Perhaps the best way to define the HKUST MBA program is through the modified tagline of a famous tourism promotion campaign that used to run in the early 2000s: HKUST – truly Asia. Besides the fact that it is Asia’s top ranked MBA program, the HKUST MBA is also known for its strong Asia focus, its top-notch international faculty, and its focus on developing well-rounded business leaders. In this interview with GyanOne, Sherring Ng, Head, Marketing & Admissions, MBA Programs, at HKUST, shares her perspectives on the school’s focus, and the need to know Mandarin (it is not critical!). She also shares her perspectives on the HKUST MBA admissions process. Thanks, Sherring, for your time, patience, and the expertise that you have shared with us through this interview!
GyanOne: A global top 10 ranking, extremely strong appeal in Asia Pacific, rising global influence and visibility, and an economy that is the fastest growing in the world. Where next does this outstanding school go?
HKUST MBA Admissions Team: The HKUST Business School is committed to delivering a world class quality of business education and offering an exceptional learning experience to our students. We have implemented the following new initiatives in the recent past for our MBA students and will continue to strengthen these areas and develop our students to be future business leaders.
Enhancing professional skills
The Professional Week is a credit bearing program delivered by four of our leading faculty with expertise in consulting, marketing, finance, and management. Together they guide students to deliver winning business presentations, a feat vital for consultants and client-facing roles. This year, we generously sponsored almost half of the class to participate in overseas case and business plan competitions against other top schools. With the training they received from our Professional Week, the students have achieved outstanding results, bringing home prizes from major global competitions.
We are the world’s first MBA program to use iPad as a learning tool. Every new MBA student is given one device when they start the program. We have also developed the MBA iPad App which allows students to download course materials and share information among themselves. Using the iPad is also a good training for students to quickly access and distribute information in the digital age, allowing them to perform more efficiently at work in the future.
New Business Building
As our university expands, we will be moving to a whole new building with state-of-the-art facilities this summer. MBA students will have a floor to themselves where they can find the classrooms, MBA lounge and breakout rooms all in one place. This exclusive space for our MBA students will help to build up a more cohesive community and allow them to work together in groups for courses and student club activities more effectively.
GyanOne: While the strong curriculum and student experience contribute well to HKUST’s appeal, what are the other key experiences and avenues of learning that HKUST offers its students?
HKUST MBA Admissions Team: The other key experiences / avenues are as follows:
Financial Times ranks our course experience world no. 4 in 2013. Our class typically consists of 25 nationalities in an intake size of 100 to 120 students. We have 58 partner schools in our exchange program. Around 100 global exchange-in students from those schools will study with our students every year, not to mention the global profile of our faculty. In 2012 and 2013, over 90% of our full-time students got into one of their first two choices of exchange schools. Studying at HKUST MBA will give you an unprecedented global experience which is essential for today’s business leaders.
Compared with other top global schools, our distinguishing feature is the focus in Asia. Students will learn from experienced faculty such as the former CEO of PepsiCo Asia, former VP Marketing of IBM Asia Pacific, former President of Wal-Mart China, former President and Chief Executive of Sa Sa International Holdings and current Director of Bain Hong. Field trips to different parts of Asia including Singapore, Shanghai, Japan and even Saudi Arabia are available for students to talk to companies and executives. Also, around 90% of our alumni are working in Asia, resulting in a very strong and useful network for anyone who wants to develop their career in the region.
GyanOne: The HKUST MBA program is delivered in English. However, a lot of international applicants feel that learning Mandarin is critical to be able to leverage job opportunities post the program. How important is it to be able to learn Mandarin while at HKUST?
HKUST MBA Admissions Team: Requirement of Mandarin really depends on the nature of the job and what markets the company focuses on. For certain jobs such as management consulting and marketing in the Greater China region, however, Mandarin is a must. For those who do not know the language, we encourage them to consider jobs in countries like Singapore in addition to the Greater China region since it doesn’t necessarily require understanding of Mandarin to work there. In 2012, around 10% of our graduating class works in Singapore.
Knowledge of the Mandarin language always helps as it can increase the competitiveness of those who want to develop their careers in Asia and allow them to network with locals more easily. So we provide a one-year language training program which includes beginner classes before the program starts, more advanced courses offered by our language center throughout the year and a credit-bearing elective called Business Chinese.
