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Relighting the fire

Published on Friday, 13 Jul 2012
Danny Cheung, CEO and head of licensing at Smiley Company.
Photo: Edward Wong

The Alumnus

Serious family financial difficulties prevented Danny Cheung from ever finishing his bachelor’s degree. Instead, he was forced to drop out of university in England at the age of 21 and find a job. He began his career in the supply-chain sector, starting in product development and sourcing, before progressing on to distribution, retail, brand-building and retail licensing.

After more than 15 years in senior-management positions in large companies such as Walt Disney and Li & Fung, he decided to start his own consultancy in 2005. He is now CEO and head of licensing at Smiley Company, a French fashion and lifestyle brand with headquarters in London. Through products, promotions and retail licensing he is responsible for developing the brand’s business in Greater China.

Cheung is a graduate of OneMBA, the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s global Executive MBA programme. He also has a master’s degree in media management from the Hong Kong Baptist University.

Why did you pursue an MBA?
By my late 30s, corporate work had become a bit boring and I realised that I was too focused on my work and travel. I didn’t really have a meaningful life, it was just work. So I decided to go back to school and the OneMBA programme came to my attention. It was during the SARS period and everyone was scared about the economy, their careers, almost everything. I thought: wouldn’t it be a better getting something out of it? So I did a bit of research and decided that doing an MBA would suit me best.
Why did you choose OneMBA?
I was travelling a lot and didn’t want to stop that. The OneMBA programme combines five schools from different universities around the world. Its structure is very diversified and it allowed me to meet classmates from different schools every six months. There wasn’t much on the market for me other than this, and even after all these years it still proves to be a very sophisticated study model.

After graduating in 2005, I am still in close contact with the local and overseas alumni. They are key to opening up overseas markets for my business with market knowledge and networks.

Did you fund your own studies or did your company subsidise the costs?
My company sponsored the cost of the whole program because they saw it as an investment in people who will eventually contribute back with what they have learnt.
How did you balance the demands of your job and your studies?
The first seminar was truly a challenge because I had to completely change my routine to allow 15 to 20 hours a week of study. It was easy to lose balance and question what my priorities should be, especially when I was so accustomed to my routines. Quickly, however, when I realised how much I could learn from making these sacrifices, I made the decision that I was going to roll with it. When it came to the second seminar, I’d made the adjustment and started loving it.
What were the major challenges of your MBA studies?
The culture differences between classmates and time-zone issues when making conference calls to get assignments done were the major challenges. Culture differences undoubtedly exist even within your local work environment, but we were dealing with people from North America, South America, Europe and Asia – not to mention that there were many different Asian nationalities, such as Singaporean, Thai, mainland Chinese and us local Hongkongers.

Every seminar we had to complete two global projects that required us to have conference calls almost every week. Due to the time zone difference, students from one school either had to pick an early time, say 6am, or a late one, say after midnight, to complete a call that accommodated all the students from different countries. Added to that was the quality of language accuracy you can hear with the telephone line, as well as accents of people from different nations.

What was the reaction of those around you to your study?
Interestingly, I was challenged as to why I had to “trade” so many personal interests for my study. Yet soon everyone realised by seeing what I was achieving and the satisfaction I was getting when I discussed the work with them.

Although the number of social gatherings I attended decreased, they became more precious and of better quality. The new relationships formed with local classmates are also an amazing for all of us, as we understand what each of us went through. These classmates, now gradates, have become new friends and have enhanced my social scope.

How did you expect your MBA to help you with your career or personal life? Were these expectations met?
It’s better not to have any expectations other than meeting new friends and learning new things. Having said that, it added a new dimension to my thought processes which I think is the key reason why we have to go back to study after years of work experience. When you experience something in real life, you probably don’t analyse why and how it happened that way. However, when you go back to structural studies and analytical methodologies you realise why.

What happened to your career right after graduation? How about three to five years afterwards?
I graduated in 2005 and before this I decided to quit my 18-plus years of corporate life and start my own consultancy company. I understood I was taking a huge risk by losing a very stable and highly financially rewarding job, but I wanted to take on the risk and challenge of being an entrepreneur. I knew I could always go back to daytime work if I decided to.
Since then I have met many company owners who have shared their stories of success and failure. These have helped me enrich my decision-making both from the view of being a manager in a multinational company as well as small- and medium-sized companies – exhibiting the “think global, act local” philosophy. This has become a key element in my decision-making process.  

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