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Professor who stays ahead of his game

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2018, 12:13am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2018, 5:19pm

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Teaching courses for the Kellogg-HKUST executive MBA programme requires something special. Each class is made up of well-informed, ambitious executives who are there to more than listen and learn. They are primed to discuss the issues, challenge accepted theories, and share their own experiences of what works – and what doesn’t – in the fast-paced realm of international business.

In order to “deliver”, professors and guest lecturers must be on top of their game, with facts, figures and telling examples at their fingertips. But as importantly, they must also be prepared to engage in the cut and thrust of spirited debate, to elicit contrasting viewpoints, hear counter arguments, and encourage everyone to have their say.

“It’s about interacting with the students,” says Professor Milind Rao, who this year again won the award for “Best Faculty” after a tally of voting by graduates. This is the fifth time that Rao won this prestigious title in the programme’s 20 years of history.“For me, it’s a privilege to be in that environment, teaching people who are high achievers and remarkably intelligent individuals.”

His two EMBA courses – one on Global Macroeconomics, the other an elective on Value Investing – follow a standard framework, but of necessity much of the detailed content and the real-world illustrations change every year.

For instance, the big picture topics might now focus less on the implications of Brexit and more on the impact of a possible China-US trade war and renminbi devaluation. But whatever the subject, the goal is to ensure the material is always cutting-edge, thought-provoking and relevant.

“The underlying assumption I make is that students have no background in the subject,” Rao says. “We then go from nought to a hundred in 15 hours of class time, which is pretty daunting. I assume they are smart enough to pick it up over two weekends – and it’s amazing to see that happen.”

Rao is also frequently impressed by the attitude of the students. Some students, whose jobs mean they are already familiar with certain topics, rather than trying to dominate the discussion, bring up other examples to explain or amplify key points, with a view to helping their classmates understand the material better.

“We do a lot of group assignments where the one who knows economics will make the others do the work too,” Rao says.

“Everyone in the team pulls their weight, so they learn this stuff together. Fortunately, the students are all highly motivated. They want to be on par with their classmates and to apply what they have learned in their day-to day business responsibilities.”

When teaching any class, Rao prepares meticulously, leaving nothing to the last minute, and keeps the spotlight on recurring themes, interesting ideas and broader perspectives.

“I want students to know the framework all economists understand and agree on, what is science and what isn’t,” he says. “They can then make up their own minds on different issues.”