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#10 CUHK MBA Admissions Q&A with Mr. Lawrence Chan

CUHK MBA Admissions Director Lawrence Chan

“The core vision of the program relates to the positioning of Hong Kong: we try to blend the best of East and West. We bring in world-class western-style business education and a strong China element into the program. We want to nurture our graduates so they become truly multicultural and can work for Western or Chinese MNCs in the region.”

I recently had a great in-depth discussion with Mr. Lawrence Chan, Director of MBA Marketing & Admissions at Chinese University of Hong Kong, about the CUHK MBA. Mr. Chan went to CUHK for his bachelor and MBA degrees and has over 2 decades of experience in sales, promotion and recruiting in Hong Kong and China.

Lawrence emphasized that the program’s greatest strength is its “east meets west” pedagogy of incorporating the best parts of western business education within an Asia context. The school recently added an entrepreneurship concentration and more family business related electives as these sectors are proving integral to Asia’s growth.  An increasing number of CUHK MBAs are also working with Chinese MNCs that are fueling China’s global expansion. What a fascinating time to be working in Hong Kong and China!

Lawrence gives tons of great advice to those considering applying to CUHK and to top MBA programs in general. I especially appreciated his straight talk on how MBA applicants and students should plan their post-MBA careers.

The CUHK MBA in 3 words: East Meets West.

Listen on for much, much more!

Touch MBA’s CUHK MBA Fast Facts

Program Highlights (3:54)

  • Class size: 90 Full-time students
  • Makeup: 90% of Full-time students come from outside HK, 60-70% of students come from outside HK/China and are from 22 different countries
  • Program: normally 16-months, 12-months if students opt out of summer internship and exchange, starts in Aug.
  • One of the first two business schools in Asia accredited by AACSB
  • Core vision is related to positioning of Hong Kong: to blend the best of East and West
  • Target students who can work for both Western and Chinese MNCs
  • Massive number of electives (50) for 4 concentrations: China Business, Finance, Marketing and Entrepreneurship (which includes family business related curriculum)
  • 110 Faculty at CUHK Business School; 20 Adjunct Faculty with industry experience also teach MBAs
  • MBA taught entirely in English
  • Students can take Chinese language classes at the famous Yale-China Chinese Language Center before or during the MBA program
  • Dual degrees with HEC (France), Rotterdam (Netherlands) and Univ. Texas Austin (USA), Joint MBA / MSc in Finance degree

Admissions (15:55)

  • Emphasize good career planning and professionalism in their application process; be sure to show you are thoughtful about your career plans
  • Want to understand your career plans and motive for pursuing an MBA in personal statement.
  • View interview (1 hour) as important to get to know applicant
  • Looking for adaptive, proactive students looking to work in multicultural environments.
  • Average GMAT score: 630. Those with lower GMATs should think about what unique value they bring to the program
  • Preferred work experience requirement: 3 years
  • Preferred minimum GPA: second class lower or B grade
  • Candidates are evaluated the same in all 3 rounds (Nov 30, Jan 15, Mar 31)

Financing (33:52)

  • 30-40% of class gets partial scholarships ranging from 10-20% of admissions fees
  • Scholarships are merit based, and awarded along with acceptance letters
  • Diversity helps; CUHK looking to build more diverse student body
  • Smaller scholarship awards are also available during the program
  • Foreign students should look for loans in their home countries

Career (39:25)

  • CUHK has 2,000 MBA and EMBA alumni in China
  • 80% of graduates in 2012 found job opportunities in Hong Kong and Greater China
  • For the past 3 years, roughly 50% of graduates stay in Hong Kong, 20% in China, and 20% in Asia
  • CUHK MBA graduates can stay in Hong Kong for one year and look for jobs (with student visa)
  • Hong Kong government and employers welcome foreign talents – “the key is not to impress the government, it’s to impress the employers”
  • Each MBA student is paired with an “elite mentor” – a senior CUHK MBA alumn – based on their industry interests

Get In Touch

Show Notes:

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Full Transcript

Darren: This is Darren, your host of the Touch MBA podcast and it is my pleasure to introduce our next guest, Mr. Lawrence Chan, who is Director of Marketing of Student Recruitment for the MBA Programs and Chinese EMBA Program at the Chinese University of Hong Kong or what we refer to as CUHK. And Mr. Chan truly bleeds the CUHK purple, as he went to the university both as an undergrad and as an MBA student and he’s held a variety of sales roles and investment roles, getting people to invest in China and in Hong Kong, so he knows a lot about the region. Welcome to the show, Mr. Chan!

Lawrence Chan: Thank you, Darren, it’s a pleasure!

Darren: Could you just tell us a little bit more about yourself and your background before we get started?

Lawrence Chan: Okay. As you just mentioned, I received both my undergrad and MBA degrees at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, CUHK, so probably I’m quite well acquainted with the university. So I started my career in IBM when I graduated from the university many years ago. So I started working with them and especially in the China market development, business development, so I was in marketing and sales for IBM in China starting in the late 80s, so it was quite early when it was opened.

