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Programme where East meets West

Published on Friday, 16 Apr 2010
Victoria University in Wellington offers an MBA course in conjunction with Chinese University.
Photo: Bloomberg
Dr James Richard and MBA student Raymond Wang.

The rebalancing of the global economy is shifting not just the axis of international business, but also the priorities for executive education. Even a decade ago, in designing their programmes, many schools in Asia stuck closely to a United States-centred model, basing their curricula on themes and case studies drawn predominantly from the experiences of leading North American companies and entrepreneurs.

Now, though, the focus is much less on how they do things in corporate America. Instead, it is on understanding the alternative approaches of West and East, why they differ and where they meet. And it is to show that success in business depends not on following a standard template, but on having the skills to adapt, innovate and co-operate effectively with others.

"Our whole teaching philosophy is to offer a well balanced programme that develops the IQ [intelligent quotient] and EQ [emotional quotient] of students," says New Zealand-based Dr James Richard, director of the International MBA programme at Victoria University of Wellington. "A business degree can't just focus on financial analysis. It also has to look at what actually happens in the workplace, and how to get the most out of your team and yourself. For us, the objective is to produce all-round individuals and develop their full management potential."

The two-year course is offered locally in partnership with the Chinese University (CUHK), with the whole curriculum undergoing a thorough revision before the last intake to ensure topicality. It now consists of 14 core modules, two electives, workshops on personal and professional development, and pre-examination tutorials.

Students in Hong Kong begin with six foundation courses on international business covering topics such as organisational behaviour, management accounting and information systems within global networks. They then move on to a more detailed study of finance, marketing, operations and human resources in an international environment, seeing how best to integrate varying perspectives when dealing with strategic management and leading change.

"We give a good grounding in the frameworks and theories, but also expect the class to explore pros and cons and discuss them in an interactive environment," Richard says. "How you present your ideas and how they come across can be very important in management whether you are talking 'up' or to your team."

For that reason, the importance of EQ in business is consistently emphasised. A compulsory workshop on neurolinguistic programming teaches techniques to identify and "model" good behaviour, and role-plays help students see how to make things work for themselves and others in real-life situations.

"Our approach, starting from the orientation day, is to treat the classroom like a business meeting," Richard says. "That is the best way for MBAs to learn. You get the reactions, which adds to the EQ side of it, and students must come with their thinking hats on."

He notes that classes take place over an intense few days roughly every four weeks. Each course involves 24 hours of contact time, but teachers, who are all overseas-based and fly in, can provide additional support via e-mail and "Blackboard" technology. CUHK's Asia-Pacific Institute of Business also offers individual assistance as and when necessary.

By design, case studies examine a mixture of Asian and Western businesses to illustrate their sometimes contrasting approaches. And, while some examples may focus on opportunities specifically involving Hong Kong, the mainland and New Zealand, the stated aim is give a broad international perspective, rather than look too narrowly at just one market or region.

Potential applicants require at least five years' relevant work experience, with either an undergraduate degree or other confirmation they can study at the appropriate level. They also need a high standard of written and spoken English plus HK$188,000 to cover tuition fees.

"I think the format works well," Richard says. "By the end of the programme, students know  how to think about business, develop an opinion and how to demonstrate that."

Now, nearing the end of his second year, Raymond Wang, business operations director for Solomon Systech, is sure that he chose the right course. Before enrolling in 2008, he did a comprehensive study of the options available in Hong Kong to find the MBA that best met his needs.

With a first degree in electrical engineering, and ambitions to climb higher in the telecoms field, he wanted a course that offered an international viewpoint, a dynamic teaching environment - not "lonely" distance learning - and a real understanding of functions such as finance and marketing.

"To be promoted from manager, I realised I needed to learn more about other departments and how they interact," Wang says. "Once you move up to senior level, companies in Hong Kong expect you to know about the international market and to have analytical skills, but they don't always train you."

For Wang, the study tour to New Zealand had been a particular highlight. It was a chance to  meet entrepreneurs, experience another culture and hear about some the latest innovations in ecology and corporate social responsibility.

"The course has been excellent for me," he says. "It is very up-to-date and they encourage you to think outside the box." 

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