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Galloping to the top

Published on Friday, 17 Aug 2012
Yves Thoma says studying for an EMBA has made him a stronger, more effective manager.
Photo: Warton Li

The Student

Given his love of good food and serving other people, Yves Thoma was always going to pursue a career in hospitality. He studied at the Lausanne Hotel School in Switzerland before starting at the bottom rung of the industry – as a night receptionist at the Four Seasons Hotel in London.

He came to Hong Kong in 1995 carrying only a suitcase and two suits. After working for the Regent Hotel group, he joined the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s (HKJC) catering department in 1998. He is now the general manager of the club’s flagship property, the Happy Valley Clubhouse, and is taking an Executive MBA (EMBA) at the Richard Ivey School of Business Asia.

Thoma, married with two children, calls Hong Kong his home and is glad he made the decision to come to this city 17 years ago.

What prompted you to pursue an EMBA?

In this fast-paced global business environment, if you don’t believe in continuous learning and self-improvement, you may miss opportunities. Worse, you may fail to understand how things work and are changing.

Doing this EMBA has been in my mind for quite a while. To put it another way, it’s like you just bought a new computer, but it soon becomes slow and even obsolete, and you’ll have to upgrade it. So taking an EMBA is just like a personal-operating-system upgrade – you upgrade your entire business thinking and reboot certain skills you may no longer have by taking the course.

My ultimate motivation for doing this EMBA is the continuous learning experience. I want to learn how today’s businesses function. I believe it will help me be a stronger and more effective leader.

Why did you choose Ivey Asia?

Ivey Asia is an exceptional school in the way it approaches the whole curriculum. The significance of its teaching is its case-study method. It involves initial individual preparation, debating the case with team members to develop an action plan, and having engaging discussions with the entire class.

The case-study approach of learning is very unique. You get these cases from different functions and industries, and they are very broad-based – from local industries to multinational corporations and family-owned business. It extends to the entire scope of how businesses are run today, with managers having to make decisions every single day.

Every case we discuss in class requires you to make a decision – for which you must demonstrate your rationale.

Another rewarding aspect of the case-study method is the class dynamic. We discuss and debate the cases in class. The cases are analysed from multiple viewpoints and you must be able to defend your viewpoint and show that it is the best way to resolve the issue at hand.

I also chose Ivey for its outstanding faculty and passion for teaching. Ivey teaches you to become a strong leader who makes good decisions.

Who is funding your studies?
I am self-financed, but I think it is worth making this investment. It is all about motivation. If you invest in yourself, you’ll know exactly what the returns are because no one knows yourself better than you do.

How do you balance the demands of your job and your studies?
Discipline – that’s my German side. When you embark on a project of continuous learning, you have to be very disciplined. From the moment you start a certain project – whether personal or professional – you have to reset certain things in your life.

I have a family, with two children, but I have been able to balance my studies and my family’s needs in many ways. What counts is not how much time I spend with my children, but rather the quality of the time I spend with them.

For example, I have class on Saturday and Sunday. But before class on Saturday, I take my children to play football. Right after the game, I will go to class. So whenever there’s an event or activity that is important to them, I will set aside time to be there with them.

What are the major challenges of your EMBA studies?
There is no doubt that doing the programme itself is a challenge because you need to be motivated. But if you are motivated to do something, it should be easier for you to overcome something that you see as a difficulty. If you make it look difficult, everything is a challenge.

If you look at it another way though, you will see it as a great chance to learn new skills, make better judgments and become a well-rounded leader. I invest in myself, so it is a great driving force to push myself to do better.

What kind of support are you getting?

My family has been extremely supportive. Before I decided to embark on this learning project, I did discuss and share my whole plan with my wife, and she offered me great support.

The school has been supportive in many ways as well. They listen well to the challenges we have and the things that we want them to assist us with. The faculty is responsive, too. If you tell them you want to learn something more, they are very responsive. If you want any advice or help from them, they are always there to listen and help.

How do you expect your EMBA to help you in your career?
The course definitely makes me see things very differently. I have been working in the hospitality industry for a long time and have already got used to its particular work patterns. Going back to school makes me realise that I can also become a better person and learn new skills and thinking approaches for solving today’s business issues.

The school has shown me the strong value of real-world learning and what makes businesses succeed. From a professional point of view, it has given me a lot of new knowledge. It has also provided me with a good understanding of effective leadership and the importance of values and integrity in today’s business world.
It’s like a leader’s tool box. When you open it, you’ll know what is inside and which tool to use, since each was used in the 150 taught cases.

How do you see yourself after graduation?
When I have finished my Ivey experience, I know I will have become a better leader and more well-rounded in addressing today’s business problems. The course will also have provided me with the opportunity to explore things that I might have overlooked in the past.

I am also now connected with a group of Ivey graduates and friends with diverse backgrounds and a wealth of experience in their respective fields. They are a strong network of business intelligence that no one can take away from me.

With the Ivey experience, the readiness for a new journey is certainly something I will be open to.

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