That relates to the positioning of Hong Kong as well, because Hong Kong is always a gateway to China, so actually a lot of people, professionals in Hong Kong or specialists from our university, we were working for multinational corporations to help opening up the China market in the early years. I stationed in Shanghai for a number of times in the 90s, I opened the IBM Shanghai office in 1992, so that was the early part of my career.

I have also worked for other US and UK companies, mainly running regional sales and business development, so actually I think I do bring in some experience to students in terms of their career growth and how they work with multinational corporations across different kinds of cultures, things like that.

I took up this position seven years ago, so I came back to my alma mater in 2006, so I took up the responsibility for developing the MBA, take it to many different parts of the world and I was also involved in managing some of the Chinese taught programs in China. Because apart from our running, world-class, English taught MBA and EMBA programs in Hong Kong, we also have several well-run, well-established Chinese taught MBA and EMBA programs in China. For example, we’ve been running a joint MBA program with Tsinghua University in Beijing and Shenzhen since year 2000, so again, we were pioneers on many different fronts and things in regard to MBA and EMBA education.

CUHK MBA Program Highlights

Darren: What a person to be sitting as a Director of Admissions, recruiting people to Hong Kong and to the region. I just want to let the audience know I’m also biased as well, because I studied abroad at CUHK as an undergraduate and if it wasn’t for that experience I probably would not be in Asia, it really changed my career trajectory. But let’s get straight to the meat and potatoes of the programs. Lawrence, there are so many MBA programs these days and I know CUHK has a long history, but what makes the CUHK MBA unique?

Lawrence Chan: I would say history is one of them, but I think the core value and the vision of the school and the program is probably something unique and so important in our hearts. It again relates to the positioning of Hong Kong, so we always try to blend the East and the West, so we try to bring in world class western style business education, adopting a lot of theories, models, teaching methodologies from top programs in the US, because actually we partner, we work with a lot of top schools in the US in terms of bringing professors who are mostly PhD grads from top US business schools, with top methodology and theory. But on the other hand, we’re unique in the sense that we bring in also the China element into the programs. So we mix it and ultimately we want to nurture our graduates so that they become truly multicultural and they’re able to work for multinational companies.

Or, on the other hand, now a good number of our graduates are actually working for rapidly growing Chinese organizations, for example Huawei. And many Chinese banking organizations are growing so rapidly, especially in Hong Kong and in Asia, and so they’re challenging and competing aggressively with leading companies in any industries. It used to be dominated by maybe US or European companies, and their globalization is obviously very important, probably the next 50 – 60 of the business history of China. So we believe our graduates will play a role in this ball game, so that’s probably something unique to us.

Darren: Okay, so just really CUHK’s strong reputation in Hong Kong and China and being a part of this economic growth and growing multinational Chinese companies as well is a real advantage to go to CUHK, right?

Lawrence Chan: Yes.

Darren: And are there any new, exciting developments this year with the program?

Lawrence Chan: Well, we’ve had a lot of continuous development lately as well as probably something in our plans. For example, lately we’ve launched an entrepreneurship concentration in the MBA program, which is quite unique, especially among schools in the region. So we offer courses related to VC/PE Entrepreneurship, Family Business Research, that sort of thing. Because we believe these things are quite important to Asian economies. So you’ll see probably less US schools are putting a lot of energy, but we put in effort in terms of developing courses, in terms of research, because we believe this is something so important to the Asian economy. We do have students who are coming from a family business background.

Darren: And how big is your class, your full-time class? How many students are there?

Lawrence Chan: Not big. As you might know, the Asian schools in terms of class size are not that huge, comparing to the US programs. I think we have approximately 90 full-time students, we have approximately 110 to 120 part-time MBA students each year. So it’s not big, comparing to some of the US schools.

Darren: Okay, but you were talking about your new entrepreneurship elective and I saw you had three other concentrations, China Business, Finance and Marketing as well. And for a class of 90 to choose from so many electives, that’s pretty amazing. How big is the faculty at CUHK to be able to teach so many electives?

Lawrence Chan: Good point. Besides Entrepreneurship Concentration, we actually have a number of pretty unique elective courses available. For example, this year we’ve launched a new course about Luxury Brand Management. We actually have quite a few unique courses about China Banking, China Financial System, China Capital Systems, China Marketing and things like that. So we actually offer quite a variety of elective courses to the students, given we’re actually not that big comparing to some of the US programs.

So in terms of faculty size, as a business school we have about 110 professors, which is quite big in terms of Asian size. Of course, a number of them were attributed to the teaching of undergraduate students, but we also bring in probably about 20 I would say adjunct professors to the MBA program or graduate programs, especially people with substantial industry experience.

