Executive education, the kind of non-degree brief spell of study at a renowned school or university, is a given in many organisations in Hong Kong. But the customised programmes at prestigious establishments overseas often favoured by companies in Hong Kong do not come cheap. Does the cost outweigh the benefits? Not according to Sandy Fok, general manager of staff development at John Swire & Sons Hong Kong. 'We introduced executive education to our own people 25 years ago and it has proven that it has worked, with most trainees moving up to junior manager and then on to more senior operational and strategic roles,' she said. 'We think it has been effective in terms of grooming our pipeline of future leaders. 'Of course, retention has to be a combination of many things, but executive education is part and parcel of this. People look forward to going on the programmes and those with high potential really see this as a benefit. It is definitely worthwhile,' Ms Fok said. There are four key reasons why organisations should consider investing in executive education. First, it helps to maintain competitive advantage because it provides an introduction to the latest management techniques and concepts, best practices and available tools that can be used effectively within a business. Second, executives have to take the time to think when they are attending an executive development programme. People in Hong Kong are often so busy working that they rarely think strategically about what they're doing, how they add and capture value and build a business. Being withdrawn from the company allows an executive time to ask these questions. The third reason is that executive education programmes offer executives the chance to interact with other executives. Building that network allows for a lot of experience sharing. Regardless of whether a group of 25 or more executives are from the same or different companies, between them they have a wealth of business experience that proffers a substantial amount of knowledge to tap into. The final reason is that executive education does broaden perspectives, according to Kathleen Slaughter, dean of the Richard Ivey School of Business, Asia. 'When you're in your work environment you tend to have 20/20 vision, but it's in a very narrow circle,' she said. 'When you learn how other companies have managed business challenges, and looked at their point of view and their problems, it can be very helpful.' Richard Ivey offers custom and consortium programmes. Of its consortium programmes, one is for senior executives and the other, AMT, or Accelerating Management Talent, is for mid-level managers. Each programme lasts 12 days but is typically held in four three-day modules. The school's customised programmes are designed with an organisation to meet its current challenges. Professor Slaughter said in the past five years, more local companies in Hong Kong had begun implementing customised programmes so that the ratio had swung from almost exclusively multinational companies to an equal split between multinational and local. 'The big HR issue two years ago was how to attract talent because there was such a shortage of it. Now we've got this momentary blip in that there's more talent than jobs. But it is a momentary blip. As soon as the economy becomes somewhat normal there's still going to be a shortage of talent and we really need to develop people,' Professor Slaughter said. 'It's very expensive to hire somebody and have them leave right away so companies have to invest in people and develop programmes for them. That's where HR professionals have really come to the fore in designing programmes that move a person through the organisation, show what it can do for them, how they will develop into various roles, and get help with their career paths. That's energising to somebody coming in.' From an early stage, executives within the Swire Group are periodically sent to schools such as Insead, Kellogg, Stanford and Oxford universities to attend programmes that last from two to eight weeks. Ms Fok said that it was important to take managers out of their regular routine and try to inspire them through exposure to new management theories and different case studies. 'The first advantage is for inspiration, to give them space to take a step back and re-examine their business when they return, perhaps with some new ideas as to how to bring the business forward or to solve a particular issue,' she said. 'The second advantage of these executive programmes to us and our people is, of course, the broadening of horizons. We tend to keep our people for a long time and it is important that they don't get stuck in a certain industry view or perspective of looking at things,' Ms Fok said. She added that by putting employees into these broader programmes it broadened their mindset from the knowledge and leadership points of view. This was a great advantage to anyone, whatever stage of their career they were in, she said.