TYPICALLY, THERE are two types of people who want to take an MBA: keen, young professionals who are desperate to get ahead but are still a little wet behind the ears; and highly experienced senior executives who want to bring greater efficiency to their working practices. Despite their common goal, these two often have very different needs and expectations. 'We discovered these two groups of students didn't mix well,' said Andrew Chan Chi-fai, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Faculty of Business Administration. While the one group graduated quite recently and were strong on academic learning and taking exams, he said, the other group preferred a more practical, hands-on approach to learning. Professor Chan said CUHK noticed this trend early on and responded by developing a new type of programme. The school, which first offered a part-time MBA course in 1979, launched its Executive MBA (EMBA) course in 1993. Professor Chan is the course director of the EMBA programme. 'We discovered that if we taught the senior executives separately, they became a lot more homogenous within the group,' Professor Chan said. The students were what separated the course from normal MBAs, he said. 'Their objectives and their motivations are different, so we need to approach the executives differently.' Experience is one of the key elements to the course. The school requires a minimum of seven years' experience at management level on entry to the course, but Professor Chan said the average was around 14 years. Some students had more than 20 years' experience. 'Many of our students are chief executives or one level below that. They are very demanding.' Teaching such experienced professionals meant focusing predominantly on the practical aspects of the subject - applying theory to real world situations rather than theory for theory's sake. The school tried to use as many case studies as possible, Professor Chan said. It also invited top chief executives as guest speakers because the students preferred contact with real business people to professors and teachers. 'When they complete the course they still just have an MBA, it's just the same. It's not the end result that matters - it's the process.' About 50 students enter the two-year course each year, and nearly 400 have graduated so far. Professor Chan said the school limited the student intake to maintain high-quality students. 'We don't want to make too much money. We want students who have the potential to contribute - both to society and to business,' he said. The application procedure involves an in-depth interview, in which three professors question candidates on their views on political, legal and environmental issues. Candidates are also required to demonstrate the content of their daily work. The CUHK EMBA consistently ranks among the top in its class. In a global survey by the Financial Times this year, the course came 12th in a list of 80 - it came 20th in 2002 and last year. The course has been ranked as the best in Asia. But Professor Chan placed little importance on the school's position in such league tables. 'Ranking doesn't come first,' he said, explaining the school was on a 'quest for excellence', which determined it needed to attract good students and the best teaching staff. 'We place quality before ranking. When we design the course content, we look at its value in the education sector.' Recognition simply came naturally when you had a quality product, he said. 'Ranking is a byproduct.' Many EMBA programmes include an intensive week-long, live-in training course during which students work together on problem-solving exercises and experience group bonding. The CUHK course includes two, and Professor Chan said they were an integral and valuable part of the course. 'The first week is when they enrol, and we use it to tell them what business is and why they should be good leaders,' he said. But most importantly it allowed the class to break the ice. 'It's good for them to mingle and get to know each other.' At the end of the course, the class spends a week overseas on a study tour of different cultures. 'By that point, the students have learned a lot, so it's good for us to take them to a new environment,' he said. The trip presented the students with the challenge of finding, in such a short time, how business worked. He said it also encouraged creative thinking. 'It is not just a learning situation, we are also looking for business opportunities. This is not a tour group, it's a business trip.' Many EMBA courses charge much higher fees than traditional MBA courses, with some costing more than $600,000 - three times the price of most MBAs. Professor Chan said CUHK kept its costs to the minimum.