For example, one gentleman who is teaching management consulting in our program is actually the ex-head of office for BCG, Boston Consulting Group, in Hong Kong. So he’s a partner and he’s an ex-head of the office. So for example we have a gentleman who is now teaching China banking systems. He is actually the former chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission. So you can imagine, he’s like the head of monetary authority in Singapore or something like that, so he’s teaching about China banking.

So these people, they bring in tons of industry and solid market experience in addition to the academic credentials. So we leverage on both kind of regular faculty as well as some of these adjunct professors into the program, to build the diversity and the options we would like to offer to our students.

Darren: And on the diversity note, just to make it clear to our audience, the CUHK program, even though it’s in Hong Kong, is taught entirely in English, correct?

Lawrence Chan: Yes, absolutely.

Darren: Okay. And could you give us a rough breakdown in terms of what percentage of the class comes from outside Hong Kong and China?

Lawrence Chan: Well, in the full-time class, at the moment, 90% of the students are actually coming from outside of Hong Kong. Including China, then approximately 60 to 70% of the students are actually coming from outside of Hong Kong – China. So they are typically coming from about 20 other countries, like Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and then typically about five – six European countries, like Germany, France, Italy, Eastern Europe, North America, occasionally from South America, not a lot.

Darren: Yes, and I’ll put a link in the show notes, that wonderful map you have on your website that lets people see which countries your students are coming from. But on that note, why should candidates get their MBA in Hong Kong of all places?

Lawrence Chan: It’s always a big question. If you talk to somebody especially outside of Asia, so if you talk to candidates in Europe or North America, typically they would have a lot of good options and choices in their continent for sure. I think largely it relates to the rise of the Asian economy and they are mostly looking for job opportunities and career development opportunities after MBA in Greater China. So this is a primary drive.

Many of them want to kind of experience something quite different than their home country, somewhat similar to your experience.

Darren: Yes, yes.

Lawrence Chan: You went to a great school in US, in Princeton. Yes, there are a lot of good schools in the US, but I think nowadays most young professionals, at least myself, I would always encourage them to go beyond your home soil or go beyond your comfort zone, try to explore the outside world, because the world is getting really globalized in the job market. The employers are always looking for people with multidimensional experience. When I say multidimensional, I mean ideally multi-location experience, multicultural experience, different kinds of exposure. So they are looking to build that for their career and their life.

Darren: So we’ll definitely come back to the career questions, because I have a lot of those for you, but on that note, do candidates need to be able to speak Chinese to get these jobs in China, in Hong Kong? Because I would imagine that would be a big concern.

Lawrence Chan: The answer is yes and no, meaning that it’s not mandatory. For example, right now about 80% of my graduates in 2012 work in Hong Kong or China after MBA, but bear in mind that when they came in, in the class, about 60% of them actually could not speak Chinese. They may have had some basic knowledge, basic conversational knowledge, but they were not able to communicate professional in Chinese. Of course, we encourage them to pick up the basics and learn some, have a good understanding, but it’s still hard for them to be able to communicate professional or write a equity research report in Chinese, that would be very advanced.

Darren: Absolutely.

Lawrence Chan: So after all there is a challenge, it’s always a plus, but they’re still able to find a job. Of course, we always explain to them, “Look, it’s always an advantage if you try hard to pick up one Asian language.” It’s not just Chinese and in fact we do have Korean and Japanese employers who are expanding in Hong Kong, who have come to our campus and talked to us and said, “Ideally, you have candidates who have good, western education like hours, but ideally, if they could also speak Korean and Japanese.”

But it’s hard, it’s never that easy. A typical American, you expect him to come to Hong Kong to study in a decent MBA and able to speak Mandarin and Korean, that would be quite hard, unless they are originally from the region, but it would be hard. But of course some of them actually work hard on this, some of my European students especially, they could speak decent Mandarin after spending some time in our program, especially as some of them went through our Mandarin training in the campus.

Darren: And actually I wanted to ask you about that. Is that included in the tuition or is that a separate program?

Lawrence Chan: It’s a separate option, it’s not part of the MBA program. The course is actually offered by the Language Training Center, that belongs to a different department.

Darren: It’s very well known in Asia, I can say that, yes.

Lawrence Chan: You probably know that.

Darren: Yes.

Lawrence Chan: That center has been around, it was established years ago together with Yale and we’ve taught a lot of diplomats Mandarin and Chinese culture and things like that in Hong Kong, especially before China was opened up. So yes, we encourage them to go to this Center. Right now we are actually arranging a number of our foreign MBA students to arrive a bit earlier, for example in June instead of late August, to have two months intensive Mandarin before they start the MBA program. So this is the way we help them to get them into the market in Asia, because obviously some of them are quite keen to continue their career development in Greater China.

Darren: So to sum that up, definitely being able to speak Mandarin is a plus when you’re looking for a job in Hong Kong and in the Greater China region, but as Lawrence has said, the stats speak for themselves, 90% of your graduates end up working in Asia, but 60% of your class is foreign.

