Professional development usually entails developing skills needed for career progression in today's competitive world. But many executives are choosing to study an MBA to develop the skills they need to run their own or family businesses, rather than to climb the corporate ladder. One professional development institute catering to this need is the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM), which has operated in Hong Kong since 1997. The school offers an entrepreneurship and strategy course as an elective, which, according to Lene Jensen, associate director of the school's Hong Kong MBA programme, is gaining in popularity and will be offered again as an elective in 2008. 'Approximately 30 per cent of applicants to the programme list 'starting my own business' as a long-term goal,' Ms Jensen said. 'Whether you have a new product or a new way of doing things, having a sound strategy and the management skills to implement it can be the difference between success and failure.' Ms Jensen said the school's entrepreneurship and strategy course took a customer-centric approach to starting and managing a small business. The course content starts with methods to identify unique customer needs and the issues associated with strategic positioning of goods and services. Students then take an in-depth look at business plan development, financing and managing growth. 'We use up-to-date cases on small firms in Asia and other regions to illustrate key entrepreneurship competencies,' Ms Jensen said. The elective is incorporated into the school's broader Hong Kong MBA programme curriculum, which according to Ms Jensen is driven by the many business challenges facing today's managers. Gavin Wyborn is enrolled in an MBA with the school. He said he was already benefiting greatly from his new-found knowledge. Mr Wyborn has owned his own business consultancy in Hong Kong for the past two years. A recent project involved helping a financial manager in a large Hong Kong company of 15,000 employees move from a line-management role to running a new cross-functional business unit that had to start producing results across the business. 'I specialise in feedback processes that help students get to the source of problems and see what's in the way of achieving their goals,' Mr Wyborn said. 'The MBA has added valuable tools and frameworks to my knowledge that enhance my ability to understand and hear a client's concerns across a broader range of business functions. I now take on things in business that I previously felt were off-limits, such as marketing, for example.' Likewise, student Kely Kong, a sales and marketing director in her family's manufacturing company, is doing her MBA to gain more in-depth knowledge about international management practices with which to be more strategic in her own business. 'Family businesses often have a traditional culture with not much exposure to the latest knowledge about international business management systems and trends,' Ms Kong said. 'I want to bring that knowledge into the way we make decisions. I have been practising business management for six years now in the family business, and a lot of things are a matter of common sense. 'With the MBA, I expect to learn about the newest strategic ways of thinking about business processes, marketing and managing people. The AGSM has a wide range of electives that I am finding suitable for me and applicable to the manufacturing sector,' she said. Another student, Graham Merrett, a Hong Kong-based Australian software engineer turned business entrepreneur, said one of the most important things he got from the MBA programme was a new way of thinking about business as a whole, and a new level of business. 'With that confidence I have taken what I have learned in the MBA, coupled with my past experience, and now apply it to several businesses and projects,' he said. Apart from helping the needs of entrepreneurs running their own or family businesses, Ms Jensen said the MBA course material was also appropriate for 'intrapreneurs' - people who wanted to start new lines of businesses within existing companies. The programme offers 12 elective subjects each year in addition to its six core courses, giving students a varied subject choice suitable for a wide range of professions. She said the teaching faculty and students were now looking forward to celebrating the school's 10th anniversary in Hong Kong. It reaches that milestone in July.