Class topper still aims to do even better
Even though the Kellogg-HKUST Executive MBA has once again topped the Financial Times rankings - making that seven times in the past 10 years - the push to keep improving the programme remains as strong as ever.
That means the latest intake of 40 students, just starting the 18-month course, will benefit from the combined strengths of two of the world’s top business schools. But they will also be on the cutting edge in learning about the latest developments in everything from cloud computing and crowd funding to social enterprises, emerging markets, and finding the right strategies for success in an era of constant change.
“We revise the curriculum continuously to meet the evolving needs of the business world,” says professor Tam Karyan , dean of the School of Business and Management at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). “For all staff and faculty involved, a key objective is to keep getting better, and that is a process which never stops.”
For example, adjustments to core courses or the introduction of new electives will see greater focus on topics such as big data in business, digital marketing, and leading a global company. There are also plans for a Fintech module. With brand-new subjects, though, even in Hong Kong it is sometimes difficult to find enough people with the requisite expertise to offer a complete course.
If so, the first step is usually to invite a series of guest speakers to give one-hour talks outlining the main issues and pointing the way ahead. That also helps in deciding how best to plan content and pitch things for a class comprised of senior executives from different sectors, who need to grasp the big-picture essentials without necessarily delving into the fine detail or technicalities.
“When planning such changes, we listen to feedback from students, alumni and leading figures in industry,” says Tam, who teaches a course on big data. “For instance, I’ve been meeting recently with banks and regulators to understand what we should include in a Fintech course for an EMBA-level curriculum.”
The partnership with Kellogg provides an international perspective and opens up a global network, making it possible for students to take electives on campuses in Beijing, Chicago, Miami, Tel Aviv, Toronto and Vallendar.
If demand dictates, special field trips are also arranged to other destinations, with a view to meeting entrepreneurs and industrialists, visiting groundbreaking operations or, researching the latest in environmentally-aware business models.
“Our students are all senior executives with around 16 years’ work experience,” Tam says.
“They respond very actively to these opportunities, and the high-level discussions they generate both in the classroom and among themselves become an important part of the learning process.”
When considering candidates for each annual intake, a key principle is to achieve diversity. As a result, the class includes representatives from a wide range of nationalities, industries, cultural backgrounds, and job roles. Quite a number commit to flying in for the initial orientation week and subsequent study blocks, which are usually arranged over three-day weekends. And a generous scholarship scheme means the door is also open to individuals working for non-profits or NGOs, who bring a whole new dimension to the general interaction and analysis.
“Whatever their background, they need to work hard from day one,” Tam says. “Teamwork is also very important because everyone is assigned to a study group. These are seen as ‘mini companies’ where students with different expertise tackle case studies on topics like launching a new product, initiating a merger, or assessing the practical applications for big data.”
In these exercises, students are given a framework and can then draw on examples from classes, from their own companies and from the wider world. They must come up with solutions, recommendations or models which, if presented to a board of directors, would have every chance of being accepted and implemented.
“Some techniques and principles don’t change much from one year to the next, but other areas like technology are changing all the time,” Tam says. “We have to strike a balance between the two, so students appreciate the macro aspects, but also understand how technology and innovations, say, can be put to better day-to-day use in their own organisations.”
Another vital part of the programme is the emphasis on ethics and social responsibility. It is made clear that a business, whatever its size and scope, has a role to play in contributing to the welfare of the community. Nowadays, that touches on issues ranging from equality and diversity to sustainability and care for the environment. Senior executives must understand what’s expected, take steps to act accordingly or, even better, be prepared to give a lead.
“We don’t try to ‘mould’ people or change their personality,” Tam says. “But we do make them aware of these broader responsibilities and the kind of dilemmas they may face.”
Reflecting recent trends, subjects like innovation and entrepreneurship are also getting extra attention. It is widely accepted that artificial intelligence, or AI, will have a major impact on the entire business landscape, with knock-on effects for everything from productivity and investment to the workplace environment and the number of jobs.
“It seems certain that AI and other new technology will make the business world quite different,” Tam says. “Just consider that the business of banks is basically processing information – payments, settlements and other transactions are all just pieces of data – and you see that back-office functions will increasingly be done by machines,” Tam says.
“In terms of computing capacity and cost, some of this is highly predictable. But our job is to point the way, encouraging students to look at new business models, changing job requirements, and the potential of technology-based innovations.”
Noting that the Kellogg-HKUST partnership has run smoothly to date, Tam is now keen to explore the possibilities for more short-term executive education programmes.
“We want to build on the success of our joint EMBA,” he says. “So, we will be following up on initial discussions, looking to leverage the network and offer more than the current programme in Hong Kong.”