People commonly regard MBA students as white-collar professionals, keen to make their mark in fast-paced, cutting-edge businesses.
Few see the qualification as a requirement for selling vegetables, but according to recent reports in the local Chinese press, the owner of six vegetable stalls in Wong Tai Sin is proving the MBA is more inclusive than some might assume.
Over the past five years, the 47-year-old, surnamed Lo, completed a first degree in business administration and then went on to take an MBA at the Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK). The university’s open-entry system undoubtedly made this possible. It allows someone who left school after Form Five to start studying for a degree and, with that, to progress further.
Mr Lo isn’t the oldest person to gain an MBA - the course offers advanced training and people opt to take it at different stages of their careers. However, he is among the smallish group of applicants who come to the programme by a less conventional route.
Initially, the reports say, Lo had only intended to enrol in a Putonghua course at the Open University to help him communicate with workers at his vegetable processing plant in the mainland. But once he started learning, he grew more interested and decided there was no reason he couldn’t pursue a full degree. At the outset, he may not have realised just how much the two business courses would help him improve efficiency and reduce unnecessary wastage at his stalls. Concepts like human resource management, seemingly more relevant to an office setting, have also proved useful in his “street business” for organising staff and providing motivation.
Tough as it must have been juggling work and study, he has no regrets about making such a commitment. Indeed, the case shows the value of broad-based training for people from various backgrounds, working with different business models or types of venture.
The MBA is an option for people already running a business or planning a start-up. Depending on individual needs, they can also specialise in areas like financial management, marketing or human resource management, but the main purpose of the programme is to provide a far-ranging business education.
For example, the two-year OUHK programme includes courses on investment and portfolio management, international management strategy, advanced information systems, and e-commerce strategy.
In an era of innovation, when new ideas can do so much to boost productivity and cut costs, the knowledge an MBA gives can also inspire a fresh approach to old problems.
Besides seeing the benefits of improved business operations, Lo is no doubt pleased as well to have opened up all sorts of new possibilities in his life.