A very different ball game
Unlike many MBA students, Anthony Chan’s academic background and career are not related to the finance industry. Chan graduated from the University of Hong Kong, majoring in sports science.
In his final year, he received a scholarship to study sports marketing at the University of Kansas, one of the top universities in the US. He was also given an internship in the sports department, to organise annual national track and field events.
After graduating, Chan returned to Hong Kong, starting his career in marketing and communications at Edelman, the independent public relations (PR) agency, before being recruited by Bite Communications, a UK-based PR company, to start the agency up in Hong Kong.
English proficiency is vital in the PR industry, so Chan pursued a master’s degree in English while working in the PR firm before moving to the global corporate communications department of Lee Kum Kee. Chan is proud of its first fashion design competition, held in Shanghai and which he helped organise. He has now worked in marketing and communications for more than eight years.
While pursuing an MBA at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), Chan set up Zacks, a niche cosmetics brand to complement his family’s business in the beauty industry. He joined Waggener Edstrom in June as a senior account manager, and he hopes his stint at one of the top global PR agencies will help him explore social media in promoting brands, whether those of his clients or his own.
Why did you pursue an MBA?
My goal is to be in the top management level of multinational corporations. As neither my bachelor degree nor my master’s are related to business studies, taking business classes is necessary to achieving this goal. The MBA gave me well-rounded training, and I can now function in different areas such as marketing, sales and finance. A successful leader should be dynamic.
I am aware that social connections are the key element in my career plan. The MBA programme enables me to expand my network, so despite the expensive tuition fees and the fact I have sacrificed a lot of family time in favour of my studies, it is well worth the effort.
What are the reasons behind your choice of school?
I wanted a reputable institution that offers practical knowledge, not simply a qualification. I wanted to learn how to start up, operate and expand a business, raise funds, and even turn it into a listed company. All this requires knowledge of business law, accounting, investment management, Six Sigma and so on.
After making comparisons with other schools in Hong Kong, I decided that CUHK offered the best MBA. I attended a few seminars and social networking events prior to admission, and found that all the professors, and the alumni, were very professional, as well as being top managers in the market. Therefore, I chose the CUHK MBA.
I would like to highlight the first core course of our programme: the outward-bound course. I believe that only CUHK runs this course in an MBA programme. In this three-day course, we joined forces to complete different tasks, continuously supporting and encouraging each other. As in the business world, you cannot work all by yourself. We need to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and fully utilise the power of teamwork.
For example, I twisted my ankle when we went hiking. Without the support of my team members, I could not walk downhill or do other tasks. Every one of us feels weak at some time, and this is when you really need the support of others. This course taught us to balance our weaknesses with the strengths of other people. The most successful leaders are not those who can outperform others, but those who know how to bring out the best in each person, and to ensure that everyone in the team is heading in the same direction.
It is not an achievement by you, but by the team itself. This is the purpose of the course. I believe everyone in the programme feels the way I do because this is how we were trained.
Did you fund your own studies or did your company subsidise the costs?
I paid my own tuition fees. Although it is expensive, it is an investment in my career. An MBA offers a well-rounded study of business. Without it, I think I would only be able to operate in the communications field.
How did you balance the demands of your job and your studies?
I was a weekend part-time student. One may need to sacrifice after-work hours, weekdays and public holidays for study, group projects and assignments. However, I enjoyed taking classes and studying, and I was impressed at being able to learn and experience many things I had never been exposed to before. Your classmates become your close friends because you spend more time with them than with your own family. Although they may be from different industries, they will be very helpful to your future career. They may be the ones who bring about positive change in your career.
What were the major challenges of your MBA studies?
Since I come from the marketing and communications industry, I did not have a background in accounting and finance, so some core finance courses were challenging. Luckily, my friends in the financial and auditing industry helped me a lot. Interestingly enough, some classmates expressed the opinion that without the help of other classmates, who are from the marketing industry, they would not be able to finish some projects. My advice is to make connections with classmates from different industries. Teamwork is very important for your MBA studies, as well as your career.
What kind of support did you get from your family, friends, office colleagues, employer, classmates or professors?
We (MBA students) were always required to undertake research for our projects. Our family members, friends and colleagues were good sources of information. Our employers were our role models. They demonstrated to us a managerial mindset, and the ability to view things from a different perspective. In every project, we learned new management skills from classmates who were already at the management level.
As mentioned earlier, classmates are very important. Just as in the workplace, you need to find the right team members and build the team. Since we possessed different backgrounds, our differences required us to support and help each other. The good thing is that since we are at a business school, and not a workplace, we were able to point out each other’s strengths and weaknesses, learn from each other, improve our performance, and practise and apply the skills to our job. It also gave us a chance to practise our management skills with different people, and take alternative roles of a team member or leader.
Finally, family support is very important especially if you are married and have children. My wife spent a lot of time with me at the coffee shop during study sessions and group projects. She has seen my classmates so often they have become close friends. Here I need to express my thanks to her.
How did you expect your MBA to help you with your career or personal life? Were these expectations met?
In my first MBA lesson, the professor said an MBA certificate cannot guarantee a promotion. Our success depends on how we apply what we have learned to our job. In the final two years of the programme, I chose some of the most difficult courses such as M&A (mergers and acquisitions), new venture project development and sales management. They are very useful and have brought a positive influence into my life.
The MBA has transformed me from a communications specialist into a marketing and business consulting specialist. What’s more, I am helping my mum expand her business in the beauty industry. The beauty and body-care industry is very competitive in Hong Kong. With my MBA knowledge and networks, I can now help her raise funds from a venture capitalist to expand her business, differentiate herself from her competitors and run the operation in the global market.
If I had not studied towards a MBA, I would be limited to helping my mum on the communications side only, and not the other aspects of business. Now I can see more ways and opportunities to expand, run and manage her business.
I highly recommend friends and people around me to study for an MBA because it helps you to shape your career goal and gives you the flexibility to work in different industries and expand your network. It also allows you to see the challenges and opportunities in other industries.
How do you see yourself three to five years down the road?
I see myself becoming a head of marketing in a multinational corporation in the next three to five years, then rising to a senior management role in the next five to 10 years. I had the confidence to help my mum to expand her business into a global brand. Maybe I will become the CEO of this listed global brand in the future.