Lawrence Chan: Yes.

CUHK MBA Admissions

Darren: So those guys are finding jobs, those men and women are finding jobs in Asia. So if we could shift the spotlight to admissions, can you walk us through the life of an application in your office from an operational standpoint? I know you have three deadlines and your last one’s coming up on March 15th.

Lawrence Chan: Yes.

Darren: So there’s November 13th, January 15th and March 15th deadlines. But can you just explain to potential candidates how your application process works?

Lawrence Chan: It’s not complicated. I would say it would be quite similar to most of the key schools in the US. You have to go to the online website, you put in your information, you need to find somebody to write you two references letters, you need to attend a GMAT test, you need to write a statement. In the statement we don’t want to ask students to answer a particular question or test them in terms of their commercial ability, things like that. We want to actually know them, mainly our focus is on understanding their career plans, their motives for MBA education. So these are the key questions about a personal statement.

I know there are some students, especially some from Asia, when they apply to US schools, they would need to find tutors to help with the statement, polish this, polish that. To us, we don’t think that is something really necessary. We think, “Tell us your true self, tell us what’s really in your mind.” Because ultimately, what we want to do is to help them, especially with their career aspirations, and understand what works for them. So “Tell us who you are” is probably the key message I would like to explain.

We are not looking for the best writer, this is not a writing test, so we are trying to understand your motive, your objective and your career plans and we will explain to you what works, what doesn’t, when we interview them, when we explain. Because most of the senior offices of the MBA programs, we actually possess substantial multinational management experience, so we can probably look at it from a more commercial angle in terms of people development, talent development and career development. So I think that’s always the point I want to stress.

So don’t worry too much about the statement. I know there are a lot of people in Asia, the Korean students, the Taiwan students, Thai students, when they apply to the US programs, they’re “Wow!” they just spend so much time to work on the statement. To us it’s not that hard, it’s just, “Tell us your true self.”

So the others are quite straightforward, I would say. You have to send us some supporting documents, like transcript and things like that. And to us, we put quite a bit of attention on interview. For each student, we would conduct an interview for at least one hour to a Director level person in the program. Because, again, we want to know the individual. We are not just looking at figures up here on your transcript or on your GMAT score sheet, we would rather really want to know who you are, what did you do before MBA, career aspirations, how do you see your challenges, character, do you think you’re fit to what you think you want to do, that sort of thing.

Darren: So you mentioned you’re not looking for professional writers and you want to see the real applicant behind all these different documents.

Lawrence Chan: Yes.

Darren: But if I may ask, what are you looking for?

Lawrence Chan: Okay. We’re looking for people who are adaptive, who would like to always work in a multicultural environment, who are eager to communicate, who are engaged and participative and who have a good understanding of the development of their career and there’s a good plan, a detailed plan for what they want to achieve. They understand the importance of building blocks for their next step, they’re not just looking for… just a week ago I was explaining that we don’t expect MBA students to just simply double their salary right after MBA. Sometimes it does not make that much sense, especially in Asia, it might not happen.

So don’t just focus on your first one paycheck after the MBA, but rather think about the long-term, how to build your capabilities, how to build your competence, so that in the long-term, over the next 30 years of your career, you are ahead of either your peers or ahead of yourself if you had not done an MBA, so that you could become a leader. And then, if you can demonstrate that, money will follow. That’s our theory, so we’re looking for these kinds of qualities or attributes as an MBA student.

Darren: I hear what you’re looking for is career focus and maturity, that’s what comes through when you tell me all those things.

Lawrence Chan: Sure, yes.

Darren: Especially with the 12-month or 16-month program that you guys have.

Lawrence Chan: Yes.

Darren: Now you mentioned you’re looking at the transcripts and the GMAT scores and work experience, but I did see on your site that you do have a preferred minimum work experience of three years.

Lawrence Chan: Yes.

Darren: And also a preferred minimum GPA of second class lower or B grade.

Lawrence Chan: Yes.

Darren: So for candidates who have less than three years of work experience, it’s two separate questions, or people with less than a B average, would you still encourage them to apply?

Lawrence Chan: For example, for people whose academic record is slightly below the average, we don’t mind, we encourage them to apply.

Darren: Okay.

Lawrence Chan: For example, for people with two years of experience, we would like them to really consider before applying. Because let me explain why we suggest that, because we are not in the business of just admitting the most number of students, we’re in the business of helping them to grow.

So somebody who now has two years of experience, they need to ask themselves a few questions before applying to any business school. Are they competitive, on one hand, when they are kind of competing with other classmates, with on average four to five years of experience? So is this the right time to pursue an MBA or would it be a better time to pursue an MBA say two years later, when they have four years of experience?

Because you only do an MBA once probably a lifetime. You can’t say, “Okay, I’ll do it now, when I have two years of experience, and maybe a few years later, when I get into like six or seven, I’ll do it again.” It doesn’t work that way. So find the right timing for you. Because for example somebody with two years of experience, typically they have not learned enough or they have not accumulated a fair amount of experience in their current job, whatever it is, it could be an analyst in an iBank or a junior consultant or a relationship office manager in a bank.

