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Flowering hopes

Published on Friday, 30 Nov 2012
Andrew Primrose (second right) says a diverse group of students was one pull of the HKUST MBA course.
Photo: HKUST

The Student

As the outgoing president of the Entrepreneurs Club at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), it is unsurprising that Andrew Primrose already has his own business.

He recently launched refer.me, an online referral platform, with business partner David Beatty. The website aims to help its members receive relevant, quality referrals from trusted local experts and personal connections on anything from bars to health foods to blogs.

Primrose is currently on exchange at New York University as part of his full-time MBA programme at HKUST. He first came to Hong Kong in 2004 after completing his undergraduate degree in English literature and French at Bristol University in the UK and the University of Paris. He started work in HSBC’s offshore department before moving to private banking for about four years.

What prompted you to pursue an MBA?
I have always harboured entrepreneurial ambitions, but I realised that my degree in literature and a few years in banking left a lot of gaps in my knowledge. I certainly didn’t have the skills or experience necessary to run a company. I had to weigh up whether to pursue an MBA or to launch a business venture and “learn by doing”. I couldn’t quite decide.

My calculations priced the two options similarly, as I assumed any new venture was likely to fail after less than two years. I had seen the statistics for start-ups and I knew how slim the chances of being successful were, especially on the first attempt.

In the end I decided that what I learned from an MBA would be more structured, versatile and enduring than the process of launching a business that would probably fail.

Why did you choose HKUST?
Having deciding to do an MBA, I looked at the global rankings and researched where to study. I discounted most of the US schools as the courses are generally two years and the extra costs from a longer course, combined with higher tuition fees and further loss of earnings, meant they were disproportionately expensive. I also wanted to stay working in Asia so US experience would be less relevant.

I wanted a school where classes were taught by case studies, as I felt this would be a more relevant method to acquire transferable skills. However, almost every business school now uses case studies, so that wasn’t a big differentiator.

I was also looking for a diverse and cosmopolitan class as I valued the opportunity to study with and learn from classmates with very different backgrounds.

Lastly, I was looking for a school which either had the option to study abroad or was split between campuses in different countries, as this would offer further international experience. In the end my final choice was between INSEAD in France and HKUST. Having already studied in Paris on exchange for my undergraduate degree, I opted for HKUST and stayed in Hong Kong.

Who is funding your studies?
I am funding my studies and living costs myself, but I like to think of it as investing in my education and future prospects. So far it’s definitely been worthwhile and I’m really enjoying the experience. I started out studying full time but then over the summer I didn’t take any classes, so I had the time to focus on the launch of our business, refer.me.

How has the MBA helped in launching your business?
Starting a new business while finishing the MBA has provided some great opportunities to directly apply the material and knowledge I learned from the MBA classes. Our progress as a business has definitely benefited from that.
There are also some notable professors who have really gone out of their way to share their professional experience and knowledge with me.

What kind of support are you getting?
In addition to support from university staff, there is a huge benefit from being part of a class of like-minded people. The networks and friendships which you can build up during an MBA are one of the best and most enjoyable parts of the course. On both a personal and professional level, the MBA provides a great opportunity to meet a new and diverse group of people.

What are your plans when you return to Hong Kong?
I will finish the exchange in New York at Christmas and then I’ll be back in Hong Kong from January 2013. I have saved a few course credits so I can take some more classes while continuing to work on the development of refer.me. I am hoping we will gain enough traction to build and expand the business so my partner and I can work on that full time after I graduate later in the year.

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