CityU DBA - Doctor of Business Administration

14 April 2015

“DBA targets leaders keen to explore core business issues” Ms Kuan Thye Sean, our DBA learning partner from Cohort 2013, shared her DBA studying experience on Education Post

John Cremer

The DBA (doctor of business administration) offered by City University (CityU) is specifically designed to attract a certain type of candidate.

With its emphasis on research and analysis, the programme is tailor-made for senior executives who want to delve deeper into business issues affecting their own company or industry. It gives students the scope and support to present original ideas and solutions with a practical, real-world impact. And by combining foundation courses with supervised research, which builds towards a 50,000-word thesis, it also provides a fuller understanding of changes taking place in the business world and what it takes to excel as a leader.

“The day I read the introduction to the programme on the CityU website, I knew the DBA was for me,” says Sean Kuan Thye, who is now about 18 months into her studies. “A friend, who is also a professor at an international business school, suggested I should check it out. I could see straight away that it would meet my needs in terms of learning and applying advanced research techniques to address business challenges and solve management problems.”  

I like that the programme structure requires attendance at taught classes one weekend a month during the first two years

In her day-to-day role, a Singaporean based in Shanghai Sean is managing director, human resources, for the China and Asia-Pacific HR services centre of international logistics company FedEx Express. Her responsibilities include overseeing HR services for close to 9,000 employees in China who work in domestic and international operations and for the company’s Asia-Pacific hub.

Together with a 130-strong team of professionals and managers, she aims wherever possible to “add science” to the HR process in order to effect improvements in everything from planning and hiring to training and retention.

In recent years, a particular area of interest has been how best to manage, motivate and retain employees in call centres. This takes on special importance when it is known that, for some companies, call centres can handle as much as 70 per cent of all customer interactions. This work involves answering queries, accepting reservations, resolving complaints, promoting products and offering after-sales service, all of which has a direct impact on customer loyalty, revenue and results.

However, Sean notes, the work and the routines can be demanding, stressful and repetitive. Studies have shown that annual staff turnover in major call centres is typically around 20 per cent. In China, though, the average annual turnover is closer to 30 per cent, in some cases even approaching 50 per cent.

“Managing turnover is a costly and difficult problem,” says Sean, who intends to make employee retention classification for call centres the subject of her thesis. “There are high related costs for separation, replacement, on-boarding and training. Besides which, employee turnover affects work outcomes and productivity, disrupts operations and destabilises organisational routines. In contrast, better retention of call centre agents helps to foster customer satisfaction and contributes to a firm’s performance in terms of sales growth and profitability.”

Like other CityU DBA students, Sean began by taking a number of core modules plus electives which provide a solid foundation and the necessary skills. Some deal with the methodology of applied business research, while another focuses on academic writing for business administration. There are also workshops, learning circles, events featuring distinguished guest speakers, and opportunities for one-on-one mentoring. All this helps to ensure candidates progress smoothly from the coursework element to the proposal and research for their thesis. 

“I like that the programme structure requires attendance at taught classes one weekend a month during the first two years,” says Sean, who already has an MSc in Asia Pacific human resources management (APHRM) from the National University of Singapore and an EMBA from Kellogg-HKUST. “As DBA candidates, we are guided through a structured process to help pinpoint our research interest and think through the thesis topic. In doing this, the CityU professors are very generous when it comes to sharing their knowledge and experience.”

At this stage, Sean is spending much of her time reviewing previous studies and reading academic articles on call centre operations, as well as examining pre-hiring predictors for selection. She is also looking into predictors of voluntary employee turnover to identify factors which merit further detailed research.

Equally important is to understand classification methodology and decide on the relevant qualitative research methods to apply for the later phases. On-campus sessions with DBA alumni who are part of a “community knowledge network” have also been a valuable source of practical tips and suggestions. Sean is the Chairperson of the DBA Community Executive Committee 2015 that organizes such learning and social activities for DBA alumni and learning partners.

“Once I have completed my defence proposal in September, I will be approaching organisations with call centre operations to participate in my research,” says Sean, who is eligible for some financial support from a company tuition assistance programme. “I want my thesis to add to the body of knowledge in this area and will attempt to validate the credit-scoring method for screening out job applicants with a higher probability of leaving. Selecting for retention is particularly important for companies experiencing high employee turnover.”