So it might be a good idea if my current job is a relationship manager in a bank, now having two years of experience. So actually, if you continue for another two years, you work for four years as a relationship manager, the maturity of that timescale will be very helpful for you in the MBA, when you attend the MBA at the time when you have finished four years. It’s a more complete finishing of your first job probably in your career rather than people questioning you. Even if you’re admitted to an MBA, people will question you, “What did you do in these two years? Is that a good timescale in terms of really understanding that you are mature enough as say an equity analyst or relationship manager?”

Because two years is short in terms of really understanding the job as an equity analyst or relationship manager. So this is the reason behind. So we would like students to think carefully. Because after they’re admitted if they realize, “Hey, I’m the one who has the shortest experience in the class, I’m kind of at a disadvantage comparing to my classmates both in terms of the depth of my knowledge, the maturity of my business experience, the discussions and all this and that, then you will have pressure, you will feel bad and when you go out on the job market you will also be at a disadvantage.

Because when employers look at all these people, they say, “Hey, most of the others have like four to five, sometimes six, where they had like two jobs, each three years, and you only had one job and it seems to be quite premature.” So that’s the advice we would like to give to students when we come across them.

Darren: That’s very clear. So CUHK wants its graduates to succeed, and for that to happen they have to be very aware and cognizant of how much experience really qualifies as good experience in their industry.

Lawrence Chan: Absolutely.

Darren: And know who they’re competing against once they come out of school, that’s very clear. And do applicants have a better chance if they apply in round one, earlier?

Lawrence Chan: Technically, no, because in theory we apply the same objective assessment standard to everybody, regardless of the rounds that they apply, but in certain areas, like allocation of dormitories and yes, it might have some psychological preference, but technically, we follow the same process, we assess each applicant according to exactly the same process, no matter whether they applied in October or in March.

Darren: So there’s no, candidates often say, “Oh, do you have a quota? You’re going to take two thirds of your students in your first round.”

Lawrence Chan: No, we don’t do that, because quality is always the key. So we would not admit somebody simply because he’s early.

Darren: Sure, got it. And your average GMAT score is around 6.30, correct?

Lawrence Chan: Yes.

Darren: So for candidates who aren’t quite there, have a lower score, of course if they get a great GMAT score, that’s always a plus, but if they have a lower score, what can they do to improve their chances?

Lawrence Chan: I can tell you the score, I think right now, this year the latest figures were about 650, but still not that high. Honestly, it’s not that high comparing to some schools in the US or even some schools in India.

Darren: Well, of course some schools in India.

Lawrence Chan: So as I’ve said, our focus is not trying to admit the batch of students who have the highest GMAT score among the applicants. If that was our focus, our life would be easy, because we’d just need a computer to screen out and cut according to the GMAT score. Because we need to talk to them and that’s why we need at least one hour interviews with each one of them and so on and so forth.

So we actually reject a good number of applications who had actually a better than average GMAT score but we did admit somebody who had a lower than average GMAT score. So the focus, to go back to your question, if I don’t have a stellar GMAT score, then the focus is to… of course, those people must have some unique value add in terms of either the kind of experience they would bring to the program, they have a unique background, they have certain knowledge where it’s not that popular in Hong Kong.

For example, we have students who are from Russia and who had experience in resources and commodity trading and good knowledge of the resources industry, which is not that popular in Hong Kong or even in Singapore. But they do add value by sharing their knowledge, their experience and things like that. So this we think is more important than I have one more Indian student with 550 GMAT.

Darren: 750 GMAT you mean, right?

Lawrence Chan: So to us, if you don’t have a really stellar GMAT score, then think about, “What value do I bring to the program? What kind of contribution I could bring to help my class?” when you go to the interview to explain yourself. So I think this is something a candidate should try to present themselves with.

Darren: Couldn’t agree more and I’ve actually done a podcast episode just on that, on how you really need to show how you can add value to the school, not just what the school can give you. It’s kind of like what president Kennedy said to the US, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country?” It’s the same thing for MBA programs.

Lawrence Chan: Yes.

Darren: And just a last question on admissions. Can you offer one or two tips to applicants, what can they do to improve their chances of admission? We’ve covered a few of them already, but are there any more?

Lawrence Chan: Especially I think one point they need to be quite thoughtful about their career plans. Because for example you are an IT engineer, there are a lot of people working as IT engineers in almost any country in Asia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, India, China, Korea and so on and so forth, and you have pretty average performances in terms of your career achievements to date and things like that. But then be realistic, so don’t explain to the admission officer, “The only company I’m going to work for after MBA is McKinsey.” It does not sound that impressive, it does not sound that reasonable.

