GyanOne Interviews Towni Lao (HKUST MBA Admissions Team)

Home » GyanOne Interviews Towni Lao (HKUST MBA Admissions Team)
HKUST MBA interview

World class MBA with mountains on one side, and ocean on the other. Sounds like a dream?? Well, yeah. It is!!! HKUST is a dream come true if you can crack the HKUST MBA admissions process first. With an outstanding curriculum, top faculty members, and great learning opportunities, but also natural beauty at its finest! And if you ever get bored of life on campus (unlikely, given the number of student clubs and events available), you can always step out to visit the bustling street markets of Mong Kok, the pristine shopping malls of Causeway Bay, or pay a calming visit to the Tian Tan Buddha! HKUST is, after all, located in Hong Kong, one of the world’s most vibrant cities, and a center for both Asian and Asia-Pacific business. HKUST is a business school with a difference, and the HKUST MBA is one of the top programs of its kind.

As we know that HKUST is one of the most preferred universities in Asia continuously growing in the public research domain – it has quite a low rate of acceptance, 35%. The admissions committee is highly selective with the students. Being a large scale university, it welcomes students with at least 70% international criteria, hoping to keep a diversified population within the campus. The specialised MBA course is designed to provide intensive and rigorous training to its students in the areas like research skills and enhancing one’s professional career.

The university is located in cosmopolitan Hong Kong, affording easy access to Asia and America, and has recently introduced a number of very exciting electives focused on digital transformation, management consulting, and private equity. Still want more? 

As the HKUST MBA continues to gain popularity, one of our Partners, Mr. Rishabh Gupta, interviewed the HKUST Assistant Director of Marketing & Admissions, Ms. Towni Lao, on the HKUST MBA, its future ambitions, recent changes to the curriculum, and the opportunities for international students available at the school.  

About HKUST: HKUST is among the top business schools in the world, ranked #18 among all global business schools in the FT Ranking (2019). It is consistently referred to as Asia’s top business school.

About GyanOne: GyanOne has helped over 3000 students make it to top MBA programs around the world over the last decade, and is one of Asia’s top MBA admissions consultants. Its clients regularly make it to the best MBA programs in Asia, Europe, Canada, and the USA. 

This interview does not imply any admissions partnership between GyanOne and HKUST.

HKUST MBA interview

GyanOne: Over the last 5 years, global MBA rankings have seen significant changes. HKUST’s appeal, though, has only grown. In your opinion, what are the factors that make HKUST continue to shine as a top MBA program, not just for Asia, but among top MBA programs around the world?

Towni Lao, HKUST MBA Admissions: To us as a business school at a university that focuses on science and technology, innovation is very important. We always view learning as a lifelong process, not just something that stops once you graduate from the MBA program.

At the moment, one of the factors we are emphasizing is that HKUST MBA graduates need to be global business leaders in today’s environment, and this is why we have introduced a number of new and additional global elements in our MBA curriculum.

Our class size (90-100 students each year) continues to be small, and our strategic location (Hong Kong, ‘Asia’s global city’), makes us an excellent fit for professional who either want the Asian experience or want to launch a global career with a base in and understanding of Asia.

Our strong and consistent rankings (HKUST was ranked 18th in the world among all top MBA programs in 2019 in the FT ranking) also reflect this fact, and we continue to attract not just an Asian, but indeed a top global student body every year.

The HKUST curriculum has seen a recent refresh. There is now an enhanced focus on consulting, and new options focused on digital business.

Students can take functional specialization and industry specializations too. What is the thought behind this change? Do we have more such changes coming?

 Our courses are designed along six career tracks, including Finance, Consulting, Management, Marketing, Entrepreneurship, and Business Technology and Analytics—a new track launched last year.

We are trying to offer more flexibility, and plan to reduce the number of core courses and increase that of the elective courses in the future, to offer greater avenues for customization to students, creating the tailor-made HKUST MBA, if you will.

Over time, we have had a lot of alumni going into the consulting and technology sectors, and the introduction of new options for these only reflects that. However, overall, we provide opportunities that are a mix of various alternatives.

We do not just focus on one track, either in our curriculum, or in terms of other learning opportunities, and this gives our students a lot of flexibility. Students take courses with the best professors around the world (drawn both from industry and of course academia, including those who also taught at other top global schools), and then decide on the mix that works best for them.