GyanOne: A lot of applicants looking at HKUST come from technology / IT backgrounds. However, HKUST does not offer an explicit elective focus on IT. How can students from this background hope to leverage their HKUST education best?
HKUST MBA Admissions Team: Our education aims to provide a well-rounded business training to our students so that they can become effective decision-makers in business. Those from technology/ IT backgrounds should use the MBA program to cover their gap in business knowledge, improve their set of soft skills and develop a relevant network so that they can take up management or business-oriented roles in the future.
That said, we also offer some electives which combines both technology and business management aspects, such as Data Mining for Business Intelligence, Technology and Innovation Management, Fundamentals of Database Management, etc. Such kind of courses are highly relevant to those who focus in the technology and IT industry.
GyanOne: What is a typical day like in the life of an HKUST student? What are the traits that are exhibited by students who truly leverage the program the most? Initiative / teamwork / planning?
HKUST MBA Admissions Team: A typical day starts with classes in the morning until lunch, then group work or assignments for courses in the afternoon and finally career, student club and social activities in the evening. Since we are packing what is a 2-year MBA program into 12 or 16 months, the MBA life is quite intensive throughout the year and students are expected to have good time management skills to handle their studies, career pursuits and personal life well.
The best HKUST MBA students are typically good team players who appreciate diversity and have a flexible mindset to deal with differences of others. They are also proactive and willing to contribute by bringing in their networks and knowledge, and organizing activities which benefit the class. Finally, they are usually adventurous, open to new challenges and aspire to become a future business leader.
GyanOne: What are the particular parameters that are important to HKUST as they look at applicants for admissions? How important is the GMAT score? What other factors can help a candidate make up for a less than average GMAT score?
HKUST MBA Admissions Team: A satisfactory GMAT score is a must for our admissions. Strong undergraduate performance can compensate a lower GMAT score and vice versa. And here are our three guiding principles for our admissions.
We are looking for outstanding candidates with leadership potential who have the capacity to make lasting contributions to the region or industry in which they are working. Our students are dynamic and talent individuals who balance an ethical, responsible approach to business with the ability to move ever forward in their pursuit of success, contributing to both their professions and the community at large.
We seek high-quality students from a diversity of backgrounds with a broad spectrum of valuable experience. When we consider your application, we will be looking for the extent to which you can contribute to the program by exchanging knowledge and sharing experience with your peers. In fact, interaction with your peers will be a key element of learning throughout the program.
Match and fit
We will also consider the extent to which your goals match what our program can offer. Our prime concern is to align the expectations of candidates and ensure that we can fulfill the needs that have driven you to apply. This consideration covers both how your specific needs would be met by what we offer and how you would benefit from our experiential learning approach.
GyanOne: What is the one thing that you wish applicants would do better on their MBA applications?
HKUST MBA Admissions Team: Applicants would do well to show that they have done in-depth research on their career plans, e.g. what companies they are interested in and what skills/network they need to get their target jobs. Since ours is a comparatively short program, we want students to come with a good idea of what they want to do so that they can leverage on the training and network the program offers from day one.
GyanOne: What are the placement statistics like? Which sector or location do most graduates find jobs in? How difficult is it for an international student to be able to find professional opportunities in the region?
HKUST MBA Admissions Team: Last year, 95% of our graduates accepted a job offer within 3 months after graduation. 76% of them switched their job functions and 71% their industries after the MBA. Nearly half of them increased their base salaries by 75% or more. Finance remains the industry where the greatest number of our graduates got into (45%). But we also have a number of them working in consulting (11%), IT/Telecom (11%), Manufacturing/Energy/Pharmaceutical (13%), etc.
In terms of location, 88% of the 2012 graduates work in Asia, with Hong Kong (51%) as the most popular location. Chinese and Hong Kong students only account for 32% of last year’s graduating class. The remaining are students from overseas so plenty of international students were able to secure a job in Asia. The difficulty of finding a job depends more on whether the students have the skill sets recruiters are looking for and the degree of their career change.
For example, we have students from Europe and America who work in Singapore and Hong Kong now because they remain in the same industry or they got into a leadership development program which focuses on their leadership potential, business sense and soft skills. There are also successful cases of students making a big career switch (e.g. a French lawyer working in Mongolia real estate now or an Indian manager now working in investment in China) but much greater efforts are required to make the change.
Check out the success story of Indian IT male who made it to HKUST.