ANDY LAU IS an experienced executive who has run his own business successfully for many years. He had no reason to pursue qualifications to further his career. Instead, his desire to return to the classroom was prompted by a looming personal milestone. 'I was turning 50 this year and I thought it would be a good idea to do something meaningful before I was 50,' Mr Lau said. Having looked at a variety of options Mr Lau decided an MBA would be the best course of action. 'I considered quite a few programmes, but then my brother-in-law recommended the IEMBA at HKUST and I knew it was for me,' he said. The programme structure and China-focus attracted him straight away, but it was the school's internationally renowned academic staff that became the deciding factor. Mr Lau is one of 44 Class of 2005 students to graduate today. Fresh from the programme, he said it had opened his eyes to a new dimension of business and management practices. 'When I started I didn't really have any clear study goals - I just felt that studying was better than not studying,' he said. 'Normally, I make all the decisions in my company and it occurred to me that there might have been some gaps in my experience. After taking the course, I've realised that actually there were some really big gaps.' Mr Lau has been the boss of his company for 24 years and is used to being the decision maker and having his own way. Signing up for the programme meant adapting to a different dynamic in the course's group work. One of the biggest challenges for Mr Lau - and many of his classmates from similar backgrounds - was learning to respect the opinions of others. Thrown into executive situations where everyone is equal was unknown territory to him and he quickly learned to listen closely to what others had to say and consider their reasoning. 'Being in a group was quite difficult, as I had to accept other people's opinions. You can't always have your own way.' He said he was a lot more open to other people's ideas now, whereas before the programme he used to dismiss them out of hand. 'Everyone is a boss or a high-level manager. We're all used to making decisions and going straight into the execution. But in this course we needed to spend more time in the decision-making process. Though that could be frustrating at times, I think it taught the importance of considering all the options available rather than simply making an arbitrary choice.' Initial apprehension about confronting a classmate's opinion abated as the course progressed and students got to know each other. They became less concerned with treading on the toes of others, which ultimately resulted in some heated discussions, Mr Lau said, adding that that, too, was part of the learning process. Mr Lau's company, Sun Fung Hong Enterprise, manufactures and trades a diversified range of products, including electronics, office equipment, assembly machinery and motor parts. Taking the course meant that Mr Lau needed to be away from his company for about one week each calendar month. While that naturally had an effect on his work, it was not all negative. 'I used to think that I always had to be at the office all the time, that the company wouldn't function without me. But doing this course meant I had to be away a lot and I discovered that the world goes on turning.' That led him to delegate more responsibilities to his subordinates and made him realise the value of a more hands-free approach. 'These are important management skills. As a company manager you really need to put a lot of effort into human resources.'