So set up a reasonable path for your career progression and if the plans are reasonable and more possible, then you have a better chance of being admitted and you will find your more reasonable career progression. Because many students, to be honest, they did not do enough homework in terms of summing up their career plans and sometimes we ask them, “Do you really know how many people does McKinsey employ in a year in Asia? Not a lot. And if you add up all the schools, you might see about 500 individuals who want to get to work for McKinsey in Asia. Does McKinsey employ 500 people in Asia in a year? Are you the best guys?”

So that kind of reality, have a realistic plan, that will demonstrate you are mature enough, you have good knowledge of what’s going on in the market. So this is a tip to improve your chances. Because to be honest, I think I was in Singapore like three months ago, all the key schools in the region, including our friends in Singapore, our friends from China, everybody was obviously discussing about helping students, career services for students and the trends in Asian cities, which industry is booming, which industry is not doing that well, blah-blah-blah and how should we tune our plans and strategy in terms of helping them. So all the key offices from the schools are always discussing this. So that is always an important tip to the students.

And the good news is I’ve seen people getting a bit more realistic, having the right expectations, having the right direction in the last probably two to three years, especially I think they have a better understanding after the financial turmoil in 2008. So after some time they understand better, in a more realistic way, their career plans. I think that will always help them and us in terms of developing them.

Darren: So if I could sum that up in one word, professionalism. It’s really what you’re looking for and to the audience out there, CUHK obviously places a very strong emphasis on professionalism, but this applies to really all schools. They want to see that you have a great plan, a clear plan and a realistic plan, a stretch plan, but a realistic plan of what you can do with your MBA.

Lawrence Chan: Yes.

CUHK MBA Financing & Scholarships

Darren: So if we could talk about financing the CUHK MBA. Could you talk a little bit more about what percentage of your class gets scholarships and what a typical average scholarship amount would be?

Lawrence Chan: Okay. I think on average about 30 to 40% of our students get some scholarship. We don’t want to just offer scholarship to a few top students, so we don’t have something like, “Okay, let’s give full scholarship to one student,” we don’t do that. We think it’s also important that the student is making his own investment in the MBA program. So we don’t want to offer our financial resources to just a few students and those few get full scholarship, we don’t do that.

We do take into account, “Okay, let’s help a number of students,” we look into different criteria in terms of their interview performance, their work experience, the exposure. Of course we do take into consideration the GMAT score. So on average a fairly strong student would expect to get maybe 15 to 20% of tuition as a scholarship and some good ones would probably be over 20%. But again they will still need to be responsible for at least a majority part of their investment in the MBA, because after all it is your investment of your time and money and energy, so you manage it better if you know how to manage that.

Darren: And your scholarships are all merit-based then?

Lawrence Chan: Basically, yes, merit-based.

Darren: And are they included with the offer or is it students must accept the offer first and then apply for scholarships?

Lawrence Chan: We try to make things simple for the students, so we make an offer to a candidate, then we would tell them in the offer letter about the scholarship. So we don’t ask them to apply again and fill in forms and then attend another round of interview, we don’t do that.

Darren: Got it.

Lawrence Chan: We think we’ve done enough in assessing them in terms of interview and statement and things like that. So we don’t want to waste everybody’s time to go through another round of interviewing and another statement letter, that sort of thing.

Darren: Okay, so aside from being a very strong candidate to give themselves the best chances, are there any other tips? Like do you have certain scholarships for family business? I guess what I’m trying to say is is there a place where students can look at your different scholarships so have those profiles in mind when they’re applying?

Lawrence Chan: We don’t have a specific emphasis on any particular industry in terms of where they’re coming from. As I said, we always welcome diversity, we always want to see people who are coming from a unique background, as you mentioned. Actually at the moment quite a few of our students from the ASEAN countries are actually from family business background, we like to hear the experience, we like to see how they share their knowledge in terms of running a family business in countries like Indonesia or Thailand, which as I mentioned before, a family business and their growth are important to these countries.

So we don’t draw a line about a particular type of people, but after they are admitted to the program, actually within the program, during their study, we do have certain kinds of scholarships that are focused on awarding a certain type of achievement, like who is doing well in family business, who is doing well in business plan competitions, things like that.

Darren: Okay, and in terms of loans, if you’re an international student, is it possible to get student loans in Hong Kong or do they have to get them in their home countries?

Lawrence Chan: Good question. To be honest, based on our experience, it would not be easy to get student loans in Hong Kong. Let me explain why, because most of these foreign students, either you’re from Italy or Russia or India, South America, Middle East, the challenge is you talk to a bank in Hong Kong, in the banking sector, if you don’t really have a good history with the bank, they don’t know who you are, you are a foreigner coming to study, the process of processing a loan is tough and is hard.

So I would always suggest, talk to their home bank, I mean they must have some banking relationship back in their home country, where they have their own bank record, they might have a credit card with their own bank and they have worked with that bank for some time. So talk to somebody in your home country, that knows you, rather than you try.

