Management traineeships in Hong Kong remain highly sought after entry-level corporate positions; entrants for some major conglomerates are still recruited from Britain. These days, an undergraduate degree in commerce or business studies is a minimum requirement; law graduates (even those who have not qualified as a solicitor or barrister) are also desirable. Contemporary entrants to management-trainee programmes are now years older than their equivalents would have been 70 years ago. Most initial costs of practical and theoretical training – the first few years spent “learning the ropes”, when a junior was of limited strategic value to their employer – have been fobbed off to institutions of higher learning, with the cost of those not-terribly-useful early years absorbed by an entrant’s parents, the state, or the individual themselves through student debt. Interview success remains key, but without a reasonably relevant degree, even long-term family connections can only help so far. How did these selection processes evolve? Until the 1960s, a university degree – then far from commonplace, especially among those from modest socio-economic backgrounds – was viewed as a possible impediment to a business career. Leadership roles in a sports team, or previously demonstrated skills as an “all-rounder” were reliable – if not infallible – bellwethers of character Companies feared, with some justification, that tertiary-educated entrants might consider themselves “ better ” than the jobs they started out in, such as double-counting bales of sheet rubber or chests of tea before transport, and become disaffected. In addition, graduate trainees were at least three years older than non-graduate entrants and – having become accustomed to some degree of personal independence from their university days – were less malleable than more junior novices. Broadly accurate bearings as to a candidate’s overall suitability could be taken by other means; as well as personal recommendations from family friends (which often got them an initial interview) and testimonials from former headmasters, clergymen and other referees, sporting prowess played a part. Leadership roles in a sports team, or previously demonstrated skills as an “all-rounder” were reliable – if not infallible – bellwethers of character, ability to deal with pressure, and general temperament. Far Eastern connections, usually via family friends, were also a reliable indicator; the potential trainee would have some first-hand information about what to expect in their new life. Those who fell apart, and were quickly weeded out, usually had no reliable prior information about what to expect in Asia. Some years ago, an amusing story was related by an elderly British friend, long resident in Malaysia. His family business was a long-established managing agency firm, which formerly had branch offices in Calcutta, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai, as well as Malaya, where its mostly plantation-related commercial activities were located. At some point in the late ’30s, a potential management trainee was interviewed by his father and uncle (senior partners in the firm) at their offices in London. During their discussion, a large rat scuttled out from behind a cupboard and made for the open door. Without breaking stride in his answer to a question, the interviewee grabbed a fire iron, cornered and dispatched the rat, dropped its corpse into the waste paper bin and finished what he was saying, with no further reference to the dramatic incident. The older men looked at one another silently for a moment; my friend’s father spoke first. “This is just the kind of chap we want in Malaya, wouldn’t you say?” he said to his brother, who silently nodded assent. Turning to the young man, he said, “That’ll be all for today, thank you; can you be ready to sail out East in a fortnight’s time?” And that was that. Apparently, the quick-witted youngster went on to have a successful business career, interrupted by distinguished war service, and numerous involvements in public life, and was eventually knighted. A modern-day business studies degree – whatever their merits – accounted for none of those achievements.