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Game-changer

Published on Wednesday, 30 Oct 2013
Brainstorming ideas in the AGSM MBA classroom can produce valuable insights into how to build a solid, successful business.
Photo: AGSM
Vikas Bhandari
Yann Lai

The AGSM MBA can transform the careers and lives of its students

The MBA offered in Hong Kong by the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) is often called a catalyst for change. The experiences of two of this year’s graduates show why.

Yann Lai and Vikas Bhandari both originally chose the programme with a view to getting new insights on global business and strengthening their all-round management skills. That certainly happened, but along the way, they also found the inspiration and self-belief to reconsider their personal and professional goals and, as a result, take charge of the next stage of their respective careers.

“The thought of setting up a business had always been at the back of my mind, but before taking the AGSM MBA, I never had the guts to do it. I did not have the necessary skill set,” Lai says.

Lai is now managing director of Taromonkey, a company she started a few months ago that sells accessories for babies and infants, such as bibs and socks, through an e-commerce website. “The [MBA] course was a real eye-opening experience for me and I am now putting the concepts, frameworks and strategies to good use in running my own enterprise,” she says.

In fact, Lai began her MBA in Sydney, where she had previously studied computer science at the University of New South Wales and then worked in IT and marketing. However, when she moved to Hong Kong to take up a job with Microsoft, the part-time programme’s in-built flexibility made it easy for her to transfer credits and continue almost seamlessly.

“When I was choosing a course, I wanted to gain broader knowledge of the different business functions, things I couldn’t just tap into or pick up at work,” Lai says. “But there was also an element of self-discovery and taking a personal journey. I wanted exposure to new subjects and to understand what people in different roles and industries actually do.” 

Certain modules, like those on entrepreneurship and marketing, helped to focus her thinking on the possibilities and practicalities of starting a business. Others, such as finance and accounting, pinpointed the essentials from a management perspective, without going into too much unnecessary detail.

“When I first walked into the accounting class, I was worried that the subject might be too dry for me and we would have to balance every last cent on the balance sheets,” Lai says. “But the lecturer was very practical, helping us instead to understand the principles, see how the concepts work, and identify what may be missing.”

Having previously only held corporate roles, Lai was particularly impressed by the various entrepreneurs who spoke as guest lecturers and who were more than willing to discuss challenges and obstacles they had encountered. These talks instilled confidence and, just as importantly, created an informal network of advisers and mentors when she decided to strike out on her own.

“In starting a business, you must be prepared to do everything yourself, from finance to taking photos of your products,” Lai says. “The AGSM MBA gave me the tools, plus the insights, on where to be careful and how things happen in the real world.”

For Bhandari, the MBA programme provided a similar boost, even though he already had close to 20 years of work experience. This included co-founding – and later selling – a successful network operator offering wireless broadband access. In enrolling on the MBA course, his main objective was to become less of an IT specialist and more of a generalist, with the breadth of perspective needed to contribute to the full range of high-level decisions taken at any growing organisation.

Now the chief information officer at Ningxia Hanas New Energy Group, Bhandari saw the AGSM MBA as an ideal opportunity to both catch up and get ahead.

“As a person who was more focused on the technical side, I ended up in a senior management position without going through the normal progression,” he says. “Therefore, I wanted to consolidate, to understand some theory, and to see if there was a better way of doing things.”

Obliged to travel regularly for work, he found the MBA’s major plus point was its mode of delivery, with courses “condensed” into an eight- or nine-day period, rather than stretched out over several weekends. This meant he could plan ahead more easily and fit business trips around study commitments, knowing that modules could be re-sequenced or deferred if necessary – or even completed in Australia.

In his case, the biggest surprises came in some of the “softer” subjects dealing with topics such as human resources, people management, and justifying a merger or acquisition.

“It is quite a shock to the system to see how these things work if you don’t usually think about them on a day-to-day basis,” Bhandari says. “I selected a lot of electives focusing on corporate, finance and HR strategies, and that is really helping in my current role.”

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