Joe Leung graduated from what is now the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in 1990 and worked for 10 years before setting up Honwest (Esome) International, a lingerie producer, with his sister in 2001.
The business started out as an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) making lingerie for overseas brands. A change in direction saw one of these brands acquired in 2008 and the pair opened their first shop in Central the same year.
This was also when Leung decided to enrol on an Executive MBA (EMBA) course at Ivey Asia. He hopes that with the new skills he has acquired, he will be able to grow the business to between 25 and 30 outlets in 2013.
What prompted you to pursue an EMBA?
Although I had always wanted to pursue an MBA or EMBA degree, my frequent travels and increasingly busy work stopped me from doing so. I reached a bottleneck in my career, however, where I found myself stuck in the middle of various business decisions, such as whether to change the nature of my business from OEM to a brand business. It was only then that I realised I really needed professional training in business management to bring my business to the next level.
Why did you choose Ivey?
I researched the various MBA schools in Hong Kong and compared the pros and cons, paying attention to areas such as location, lecture calendars and teaching methods. I liked the fact that Ivey’s case-study method used real business cases to train students to be better decision-makers. There was no need for any theories, just the ability to make smart and quick decisions.
I learned not only from the cases and professors, but also from my classmates, who all had at least 10 years of experience in their respective fields. The beauty of the Ivey case-study method is that everyone brings their own expertise to each issue.
How did you balance the demands of your job and your studies?
The classes were held on two weekends a month, so it didn’t affect my work too much. However I did find it difficult to adjust to being a student again. In less than two months, though, I was okay. I got the balance right very quickly since Ivey’s study-team system helped us a lot.
What were the major challenges of your studies?
Sometimes I found preparing for lessons harsh since my business required me to travel a lot. When I was abroad I was sometimes so tired after meetings that I really couldn’t concentrate on reading cases when I arrived back at my hotel.
Another challenge was fixing times for all our team mates to get together to work on group projects. Some of us were living outside Hong Kong so telephone calls and Skype were sometimes the only option.
What kind of support did you get?
I don’t think I could have completed even half of the course if I had not received support from those around me, particularly my classmates. We understood that we were mutually supporting each other while heading to our goal, rather than competing with each other like in secondary school. The Ivey case method helped in this respect as it encourages interaction and communication, which helped us to build bonds – not just as classmates, but as friends for life.
How is your EMBA helping your career?
I intend to bring the Chasney Beauty lingerie brand to the next level in domestic and Chinese markets by promoting it as a fashion lifestyle brand, rather than just an ordinary lingerie brand. To make this happen, I will need to use my skills in areas such as data analysis, marketing and operations, and financial planning, all of which were included in the Ivey EMBA course.
Where do you see your career heading?
I see myself eventually overseeing the whole operation of the company rather than just micro-managing things, which is what I did before. For me, managing people is the most difficult part of business management, but I’m now able to handle this better than before. Armed with the management skills that I learnt in the EMBA course, I can plan business development with better data and analytical support. I am now making business plans for five to 10 years in the future.