THE RUNAWAY popularity of MBAs has toughened the competition for seats in classrooms, and candidates hoping for a place at a business school with an internationally renowned reputation often have to prove they are commendable contenders before even submitting an application. Depending on what one reads into rankings, the Richard Ivey School of Business MBA and EMBA programmes could be perceived as some of the best in Asia. Last year, its MBA programme was ranked number one in Hong Kong by the Financial Times. This year, it ranked the business school the number one provider of executive education in Greater China. In the lead up to each EMBA intake, hopeful executives are put through a pre-qualification process, which allows the school to evaluate a candidate's career progression, academic abilities and the required drive to take on its demanding programme. Only those deemed to fit into the Ivey culture are encouraged to submit applications. Each year between 45 and 50 participants are accepted. Mark Staudenmann was a successful candidate and this year will graduate from the programme. The senior vice-president at Credit Suisse began his career in banking 17 years ago in his home country of Switzerland. A broad range of positions covering different divisions of the industry led him to Hong Kong, where he has lived for more than four years. Despite a solid background in his industry, Mr Staudenmann said undertaking an MBA was an important step in his career, and a much-needed intellectual challenge. Following considerable time spent looking at the options available, and after swapping research notes with other candidates, Mr Staudenmann opted for the Ivey EMBA in Hong Kong. He said the quality of the Ivey students was exceptional. 'I visited the class and some events at Ivey. The people I met were outstanding, very open and approachable. Even on my first visit, I made some friends and can vividly remember the in-depth discussions we had.' Mr Staudenmann said the level of teaching, provided in part by staff from the business school's Canadian headquarters, was world class. 'This adds to the multicultural experience and provides very interesting insights from both the old and the new worlds,' he said. 'As a Swiss living in Hong Kong, [I found it] particularly interesting to do the EMBA here, as I was not only learning from the cases but also about Asian culture. I am now much more at home in Hong Kong than two years ago.' Yena Huang, a group manager in corporate financial planning at Procter & Gamble, graduates in October this year. She chose the Ivey programme because of its diversified management experience, which covers a broad range of case studies, from Chinese enterprises to entrepreneurs across Asia, and Hong Kong-based international companies. Ms Huang said that, overall, she was most impressed by the case-study work on the course because it helped her to put her academic knowledge into practice. She said it taught her to use common sense when developing business models. Ms Huang said that, generally, MBA programmes were respected by mainland companies for their business management knowledge, but that practical experience was still more highly valued. MBA degrees from renowned international business schools were highly regarded, she said. Ms Huang, whose work experience includes financial analysis and working as site controller for a manufacturing company, said the Ivey experience was excellent in terms of building diversity, enriching management knowledge and streamlining management experience. The business school's alumni network plays a key role in making its programmes a success. Mr Staudenmann is an active member of the school's alumni network and a member of the Ivey Alumni Association Executive Committee. He has helped organise several events, including a charity dinner, which last year raised enough funds to build a primary school on the mainland. He said the network was the most valuable asset he acquired from the programme, and almost from day one he was able to call on an expert in almost any business field. Since joining the programme he had begun doing business with some of his fellow alumni, and made many friends. 'A network will give you back as much as you put in,' he said. 'Ivey's network is very strong in Asia and North America. My personal network is great in Europe and with this I really cover most places I could think might be important in my life.' For experienced business managers, tailored business courses were more effective learning tools than MBA programmes, Ms Huang said, adding that MBA education should be based on bettering business judgment and the management process. She recommends a case-study orientated programme because it helps create balance between the common-sense logic in business management and academic business models. The next intake for the Ivey MBA and EMBA programmes is in August.