They can bring not just a theoretical perspective into the classroom, but also draw on their years of experience, that can help the students in deciding their own career paths too. Some examples of our action learning courses are:

Management Consulting: A case-based course taught by ex-consultant from McKinsey, Prof. Chris Doran, who was also Strategy Director for A.S.Watson (the retail division of Hutchison Whampoa), Lend Lease (one of Australia’s largest Real Estate companies) and UDV, the US$2 billion operating profit drinks division of Diageo plc.

The course teaches our students the key skills that management consultants use to solve business problems. This will be a demanding case-based course where students will learn the tools, skills and approaches adopted in leading management consultancies.

Luxury Strategy: It is a hands-on course that requires students to work in teams on a real-world marketing project with a luxury brand, which have included Kenzo and CÉLINE in the past.

The course addresses the unique properties, opportunities, and challenges of the luxury industry by studying issues relevant to the field in various aspects of the business.

Students will have the unique opportunity to interact with senior executives from the brand, and these executives will give them feedback on their research and recommendations, and guide them to understand their brand strategy and implementation.

Enhancing Professional Skills (EPS): To nurture our students as future business leaders, our professors with expertise in consulting, marketing, finance and management will deliver the winning secrets they have gained from writing effective executive summaries, making persuasive elevator pitches, presenting financial data logically and marketing business proposals. These are essential skill sets needed to excel in the workplace.

Apart from the recent new curriculum options introduced, we also run courses on Doing Business in China and on topics like Digital and Social Media Strategy.

All of these reflect current market realities, and our endeavor is to constantly update the curriculum to ensure that we are providing exposure and education in skill areas that the market demands.


HKUST is catering to changes in certain industries by also introducing separate electives in areas such as FinTech. How do you see the jobs scenario changing for HKUST MBA students in such areas? Are such jobs or roles already mainstream or are these options more for future proofing?

We definitely see a lot of promise in the application of technology to business, and this trend only reflects that. A lot of recruiters have been approaching us in the recent past, with requests for students who understand both business and technology.

Within the Hong Kong region in particular, we have a lot of financial services companies, and they are naturally looking for students, managers, and future leaders who can manage FinTech and help integrate it with existing operations.

Hong Kong has very recently announced that it is going to have its first virtual bank opening soon, and with such changes, the demand for techno-business professionals is only going to grow.

Overall, business technology options are already in the mainstream, and a knowledge of future-facing technologies such as AI and big data will only further equip students for the future, because technology is here to stay.

Tell us about the research that happens at HKUST across different fields. How can HKUST MBA students benefit from it? 

HKUST has always been a very research-centric institution. Our Dean (Professor Tam Kar Yan) himself began researching Artificial Intelligence in business 30 years ago, and this focus on research is reflected throughout our faculty body.

We have long been regarded as #1 in Asia in business research, and the current emphasis is on understanding how business works with technology, and how technology can help create new avenues for efficiency and demand.

Although not all our professors have tenure (the HKUST MBA program follows a twin faculty model, with teachers drawn both from academia and from industry), almost every faculty member is involved in either research or advising companies. For students, this can take various shapes.

They can get to be part of industry projects, can attend seminars on the latest topics, or even explore an area that is close to their heart with a faculty member, with the latter’s permission.

Unlike many other business schools, HKUST business school is part of a large university, and this affords cross-school interaction opportunities for HKUST MBA students. How do you see HKUST MBA students making the most of these?

Collaboration is woven into the entire HKUST experience right from day one. In the beginning, itself, we form diverse groups of students, and push them to work and learn together on challenging assignments.

A number of courses have professors asking for team-based work, and the grading is team-based too. The diversity is reflected not just in the student body, but also in the faculty – we have cross-cultural and cross-functional professors from different backgrounds teaching parts of the same courses together.

This has its cultural advantages, but it also has functional advantages – students gain from the experience of multiple teachers sharing their own academic and professional experiences as part of the same course. Finally, student clubs on campus provide an excellent avenue to network and to know your classmates better.

As the class size is small, this can mean that students form much more meaningful and deeper bonds that can help them hold professional relationships long after they graduate.

