Believing he had failed to equip himself with some of the necessary skills for career success, David Ou Youhui decided to study an Executive MBA (EMBA) at the Richard Ivey School of Business Asia.
Guangzhou-born Ou majored in electrical engineering at Tsinghua University before working as an R&D engineer at a state-owned enterprise. Dissatisfied with the boring nature of his job – and the salary – he left to become a buyer at trading firm Seatech International.
Ou has experienced the industry’s ups and downs in over a decade at Seatech where, as operations director, he oversees all departments. When the economy boomed, the company expanded quickly. When the economic situation worsened, however, it had no choice but to cut the workforce by a third. He expects to graduate with his EMBA next May.
What prompted you to pursue an EMBA?
Although I am an operations director and have worked in international trade for more than 10 years, I found my way of thinking was not good enough to help me solve problems. I felt I lacked the necessary tools to become a better director. This made me feel very uncomfortable. Then the idea of working for an MBA came to me. I was sure an EMBA course could offer me these tools that I did not possess before.
Why did you choose Ivey Asia?
A colleague had studied at Ivey before, thought the course was good and recommended the school to me. I know that apart from Ivey, there are two other local universities which also offer the same course, but they were either too expensive in terms of the fees, or the time of the classes was not suitable.
The Richard Ivey School developed from Canada’s Western University and I was sure it would help me establish a more global view. Moreover, class sizes are relatively small and students have a chance to become more involved. The Ivey case-study learning approach also requires students to take part in multi-faceted discussions about solutions. I think that’s good because it encourages students to freely express their opinions.
Are you funding your own studies or is your company subsidising the costs?
I am self-financed.
How do you balance the demands of your job and your studies?
This is a very difficult task. I never find I have enough time to study. I have to push myself to read the cases we are required to read, no matter how tired I am. Luckily my work schedule is comparatively flexible and I frequently have to fly. I make use of my time on planes to read cases.
Studying for an EMBA was my decision. Therefore I have to keep going, no matter what, otherwise it would be my loss.
What are the major challenges of your EMBA studies?
I think the major challenge is the mode of learning at Ivey compared to schools in mainland China. There, the teaching mode is relatively one-way. Students sit quietly in class, listening carefully to what the teacher says. The learning mode is quite passive.
At Ivey, however, we have to actively participate in class and express our opinions. I had got used to the passive mode of learning in mainland schools, so at first it was really difficult for me to accustom myself to this learning approach. It took me a while to get used to it. But I think this approach is an exhilarating experience because we are required to be bold and to bravely express what is in our mind. This is exactly the quality a good leader should possess.
What emotional support have you received?
My family has supported me all the way. They always encourage me to pursue further studies. My boss has been very supportive too. He gave me a lot of flexibility in arranging my work so that I can attend every course.
How is your EMBA helping you professionally and personally?
The Ivey case-method learning approach allows students to analyse different cases. We will examine 150 cases during the 18-month programme. Discussions both in the learning team and in class allow me to see things more deeply and explore the root of business problems. They also enable me to think using a more all-round perspective.
The course has also altered my personality. I used to be quite passive, introverted and unwilling to join in social activities. Having made friends with classmates from many different places around the world, I can now open up and talk to other students. It has therefore made me more confident.
Moreover, having classmates from other parts of the world, and from different industries, gives the class a huge diversity and offers us a chance to learn from each other, not just from the books. This has taught me that the world is indeed quite big – while at the same time diminishing my ego.
Where do you see yourself after graduation?
Graduating won’t have much impact on my job title, but the course has helped me acquire many practical skills, which I am sure I can apply in my work because the Ivey case method itself is so practical. What’s more, the course has also enabled me to better equip myself to take advantage of business opportunities. When an opportunity arises, I will be more able to seize it.