We can refer some of the banks in Hong Kong, but to be honest, I don’t see them really active in engaging in loans to foreign students.

Darren: That makes a lot of sense, you’ve already built up a financial history, credit history, with your local banks. So I know it is still tough for many international students to find funding, but that is probably the strongest possibility.

Lawrence Chan: Yes.

CUHK MBA Careers

Darren: Okay, career, let’s talk about career, because everyone is concerned about getting a great job, both the school and the candidate.

Lawrence Chan: Yes.

Darren: I first have to say your career employment report was quite enjoyable, it said “Weathering the storm,” it was the nicest looking career report I’ve seen. But there are some really impressive stats in there. But what is CUHK’s MBA’s reputation not only in Hong Kong, but in China? And if you could talk, I’d love to hear a little bit more about the strength of your network in China as well. And so in general what is CUHK MBA’s reputation with employers?

Lawrence Chan: I think if we interviewed the employers, if we talked to them, so, “What do you think about our students?” I think again they would probably go back to the point I made earlier. So they would see people who have a good read of both East and the West in terms of the cultural understanding of the business challenges in China, but solid training from a Western perspective in terms of business education, have gone through good training in terms of finance, marketing theories and all these fundamental, essential business skills, but also have good knowledge in China. And that is something I think that will be in the minds of the employers, be it in Hong Kong or China.

We do have now a number of our foreign students who are actually working for Chinese companies, as I mentioned, who you can say have a unique culture, because they are still after all Chinese companies headquartered in Beijing or Shanghai or Shenzhen, but they are rapidly looking for globalization. And they do not mind and they actually welcome non-Chinese speaking foreign graduates from our program. Because they want them to help them to develop business in other parts of the world and to inject new ideas, new ways of doing things into their program. But they also need to see these people having ability to adapt to Eastern culture, business culture. So I think these are always the traits of our students in terms of employers.

In terms of network, I actually made a count one day, because we’ve had years of history of running different kinds of programs. In terms of graduate business programs, including EMBA and others, I think we have about close to 2,000 alumni just for EMBA and MBA alone in China. So that would be a big network of individuals working in different cities and industries and things like that. So I think that would be an important asset for us in the whole of Greater China.

Darren: Okay, interesting. I mean it’s such a fascinating time to go to a business school, not just in Asia, but in China, and be a part of this global expansion, these Chinese companies. I mean just ten years ago it was always the other way around. So I saw that roughly 47, this is your last year’s stats, 47% of your students stayed in Hong Kong, 21% of your students ended up working in China and 20% in other countries in Asia. Is this a relatively stable trend where the majority of your students?

Lawrence Chan: Yes, I would say this has been more or less the same shape in the last probably three years.

Darren: Okay, and in terms of the visa arrangement in Hong Kong, so your candidates get to have a student visa and then after they graduate, what happens with their visa, do they have more time to look for a job in Hong Kong, how does that work?

Lawrence Chan: In general, the government policy in Hong Kong is very open. Let me explain that, for example they could have one year after the graduation to kind of allow them time to look for jobs. So they don’t need to apply for a new visa after their graduation. And B, when they find a job, when they were employed by an employer, and typically this is a big question in the US and maybe in UK now about work visa, but in Hong Kong the government is actually very open, so work visa is generally not an issue. Because we are very welcome and we’re open to foreign talents into the city.

I keep telling my students, the key for you is not to impress the government, it’s just that need to impress the employer, you are the best man. If you are the best person, when the employer applies for your work visa in the government, the process is not complicated. It’s fairly simple, so it’s not bureaucratic, it’s not difficult. So that’s why we do have a good number of foreign students working in Hong Kong. At least to the employers, visa is not a major hurdle. To them, finding the right individual is still the key.

Darren: Got it, crystal clear. I love that, don’t worry about impressing the government, impress the employers. And so a graduate can stay in Hong Kong for roughly a year period to find a job? Did I understand that correctly?

Lawrence Chan: Yes.

Darren: Okay, great. And can you highlight the one or two things that your career services does to help students find jobs or really this is a question about how do students leverage the CUHK network to find jobs, like what are the most common ways that they do that?

Lawrence Chan: Several things. I think if you maybe let me expand your question a little bit to overall strategy for the career service function of the MBA program. So first of all, it’s the people. So who are the people who are working in the career service office? Actually I met your ex-colleagues and your friends in Singapore a few months ago, we discussed quite a bit on this. For example, our career service office is managed not by professors. The head of the office is actually a former HR director for Oracle and did HR consulting in PWC, so very experienced, very talented in understanding to work progress, career progression in MNCs.

Most of the members of the team are from HR background or headhunters. So we do have a good knowledge in the market, in how things work in the real world in terms of employment into multinationals and things like that. So first of all it’s who is helping the students? So this is point number one.

