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Ambition that became reality

Published on Friday, 14 Sep 2012
Joe Lai says he had to learn to deal with classmates from different countries.
Photo: Jonathan Wong

The Alumnus

Growing up in the mainland, Joe Lai attended Fujian Medical University, gaining a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy. He worked in the mainland for a US multinational pharmaceutical firm as a senior medical information communication specialist.

However, Lai’s aim was to become an international business leader, so he came to Hong Kong to pursue a one-year MBA programme at Baptist University (HKBU). He graduated in June this year. Lai was chosen as class representative, and in March was the only candidate in his class to receive the China Daily Scholarship for MBA students. The programme not only enhanced his international exposure but also saw him make lifelong friends.

Why did you pursue an MBA?

It is kind of like realising my dream. Before I entered Fujian Medical University, I had applied to one of the universities in Hong Kong. But unfortunately my application failed. So in some sense, coming to Hong Kong to study has always been my dream.

My goal is to become an international business leader but because I studied pharmacy at university, I lacked sufficient business knowledge, such as finance and marketing.
After working for a couple of years, I decided it was time to broaden my knowledge and make my dream of studying in Hong Kong come true.

Why did you choose your current school?
As I paid my own tuition fees, this was one of the factors I needed to consider when it came to choosing a university to pursue an MBA. After comparing all the tuition fees of different universities in Hong Kong, HKBU appeared to be the best option for me.

After a year at HKBU, I knew I’d made the right choice. People, including the staff and professors, are so nice and helpful, not to mention my excellent and friendly classmates.

How have your studies affected your personal or social life?
I made a lot of friends from different backgrounds and different countries in class, such as Sweden, France, Denmark, Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Estonia. It was indeed an international class! My horizons have been broadened by talking to them, and my international exposure had also greatly been enhanced. As my goal is to become an international business leader, gaining this kind of experience is extremely important to me. It equipped me to pursue my future goals.

What’s more, the course also required us to attend many seminars in different areas, such as the 2011 HKMA Annual Conference, the Asian Financial Forum and the APEC SME Summit 2012. I got the chance to get to know the real business world by attending all these seminars.

We also had a field trip to Taiwan in May, paying visits to many companies of famous local brand names there, including a liquor company. As my father is involved in the food and beverages industry, I found this trip very rewarding, and gained many insightful ideas on how to promote a brand name via a marketing strategy. I talked about this strategy with my father when I came back home. My father adopted my ideas and put them into practice. I felt so happy because I could apply what I had learned in the real business world.

What were the major challenges you encountered?
I encountered a number of challenges when the course first began. Language was one of the problems I needed to tackle. Although I had learned English in middle school in the mainland, I actually had very little chance to practise it at that time. When the course first began, I simply had no idea what the professors were talking about. So I paid extra effort to improving my English.

Luckily, I had a roommate from Zimbabwe, so I tried talking to him for 15 minutes every day. I also made sure I read all the necessary materials before and after class. After two months of hard work, I began to adapt to the language environment here.

Dealing with people from different backgrounds was another thing that I had to learn. For instance, when I led a group project, I had to deal with classmates from the mainland and from foreign countries differently. I only had to tell my mainland classmates what they were required to do, and they would do it. But I would have to explain to foreign classmates the reason why they needed to do it. It was probably due to cultural differences between us and our foreign classmates. Those of us who grew up in the mainland are used to following orders. But for people who grew up in Western countries, that is not the case. Following orders is not something they are used to.

How much support did you get from friends and family?
I definitely got a lot of support from my family. My parents and my girlfriend always encouraged me to go out and see the world. I always feel so grateful to them. Also, my friends in the mainland offered me a great deal of help, such as an interest-free loan in order to let me realise my dream of studying in Hong Kong. I deeply appreciated their help.

How do you expect your MBA will help you with your career?
The comprehensive knowledge about business I gained from the course will definitely help me move a step closer to realising my goal of becoming an international business leader. The strong HKBU MBA programme alumni network is another valuable asset to me.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Right now, the most important thing for me is looking for a job. I would love to find a job in either the pharmaceuticals or finance industry in Hong Kong and in five years’ time I hope to be a team or department manager of an international corporation.

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