No pain, no gain - this old adage proved to be true for Betty Tam Wing-yu when she received her master's degree from Polytechnic University last year. It was also her spring of inspiration during the rigorous two-year course in which she had to juggle work with her personal and MBA life. 'Maintaining a balanced and healthy life then was very hard. The workload, which included course work, group projects and field trips, was heavy and rushing to class after a work meeting was sometimes unavoidable,' said Ms Tam, director of administration and marketing at Multi Express, a local logistics company. After she was promoted to director five years ago, she acknowledged that running a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) in a cutthroat market required her to hone her competitiveness, improve her time-management skills and learn strategies on how to lead a team of about 200 employees. 'When I enrolled, I was already in my current position, so it wasn't about career advancement at all. It was more geared towards helping the company. It has kept me for 10 years and helped me with my career, so I want to return that favour,' she said. She chose to do her MBA at PolyU because she had studied for her graduate degree there and a friend had recommended the course. She said that one could only learn so much within a certain number of years and then creativity came to a standstill. An MBA was her access to a wealth of benefits that could not be picked up from her job. The programme proved to be an eye-opener for Ms Tam where she was exposed to people from different fields and where sharing work-related problems and strategies also meant learning and creating a new network of friends. 'It was an exhilarating experience where I learned that in order to think outside the box, I have to jump out of the box first. And whenever I learn a little something, I bring that idea back in and apply it.' Although she was already armed with expertise and management experience, she had to make sacrifices and face challenges for a more enriching experience. She recalled that one of the challenges she and her classmates went through was 'choosing a leader among leaders' for their group projects because almost all of them were at mid-level management from different industries. But this did not get in the way of her learning. One of her treasured experiences was gaining insight into management strategies through her classmates' experiences, mistakes and problem-solving skills. 'Although we were from different industries, we shared a common goal - to learn from each other,' she said. 'The most interesting thing about the whole experience was the field trips we did. There was this course where we had to learn how to create and manage SMEs in Hong Kong and on the mainland. Each group spent two months studying and analysing an SME by interviewing the company owner and visiting its factory on the mainland. It was inspiring as I am managing an SME, too.' As with every little thing in life, sacrifices are unavoidable. Where weekends were once spent for leisure and holidays with the family, Ms Tam had to face drastic changes on this front. 'I had to sacrifice days off, holidays and leisure time doing project after project and attending group meetings, lectures and seminars,' she said. Her priority, of course, was her job and, although the lectures and seminars fitted quite well with her work schedule, sometimes she had to rearrange client meetings to avoid clashing with evening classes or out-of-town field trips. Other times she had to give up field trip opportunities to South Korea and Xi'an because they clashed with her work projects. Completing the programme took a lot of organisation, self-discipline and perseverance, she said. Before pursuing her master's degree on general management, Ms Tam did not even have time for a quick visit to the gym. 'This is all about perseverance. No pain, no gain. You might think you're too busy to do something else but if you dare to do it, you can,' she said. In essence, a master's degree offers a solid grounding in every aspect of management, but one cannot decide to take it without perseverance and dedication. 'I think that getting an MBA is not that difficult. What's really challenging is whether you are able to learn something from it and are able to apply it,' Ms Tam said.