Shaping tomorrow's business leaders

Professor Kevin Chiang

Professor Kevin Chiang is Associate Professor and MBA Programme Director at City University of Hong Kong. He was previously on the faculty at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Before that, he worked in industry as an IT consultant in Chicago. Professor Chiang received his PhD from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is interested in interdisciplinary research across Operations, Marketing, and IS. He talks about getting to Silicon Valley, bringing the full-time MBA programme to the light of day, and different approaches to teaching baseball.

It's the first working day of the Chinese New Year of the Horse, an auspicious occasion perhaps to meet with Professor Kevin Chiang, Director of CB's MBA programme. Wearing a tweed suit and colourful jumper against the cold weather, Professor Chiang looks reassuringly old school. The message he has to deliver however is anything but: "Sometimes conditions come together and you've just got to seize the opportunity."

Professor Chiang is referring to the windfall of a whole new floor for use by the MBA programme in Academic 3.

"It's unusual for a programme to get such fantastic facilities as these."

Of course this is not really a 'windfall'. It is the result of Dean Houmin Yan's strategic decision to position the MBA, like most other leading business schools, centre stage.

Professor Chiang warms to the theme: "Look we're number two in UTD's Asia rankings now. We've got the research profile, we've always had outstanding teaching faculty, but now we're truly going beyond transmission of knowledge. Above all, this is a place where our MBA students and faculty can connect. What we're doing here is building an educational culture."

And you can sense the excitement about the place. It all seems a far cry from the volume lecture theatre approach. And here is another key: selectiveness.

"We're working to the same metrics as other leading business schools. We're looking at GMAT, academic background, work experience and so on, and we find we're getting a very high calibre of student."

A corollary of this policy of selectiveness is that class sizes are small, and student experience emerges as decisive.

Professor Chiang expands: "The atmosphere has changed. We used to be very lecture oriented. Students would come in for intensive evening and weekend courses (on the part-time MBA) – not necessarily the best time to study anyway. And there would be a lot of content to get through in a short time. Now we've got students, most with significant work experience, who have more time to get involved in discussion work, and who are staying here after hours. It's a different proposition."

Indeed the whole place feels like a campus in the modern sense of the word. The kind of working, talking, researching campus with one foot firmly placed in the world of business.

That culture of exchange and discussion has been actively fostered by the Executive Discovery and Network, a series of meetings which have attracted speakers of the very highest distinction: a Nobel Laureate, a Hong Kong Deputy to the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China, and the Executive Chairman of Television Broadcasts Ltd, Hong Kong. It's where future business leaders meet the current.

The accent is on internationalization, with a particular focus on the west coast of the United States: "With the part-time MBA we were attracting mostly Hong Kong students, so residential trips to the mainland were naturally of interest. Now we're getting more international students. And so being able to offer a way into Silicon Valley through our contacts with the UC Berkeley is a big draw. In the future we hope to offer similar modules in a number of Asian countries, not just China."

The road to Silicon Valley, famous for its venture capitalists, brings new demands: In the Entrepreneurship & Business Plan Development module students work in groups on a real world business venture for two weeks. With close coordination with UC Berkeley faculty as mentors and advisors, the goal is that students come up with an implementable business plan. The UC Berkeley summer programme is set to expand with a module in Communication and Negotiations to be added in 2015.

Professor Chiang's own interest in interdisciplinary research covers operations, marketing, and information systems. One of his first research areas was the impact of online sales on the distribution efficiency of traditional business. He looked into the theoretical economic benefit based on game theory. This interest, very much the zeitgeist back in the early 2000's, kick-started his academic career. He was granted one year's leave from the University of Maryland, and then decided to move to CityU: "It was the time of China fever. Hong Kong being at the centre of things, one could make more impact here, so in a sense the decision came easily."

"We need to use the language that decision makers understand, that's the challenging part."

Professor Chiang still finds research, or rather the communication of theoretical research findings to a non-academic audience, a challenge.

"A lot of our research is based on advanced maths, and very abstract analysis. Lay people find it difficult to understand. So how do we explain the findings of those analytical models? We need to use the language that managers, decision makers, can understand, so that research findings can be applied – that's the challenging part."

Sometimes it's imperative to get the message out there – especially when one has counter intuitive results. Professor Chiang recounts an interesting research project that he is currently running with PhD students.

Conventional wisdom would have it that the imitation of products negatively impacts the profits of the innovator. But recent research suggests that if you are imitated that can actually help your bottom line. So the message is don't worry so much about being imitated! The methodology is highly technical but Professor Chiang insists to his PhD students that results must always be comprehensible to MBA students.

At MBA level we are entering a more nuanced academic culture. For example with case study teaching we are going beyond the culture of the right answer. Professor Chiang points out that in the west students like to share their opinions and interact no matter how right or wrong they may be. Here students like to have the right answer before they speak up. He gives an example about the way children are raised: "In the West if parents are teaching their kids to play baseball, and they miss, they'll say Nice Try. In Asia there's probably a different response!" The CityU MBA allows space for experiment and discussion, and builds a truly collaborative learning environment.

Under the guidance of Professor Chiang it looks like the MBA is becoming SHARP indeed: bringing in world-class lecturers to deliver practical and hard-hitting business content (Software), building a top business school in the centrally located and state of the art AC3 centre (Hardware), calling on topquality networks of business leaders around Hong Kong and the world (Alumni), recruiting the best students in Hong Kong, Mainland China, and abroad whilst meeting the most rigorous acceptance metrics (Recruiting), and energizing students' careers to help them achieve their professional and personal dreams at great companies (Placement). We welcome you to get further involved in this dynamic and growing program!