Feature Stories

30.08.2018

Founders of Excellence

Professor Steven DeKrey brought HKUST and Kellogg together, and their joint EMBA Program became the envy of the world.

Since it was launched in 1998, the striking success of the Kellogg-HKUST EMBA Program has played a key role in establishing the global reputation of, what was then, a fledgling business school. Professor Steven DeKrey, now the School’s Associate Dean, was the EMBA’s Founding Director and a vital initial point of connection between HKUST and Kellogg.

Not only had Professor DeKrey studied at Kellogg, graduating from the class of 1985, he had also stayed on for several years working under the Dean of Kellogg, Professor Don Jacobs, who in later years became a friend and mentor.

In 1995, at an AACSB conference in Chicago, Professor DeKrey was recruited by the then Founding Dean of HKUST Business School, Professor Chan Yuk Shee, to build up the School’s Masters Programs which at that time was only an MBA. “Within six months I was living and working in Hong Kong,” DeKrey recalls.

At the same conference, Professor Chan, a former Kellogg faculty member, also got talking to Dean Jacobs about the two schools collaborating on a non-degree executive education program.

Birth of the EMBA

“I was convinced a joint EMBA degree would be the best choice,” Professor DeKrey notes. "I watched Kellogg start-up partnerships in Israel and Germany. As a very young school, Yuk Shee was worried we did not have the faculty strength yet to handle EMBA students and Dean Jacobs was busy starting the other partnerships so his associate dean tried to convince us to go with executive education first.”

“I saw the need for a high end EMBA degree program to uplift the HKUST reputation and help Kellogg, my alma mater build brand in Asia. Eventually Yuk Shee and Don supported me and with Yuk Shee convincing Woo Chai Wei, HKUST’s Founding President, it was full speed ahead,” Professor Dekrey says. “As the advocate and loyal alum with trust all around, I was given complete freedom by both institutions as founding director to put the program together and make it happen. I remained director for 15 years. After the first two program administrators we found and hired Judy Au. Joining at the end of KH02, Judy has been critical in our reputation rise, knowing how to handle students, building a strong support team and perfecting all operations. I used to privately call Judy our secret weapon, but this was one secret impossible to keep.”

“I really wanted a flagship program which showed the quality was here," Professor DeKrey says. "Don Jacobs and I agreed that any surplus revenue would go towards brand building, as we saw this program primarily as a reputation-enhancer for both schools. Quality was always top of mind with continuous improvement as the strategy. Judy fits right into this and was on board from day one with this strategy.”

However, even with the backing of Kellogg, with its track record, getting the faculty and students together in the beginning was a major challenge.

“After lots of hard work and many one on one discussions we ended up, surprisingly, with a fabulous first class of 33 students" Professor DeKrey says. "It included the president of FedEx Asia Pacific, the treasurer of HSBC, Top Investment bankers, the head of a large US shipping line and a very capable lady running airline cargo. We set a very high bar.”

Professor DeKrey, who had been dean of admissions at Kellogg for six years, and holds a PhD in Psychology, believes this first class sent a great message to the market. He says: “I’m into leadership assessment and development, so our strategy from Day 1, was to pick the best among the top. I was very strict about them having a minimum of ten years of work experience and senior positions. With their resulting high incomes, the FT rankings later confirmed our unique strategy and quality.”

Building on success

The Program was launched before China had really opened up, Professor DeKrey says. “But we were imagining opportunities," he says. "We saw ourselves initially as a supplier of top talent to, basically, the multinationals, the big companies who were moving into Asia.”

Over the years, though, there have also been a number of students engaged in startups. “Four classmates in the very first class formed a company called V Logic, a Hong Kong-based logistics company," Professor DeKrey says. "It still exists.”

Today, each EMBA cohort at HKUST numbers around 50, and Professor DeKrey sees the quality of these students, as well as of the faculty, as a major factor behind the Program’s world-best ranking. “Curriculum evolution is constant here," he says, "and frankly it gets pushed by the market and by our students, who come from multiple industries and ask for new content.”

While HKUST can only offer so many electives, the School’s EMBA students can also take a broad range of courses at Kellogg and the six other partner schools.

“We are now part of a global network that has access way beyond Asia - to Europe, the Middle East, and North America,” Professor DeKrey says.

Global elective courses were first offered 15 years ago, and, today, 200 students from the other schools in the network, visit HKUST annually.

Passing on our expertise

Indicative of the way in which the HKUST Business School has, over the past 27 years, gone from academic new-kid-on-the-block to respected center of teaching and research excellence, is its burgeoning relationship with Skolkovo Moscow School of Management. Founded 12 years ago, Skolkovo came to recognize it needed an established partner to help it develop its programs, faculty and reputation.

“We signed an agreement with Skolkovo in 2016,” Professor DeKrey explains. No longer teaching as much, he now commutes to Moscow for some ten days every month, and has been given the responsibility of Chairman of the Academic Council, the equivalent of HKUST’s Senate but in a smaller scale.

“The first program we’re going to start is an EMBA dual degree based on what we’ve done here at HKUST," Professor DeKrey says. "We’re going to leverage all the knowledge and experience we have from the Kellogg-HKUST Program as well as the HKUST EMBA Program for Chinese Executives.”

"This will be the fifth EMBA program I have had a hand in starting."

Donald P. Jacobs KH Alumni Awards

The late Dean Emeritus Don Jacobs, Kellogg dean for 26 years, was the Founder of the Kellogg EMBA Global Network, a pivotal figure in the establishment of the joint Kellogg-HKUST EMBA Program, and an inspiration to numerous faculty. In honor of his legacy, Professor DeKrey has initiated a fund-raising campaign to establish the Donald P Jacobs KH Alumni Awards, to attract more high-quality candidates from diverse backgrounds to the Program and to memorialize his long term mentor. He is inviting donations from alumni to fund these awards, with KH04 alumnus Ming Mei’s pledge to match all donations up to US$1 million. Meanwhile, the School has named the Kellogg HKUST classroom after Dean Emeritus Don Jacobs in honor of his tremendous contributions to the renowned Program.