[Sponsored Article] The impact of Covid plus the need to address the climate crisis have obliged companies everywhere to restructure operating models and rethink their approach to environmental and social issues. Sensing that, HKUST Business School has been quick to respond. New elective courses in the MBA program have been adjusted to put extra focus on the concept and best practices of sustainable leadership. These new courses give students the chance to explore in detail how this essential shift in emphasis is set to transform global business in the years ahead. “In the past, when we spoke about business, we often assumed the main aim was to maximize profits for shareholders,” says Professor Tai-Yuan Chen, Associate Dean and Program Director for MBA programs at HKUST Business School. “However, with global warming and other environmental issues, the definition of a responsible, well-rounded leader has changed. It is now important to attend to the interests of stakeholders across all domains. And so, rather than just pursuing short-term profits, we want our MBA students to learn how to maximize the welfare of all constituent groups in society and to keep the needs of future generations in mind.” Additional focus Therefore, from this year, a brand-new focus on sustainable leadership has joined those on business technology and analytics; consulting and strategic management; finance; and marketing. The topics covered – taught where appropriate on an interdisciplinary basis – range from clean energy, social enterprises and green finance to AI (artificial intelligence) and private equity for ESG-related investments. And the electives now on offer include psychology, behavioral economics and art appreciation. “We can see there is a demand for data-driven leaders who consider social impact when making business decisions,” Chen says, “Companies have a strong need for executives who can create value in this way.” He adds that HKUST’s MBA, which is available in both full- and part-time modes, has maintained a consistently high international ranking and is known for having one of the most flexible curriculums in Asia. That means students can tailor-make a course of study to fit their career aspirations and interests, while also enhancing their all-round competencies. The right mindset Along the way, they will also learn about the mindset needed to succeed in a fast-changing world and the importance of integrating technology in every aspect of a business. “In classes and seminars, we emphasize that advances in the use of technology should always take account of ‘humanity’ and that the purpose of business is to generate benefits for ‘everyone’, not just the shareholders and managers,” Chen says. “For that reason, students are given early exposure to the concept of responsible leadership and it’s why they complete a capstone project before graduation, which ensures they keep sustainability very much in mind.” As one of the recent 2021 intake for the MBA’s 18-month part-time mode, Francis Yeung is already familiarizing himself with the key principles and looking forward to what comes next. He originally chose the program with a view to gaining new skills and a wider perspective on the world of business. “I thought I definitely needed to step out of my comfort zone and branch out in new ways,” says Yeung, who works as a regulatory and compliance officer for Mox Bank, one of the groundbreaking virtual banks, having previously spent five years as an auditor with PwC. “All my relevant experience was linked to financial institutions, and so was my way of looking at things. I knew the HKUST MBA combines technology, business, a focus on sustainability – and it is flexible - so applying was a no-brainer for me.” Valuable insights At this point, Yeung is particularly looking forward to the new courses on ESG and AI and has already found the core unit on economics, which is home territory for him, to be full of unexpected insights on how theory converts to practice in the real world. If travel restrictions are eased, he would be keen to take part in an overseas exchange at a partner university. In the meantime, though, he is getting all he can in terms of ideas and interaction from workshop-style classes and online discussions with overseas-based students, which have become an integral part of the curriculum. “Covid-19 and disruptions to the supply chain have given people awareness of the need for sustainable development and establishing social capital instead of profit maximization,” Yeung says. “There is a kind of revolution coming for the business world, and if you are not on top of the changes, you will be left behind. Sustainable leaders need to manage more stakeholders than traditional leaders, think more globally, and get the message about social capital.” Professor Chen notes that this year saw a near-return to pre-pandemic class sizes, and the admissions process for the 2022 MBA intake is already underway for both full- and part-time modes. His general advice to interested candidates is to apply as early as possible in order to allow sufficient time to keep employers informed and arrange personal finances.