Breaking Boundaries with CityU MBA

City Business Magazine interview with Professor Kevin Chiang

Interview by Eric Collins

Professor Kevin Chiang is Director of the CityU MBA programme and has led the MBA since its relaunch in 2013. Over the past seven years the programme has attracted a stream of future business leaders and entrepreneurs. CityU MBA has also gained increasing international recognition and earlier this year entered the Financial Times' 2020 MBA top-100.

What is your strategic vision for CityU MBA?

We are SHARP. It is our belief that the success of our MBA programme hinges on the career success of our graduates after they have been transformed by our education. Reflecting this belief, our slogan "We are SHARP" reveals our strategic vision: We are committed to fostering a business education environment with world class Software, state-of-the-art Hardware, and well-connected Alumni. The goal is to boost global talents Recruitment and power our students to achieve a career-advancing Placement. With this vision, CityU MBA has continually evolved, producing future business leaders and entrepreneurs whose skills, experiences and contacts are in high demand across the globe.

How does CityU MBA help students stay competitive in a dynamically changing global environment?

We break boundaries. Our curriculum stresses practical cutting-edge knowledge with an international perspective. Through a broad spectrum of experiential learning courses, we break boundaries between local and global learning, and between theoretical and practical knowledge. Given the complex nature of the global business environment and the needs of today's business practices, experiential learning or "learning by doing" enables our students to gain practical experience which they can then apply in real-world situations.

I must emphasise that, different to traditional case studies which have well-defined problems and measurable factors, our global experiential learning courses expose students to real-life and real-time decision making, with a great deal of built-in uncertainty. As business challenges become increasingly multifaceted, such experiences cultivate students' cross-functional and cross-regional problem-solving skills, crucial for them to stay globally competitive.

Does the CityU MBA partner with any universities/companies in offering global experiential learning activities?

Yes, in the UK we collaborate with Imperial College London for a global brand management workshop. Over the past few years, our students have worked on projects for iconic brands including luxury car maker Bentley, supermarket chain Tesco, and Edwardian Hotels, where they developed branding strategies for the Asian market. They have taken part in experimental methods and laboratory-based discoveries to test and transform original ideas into real business propositions.

Partnering with University of California, Berkeley, a similar workshop which focuses on fostering entrepreneurship has been offered in the US every year since 2014. This collaboration allows our students to learn from Berkeley faculty and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley through seminars and visits to innovative companies such as Autodesk, Ford, Google, Intel, and Salesforce. Students put what they learn into practice by developing comprehensive business plans which they present to venture capitalists for genuine evaluation. Through the process, they learn the important lesson of how to formulate an idea and communicate the proposal in a succinct way that makes it a viable project for potential investors.

Besides Europe and North America our students have the chance to take part in a diagnostic residential trip in Asia, which provides the opportunity to work as part of a consulting team that helps partnering companies seeking to address business challenges. Working in small groups with their assigned supervisors, students analyse problems, develop solutions and produce a report for the senior management of the host enterprise. Originally focused on mainland China, as business in the Asia region has become more inter-regional, recent consultative assignments visits have taken place in countries as varied as South Korea, Cambodia and Malaysia. Depending on the learning need, the hosting companies and the topics of industry-sponsored projects vary from year to year.

What sort of networking opportunities enable CityU MBA students to develop their careers?

With the SHARP Forum, CityU MBA has proudly established a unique platform which brings together business executives, government officials, leading academics, and many more experts to discuss pressing business topics of the day. Allowing in-depth interactions with industry leaders, such a platform provides our MBA students with distinctive opportunities for career networking and development. Moreover, it spreads and stretches the frontier of innovative business knowledge through insightful dialogue and intensive discussion with leading experts.

The ethos that characterises the core value of the SHARP Forum is that students are responsible for every aspect of putting together an industry-focused discussion panel, from contacting the speakers to promoting and hosting the forum event. Decisiveness, organisation, communication, delegation – through organising a forum, students must put these skills into action to develop their knowledge, business acumen and confidence, so that they are ready to take on new career challenges.

Since its launch in 2016, over 100 notable speakers with 5,000 business professionals have participated in the SHARP Forum. Along with many senior executives from Fortune 500 companies such as Amazon, HSBC, Huawei and Tencent, renowned business leaders such as Dr Allan Zeman, Chairman of Lan Kwai Fong, Ricky Wong, CEO of HKTV Mall and Sunny Cheung, CEO of Octopus have been speakers in past forums. To underline the value of the SHARP Forum, I would like to add that some of the forum speakers have even become the business partners of our students who started their own business after graduation from CityU MBA.

What sort of students does the MBA attract and how successful has the programme been in placing students?

We value diversity. While our students were typically from Hong Kong and mainland China in the past, as the result of world-wide promotion in recent years, many international students including those from Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, UK, US, Vietnam, etc. have graduated from our MBA programme. With faculty and students from various cultures, work backgrounds and ages, everyone can learn from each other and network in a way that sets the stage for a successful career.

Our career team has been working closely with local and international companies to identify career opportunities for our students. Most of our recent students have been employed within three months after graduation. Taking up various positions in different functional teams or management associates, they have landed jobs or internships at companies such as Amazon, Bank of America, BGI, China Mobile, China Railway Construction Group, COSCO, CICC, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Hang Seng Bank, HSBC, ICBC Asia, KPMG, L'Oréal, Merrill Lynch, Nielsen, PWC, SAP, Standard Chartered Bank, Tencent, The Ritz-Carlton and so on. Some have also successfully ventured into their own business and became entrepreneurs.

After the programme was relaunched with your strategic commitment in 2013, what sort of recognition has CityU MBA received?

I would like to reiterate our belief that the most essential indicator of a successful MBA programme is career advancement of its graduates. That is, our job is to prepare students for success. Despite the fact that it is impossible to define the measure of success in a way that can be agreed by everyone, various ranking surveys attempt to provide relevant measures, among which the most widely recognised is the Financial Times' Global MBA Ranking.

While ranking is not our main pursuit, I am delighted to share that, propelled by salary uplift and career progress of our graduates, CityU MBA entered the FT's MBA top-100 in 2020. This is the first time we have taken a spot on this list, and I must point out that we are one of the youngest, if not the youngest, international programme. According to the FT survey, CityU MBA posted the 7th highest salary increase for graduates in the world (+159%). With respect to career progress (changes in the level of seniority and the size of company alumni are working in now, compared with before their MBA), we are placed 38th in the world.

We have also been consistently rated one of Asia's top MBA programmes by other well-known surveys in recent years (e.g. the QS Global MBA Rankings and the Eduniversal's Best Masters & MBA). Clearly, the achievements of our students, graduates and faculty have received a broad level of global recognition – We are SHARP, indeed.

Professor Kevin Chiang