CityU DBA - Doctor of Business Administration

24 Mar 2014

Making the commitment

Andrea Zavadszky

City University’s (CityU) Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) programme attracts a wide range of senior executives keen to make a breakthrough in finding out the answers to important questions they have encountered in their work.

“Above all, I wanted to have the fun of doing the research, which I was doing anyway. I was less interested in a title – and a PhD is so theoretical. The DBA is much more practical,” says Bernie Bengler, chief executive and founder of comm-IQ, an internet security and cloud computing company he set up last year.

Bengler chose CityU while still living and Australia, as he found the schedule – his most important criteria – would work well even if he commuted. He started the four-year DBA programme in 2011.

The “knock-out criteria” solved, he looked at the university’s reputation, capabilities and whether he could find the right supervisor.

At the time, Bengler was working in Melbourne for the internet security company Kaspersky Lab, which has its APAC headquarters in Hong Kong, and flew in for the programme opening on-boarding weekend. Shortly afterwards, the company transferred him to Hong Kong.

With 21 years’ experience in IT, Bengler wanted to understand better the impact that transferring from traditional IT to cloud computing has on an organisation. He had many questions which he knew were also important for his clients regarding security, legal obligations, regulatory, compliance, date sovereignty, customer perception and other aspects.

“I narrowed down the topic over and over again. But in the process you may also notice things you never thought of before and you include those,” he says.

The tutoring professors are essential in “finding the gaps”, those parts which have not been researched, and referencing those areas which already have.

The first 18 months is spent in lectures and group discussions, learning research methods and working on the research proposal.

“The biggest challenge is to get the proposal together so that it makes sense and is doable,” Bengler says.

At their second residential workshop, the group of 17 classmates had a dry-run of the proposal defence with a 20 minute presentation each. Bengler’s supervisor, learning partners from his cohort, students of the 2012 cohort and one alumnus provided him with excellent feedback. Bengler says the proposal makes up about one third of the completed thesis.

“You set up the theory and then see if it really works. You go deep into your subject. We are not here to reformulate what has been published already, we have to get a foundation and then create new knowledge,” he says.

It is when you are left alone to do the research that things get tough. Entering the second phase requires self-discipline, a solid plan, and learning partners.

Help comes from classmates who meet up every couple of weeks to discuss problems and get feedback. Although they are all from different fields, such as HR, pharmaceuticals, IT or finance, these senior executives all face similar problems, and can advise each other from different angles.

They have different vantage points because of their cultural backgrounds: there are Thai, Taiwanese, US, Canadian, German and local students in the group. But Bengler also finds it useful that there are executives of different age groups, with about 25 years between the youngest and oldest participants.

The executives also receive valuable guidance from their tutor. Bengler says: “My professor really sensed what my research topic was.” Based on this understanding, he has been able to push Bengler in the right direction, and from that point on he took off by himself.

“I always tell new students, don’t expect your professor to tell you something new, or your final outcome. No professor has experience in your specific field. You are great at what you are doing, just get on with it,” Bengler says.

Part of the plan you need to work out is how to share time between work, studies, friends and family, and how to prioritise. Some people find it easier to work on a daily basis. Bengler works in blocks, usually at weekends, and once even took a week off work to do research.

“It is a huge commitment. The most important thing is that you research something you are interested in from the bottom of your heart, because it needs a lot of motivation,” he says.