Point number two is what kind of methodologies do we employ to help them? So we put in a lot of practical and commercially-oriented tools to help them. Again, numerous examples. We bring in alumni to run something like an assessment centre, like what happened in iBanks with them during the program. We bring in people who are from the iBank to explain to you how does it work.

As I mentioned, one of the professors who is actually teaching the management consulting class, he was the former partner and head of office for PSG in Hong Kong, so he would go through, “Okay, let’s talk about case based interview in consulting firms.” So they go through the exactly same process before they meet with real opportunity. So this is the methodology. Of course we also help them to shape up other skills, such as even wining and dining in China and Japan, for example, so how do you engage.

Darren: It’s not a simple thing.

Lawrence Chan: It’s not a simple thing!

Darren: It’s actually very complicated.

Lawrence Chan: In addition to the academic performance, we say, “Okay, let’s talk a little bit about the wining and dining etiquette of China companies or Japanese companies, if you have the chance to work in a role where you have to work on these things.” So these are the tips and tools that we put in to help them to polish non-academic skills, especially like presentation skills and things like that. So these are the tools that we help them build. Of course, in terms of network, they have a lot of opportunity to meet with alumni through all kinds of events.

We have something Elite Mentorship Program, each student will be assigned a mentor. The mentor is actually invited by the dean, because they are senior MBA alumni, so many of them graduated like 30 years ago and they would be personally engaged in coaching them, in helping them according to their industry preference. Let me again give you an example. If you tell me you’re interested in venture capitals, one of the mentors from our program is actually the executive director for Citigroup Venture Capital for Greater China. So he would be explaining to you the whole process of what’s happening in the venture capital industry. One of my classmates, who’s also a mentor, she has been the head of HR for Asia Pacific for Merrill Lynch for the last 17 years, so she would probably tell you a lot about what’s going on in the hiring process of iBanks and all this and that.

So we have a lot of these helpful alumni who are coming back to help as a personal coach to the students, so they will be assigned one each, one on one, to coach them according to their career interests.

Darren: That is really incredible. And I don’t know, there’s probably a handful of business schools that have alumni that have graduated 30 years ago, right? So that is really an awesome opportunity. So how can candidates, what is the best way for them to get in touch with your current students and alumni if they want to hear the student experience?

Lawrence Chan: They could contact us, we could always refer them, we don’t mind, we’d be happy to arrange them to come in for a class visit, a sit-in, even directly contact. Some of our students, they would do their own blogs. The prospective candidates could post a message on our Facebook page or contact the office. We’re happy to arrange them to talk, if they’re from Japan, we’re happy to let them talk to our current Japanese students and things like that, so we’re happy to do that.

Darren: Okay, so get in touch with your team through either your admissions office, contact info, which I’ll link to, or your Facebook account.

Lawrence Chan: Yes.

Darren: Okay, great. First, is there anything else about the CUHK MBA that you wish more candidates knew about? Is there some big misconception or just something that you wish more people knew about the program?

Lawrence Chan: I think we covered a wide range of things that are happening in our program!

Darren: Okay, great. And do you guys do any sort of pre-assessment if someone is not quite sure if they’re a fit?

Lawrence Chan: We do. Like we did consultation sessions with prospective students, we could talk to them and assess and explain to them, even pre-application discussion. We will be real honest, we talk to them and say, “Look, your plans are not realistic.” For example, we did come across people who had unreasonable plans when they talked to us at the early stages of the application process, we explained to them, “Look, this is not,” and we told them exactly what’s happened in the Asian market, especially in terms of employment in Korea. Because I keep explaining to them that there are certain differences, especially from the employer’s side, comparing to what happened in the US.

So a lot of students, they would receive or retrieve a lot of information from websites or they talk to friends in the US, so they would have a certain impression about how things work in the US. But certain things, they do not work in a similar way in Asia. So we need to explain to them for example the employment process or hiring process or individual process. Even for the same company, you talk to Citigroup in Hong Kong and you talk to them in the US, it’s the same brand name, same company, but the HR strategy, the hiring process, they’re different. So we love to explain to them that based on our knowledge of working with these people in the region.

Darren: That’s great. So candidates can submit a resume and then arrange a time to speak to you? Is that what they can do?

Lawrence Chan: Sure.

Darren: Great, I’ll definitely put a link to that as well. And Lawrence, if you could just leave us with three words to describe the CUHK MBA.

Lawrence Chan: I would still say “East meets West” is the key message I would like to get across.

Darren: East meets West, I love that. Thank you for your time, Lawrence, and I hope to have you back on the program sometime next year to talk.

Lawrence Chan: No problem! Thank you!

Darren: Thanks, Lawrence!

Lawrence Chan: If we have a chance to travel to Ho Chi Minh City would love to catch up with you!

Darren: Great! Yes, that’s my hometown. Lots going on here. That’s all folks, don’t be shy! If you have questions that you would like answered on the show, let us know at See you soon!

3 thoughts on “#10 CUHK MBA Admissions Q&A with Mr. Lawrence Chan

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