The HKUST MBA is a top ranked, high quality program, in Asia’s world city and its hub for business. Yet, some international students continue to be apprehensive on opportunities in English speaking roles. Please tell us more about such roles and what sectors they are available in.

We understand that this can be a concern area, and this is why we have Individual Career Coaches right in the beginning of the program. They help students to determine what direction they wish to go in, what works best for them, and what next steps they need to execute to achieve their goals.

As an international student, it is also important to be aware of what sectors will be more open to recruiting foreign students. For example, international marketing is likely to have more demand for international students, than say roles in local consumer marketing.

Similarly, Finance and Supply Chain roles, being more global in character, will also have more opportunities for international students. Some students also opt to go on exchange, while yet others choose to explore jobs in either their home countries in Asia, or in other business hubs such as Singapore.

Therefore, with the right planning and guidance, every international student can achieve his/her career goals very well at HKUST, provided they work hard to improve themselves and proactively reach out to recruiters for career opportunities.  

At the same time, the HKUST MBA Career and Professional Development team organizes career workshops, industry sharing panels, overseas career treks, recruitment events and the MBA Career Fair to equip students with the professional skillsets, industry insights and connections to succeed in the Hong Kong and Asia job markets.

It is interesting to note that HKUST has both academic and industry faculty on campus. What roles do each group of faculty members play? How are industry faculty members selected?

We have a thorough and rigorous process to select industry faculty members. They are generally senior industry leaders with experience across the globe, and specific experience in the Asian environment.

Most teach on a part-time basis, and some continue to be involved with corporate responsibilities simultaneously. We also have a lot of industry guest speakers and HKUST alumni come and share one-off experiences on campus, and the alumni body is strongly connected with every class.

There is an enhanced focus on entrepreneurship at HKUST. What resources are available for students who (a) come to HKUST as entrepreneurs already or (b) students who wish to explore entrepreneurial ideas and develop them during the MBA program ?

For students in category (a), we realize that they are trying to scale, and the HKUST Entrepreneurship Center has mentorship and advisory programs that help students develop better business plans, and organizes entrepreneurship competitions where they can win funding for their startups.

The center also arrange tours to different nations (e.g. Israel – a startup hub), to help them gain further exposure. For students in category (b), we have an MBA level entrepreneurship track, offering practical courses on entrepreneurial finance, founding and exiting, technology entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, etc.  

For students of both categories, we have funding schemes and connections with incubators at a university level. This has already spawned some excellent success stories.


For example, one of our students created an air pollution detector and got some help from engineering students at HKUST designing the product for free.

This kind of collaboration is only possible in a university set-up like ours, where we are not just running a business school, but also enabling students to connect and collaborate with peers in other schools at HKUST.

Today, the  uHoo Portable air quality detecting device is a big success, and has been featured on Forbes, The Business Times, TechInAsia, South China Morning Post and more.

Similarly, Coin Dragon, an automated coin exchange kiosk changing coins to digital values, charity donations or gift cards, is another example of an HKUST-founded venture. Our university also supported this venture by placing a kiosk on campus. There are several more examples.

Tell us about visa opportunities for international students. How hard is it to get one?

With the Immigration Arrangements for Non-local Graduates (IANG visa) in Hong Kong, full-time HKUST MBA students can stay in the city for up to one year even without a job offer, and can continue to use the same visa to work here once they secure a full-time job.

So visas are not a concern, and most employers are readily willing to recruit international students, unlike other countries like Singapore, U.K., and U.S.

Over 55% of our graduates get employed in Hong Kong itself last year, despite less than 5% of the class are locals.

One prominent success story is that of an Israeli lawyer, who, without any prior work experience in Hong Kong, first got a role as a Summer Associate with a venture capital company and eventually landed a full-time job with Infosys Consulting as Management Consultant in Hong Kong, thus travelling from Israel to study in Hong Kong, and ultimately working for an Indian company.

There are several other such stories too, and again, it is the global nature of the school and its outlook that makes this possible. We invite top professional from across the world to come and make a great global career for themselves at HKUST.


Want to check out more on HKUST MBA?

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Top spot in Asia: The HKUST MBA Admissions Team’s Interview with GyanOne


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