Pulling out all the stops
Thomas Chiu’s life changed after an encounter with one of his physiotherapy patients, a man who had been paralysed after a bad accident. He made Chiu realise the importance of grabbing life with both hands, so he quit his job and started a career in IT, jumping on the dotcom bandwagon which was in full swing at the time.
When the dotcom bubble burst, Chiu moved into sales and marketing. He earned a master’s degree in engineering business management and a law degree, to add to his BSc in physiotherapy. He realised, though, that none of his degrees had taught him about management skill and decision-making strategy. He decided to pursue one more degree – an Executive MBA (EMBA) at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). He graduated in 2010 and is currently senior regional manager of Honeywell Safety Products, as well as district councillor of Tsuen Wan.
What prompted you to pursue an EMBA?
The main reason was because I wanted to enhance my intelligence. In this economic environment, you need to have intelligence to help you move up to higher levels. Intelligence can help you lead a company forward and explore new markets.
Intelligence is not something you can obtain through reading newspapers or books, however. It is something you learn through interacting with people from similar backgrounds. Your way of thinking can be broadened and you can think from multiple perspectives through discussions with your classmates. The experience of learning with some of the wonderful executives in this city was incredible and extraordinary.
What were the reasons behind your choice of school?
The humanism that CUHK emphasises attracted me the most. Before I applied for the course, I had taken a look at the curriculum and I found it quite interesting. One of the major focuses of the CUHK course is philosophical exploration. Students are required to study Yi Jing and Dao De Jing, two of the oldest classic Chinese texts. I was deeply interested in knowing how to apply these to the modern business world.
Many course alumni are also renowned figures in society. Judging from these people, I could foresee that my classmates would also become as significant. I thought it would definitely be a valuable asset to me if I could study and learn with powerful people like these for two years.
Did you fund your own studies or did your company subsidise the costs?
My company was highly supportive. They paid 50 per cent of the tuition fees.
How did you balance the demands of work and studies?
I think it is unnecessary to really differentiate between my job and my studies. I worked and studied at the same time. What we discussed in class were actually the problems we faced at work, and I enjoyed these discussions very much. During the examination period, of course, we still needed to study and work hard.
What were the major challenges of your MBA studies?
The biggest challenge was not having enough time. If you want to learn more, you have to devote more time to reading. I always regretted not having had enough time to read the materials. I thought if I could have more time to read, I would surely get more involved in class discussions and would definitely learn more in return. But sadly, time was always a big problem. I never found enough time to read all the necessary materials, and it undoubtedly affected my performance in class.
During your studies, what kind of support did you get?
The understanding from my family was very important. Given the time I spent at work and at school, plus the time I spent on business trips, I really did not have much time for my family. I was glad that my wife was quite supportive.
I appreciated the financial support from my employer as well. As for my classmates, we all got along very well and helped one another. The learning atmosphere was extremely good. It was an unforgettable experience.
How did you expect your MBA to help you with your career and personal life? Were these expectations met?
It helped me a lot with my career. It made me think deeper about decisions and from a greater number of perspectives, helping me make many good decisions.
As for my personal life, the EMBA has also greatly changed my values. After obtaining my EMBA, I began to ponder what I can do for society. Being a well-educated person, I believe that I have the duty and responsibility to make a contribution to society. Society has offered me the chance to receive education, so I have to contribute my strength and knowledge in return and help make a better society.
How has your EMBA changed you?
My EMBA has brought me both positive and negative effects. On the positive side, it has made me want to try as many new things as I can, because my ability is now higher as the learning has provided me with greater knowledge and wisdom.
However, the higher the education I receive, the more I request from myself. It has made me unsatisfied with the status quo and eager to make changes. There are so many factors in reality, however, that hinder me from making changes, or even moving on. That is really a dilemma.