to look ahead, but you also have to pay attention to the details,' says Professor Steven DeKrey, senior associate dean and director of MBA/EMBA/MSC programmes at the HKUST School of Business and Management. 'Our students are pretty special. They are in significant roles in their respective sectors, so a good EMBA programme keeps its ear to the ground and makes sure to get everything right.'
DeKrey notes that the 'trick' to remaining ahead of the game is to listen to students and act on their feedback. The views they express both in class and more informally reflect what is going on 'out there' in the world of business and how expectations are changing.
On one level, therefore, more questions about digital and social marketing have led to a tailor-made module built around the integration of new technology in today's sales strategies. Similarly, new classes on topics such as private equity and entrepreneurship in Asia have been introduced in response to increasing interest in these dynamic areas.
On another level, since the students are also high-flying executives with international experience, the school makes a point of providing them with top-grade facilities, lodgings and food during their weekends on campus. Indeed, with the help of a very generous donation, HKUST is building a new business centre and an accommodation block with rooms equivalent to those in a premium hotel.
'The process is one of continuous improvement, so we usually have a new course or two for each intake,' DeKrey says. 'One of our strengths is broad coverage, which works best for senior executives, but we adjust with the times, like a well-oiled machine, to keep everything topical.'
To give a global perspective, students take four courses in Chicago and can opt for modules at partner schools in Toronto, Tel Aviv, Miami and Germany. This allows individuals to pick electives appropriate to their industry, personal interests or career goals. There is also an emphasis on hiring professors and co-teachers who are acknowledged experts in their field - perhaps marketing in China, corporate governance or financial derivatives - but who understand the importance of day-to-day practicalities.
Noting the need to create an atmosphere conducive to learning, DeKrey characterises the Kellogg-HKUST EMBA as team-oriented. Typically, the students tend to be 'cultural hybrids', representing many different nationalities, but not tied to a single country's outlook or interests. They are internationally mobile, open-minded, and culturally aware.
'In general, the self-interested 'tigers' don't really fit in,' DeKrey says. 'These days, as an executive, you drive results, but must do it in a socially acceptable way.'
Remarking that the best leaders are usually the best learners, he notes that a prime motivation for many EMBA candidates is the realisation they can go higher, but must first gain skills and address obvious weaknesses. Progressive on-the-job learning plays a part, but may not offer the breadth of new experience, the wealth of contacts, and the spur to self-confidence that make it possible to take a significant step forward.
'Those who come to this kind of education a little later in life are really serious about it,' DeKrey says. 'There is a need to know and, sometimes, an almost euphoric sense of relief that they are learning key things they previously missed out on. Both students and faculty are at the front end of their functions, so they are studying cases that are immediately relevant to the world of work and which may have global implications.'