Feature Stories

30.08.2018

Classmates to Tech Partners

Mr Mike Gault, Founder and CEO of blockchain business Guardtime, believes he may be unique among Kellogg-HKUST EMBA alumni, having been a member of three separate cohorts.

“I was in KH11, KH12 and KH13,” he explains.

Work pressures contributed to the delayed completion of his studies. At that time, he was not only establishing his tech company in Talinn, Estonia, he was still working as a derivatives trader in Tokyo.

However, the deferments proved fortuitous, Mike says. “If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have met my former classmates who are now my colleagues,” he says

Jian Tan, Guardtime’s General Manager, China; and James Koo, the company’s President, Singapore; were both in KH12 with Mike, and the company's President, Tim Fitzpatrick, was a classmate in KH13.

Mike cites his relationship with Jian - who graduated top of his class from Beijing University and has a PhD in Computational Genomics - as an example of how these professional connections can begin.

“He came to me during a class and said, ‘Hey, Mike, I love your technology; let me help you build a business in China’,” Mike says.

The Kellogg-HKUST EMBA Program offered the nascent business more than opportunities to recruit, however. Mike says the classroom mix of top quality brains and a range of skill sets also provided him with good ideas for ways to develop his business.

“All our group projects seemed to be about Guardtime,” he recalls. “People were looking for suggestions and I was able to volunteer and propose Guardtime as a good topic for group projects.”

The diversity of fellow-students' backgrounds was a major reason to apply for a place on the Program, he says. “If you’re in finance for ten years, you start to believe everyone else thinks like you.” On the EMBA Program, Mike met students with different perspectives. “There were people who came from advertising or marketing, and these are not the kind of people you normally interact with in the finance industry," he says. "They give you a much broader view.”

Now one of the EMBA’s Distinguished Alumni, Mike spoke to the Management Conference on the theme "Using Blockchain in Enterprise: Real Life Use Cases". He preceded his presentation by thanking the HKUST Business School's Professor Steven DeKrey and EMBA Program Director Ms Judy Au for their patience with his prolonged participation in the Program.

Guardtime was founded in 2007, and now employs over 150 people, but Mike plays down the fact it is the world’s largest blockchain company.

“I think we’re the only blockchain company that makes money and makes products,” he says.

However, the potential of the technology it specializes in is limitless and can transform the world, Mike says. “The beauty of blockchain is that it’s such a horizontal technology it can go into any business," he explains. "Blockchain provides a mechanism for verification throughout the entire supply chain, from the first part that’s created, all the way through to the consumer.”

Blockchain can also help rid countries such as India of fake and dangerous medical products, and Guardtime is enabling patients in Britain to access their health care records via their phones, Mike says. In the commercial world, the immutability of blockchain can guarantee process integrity and allow businesses to shed the costs related to functions such as compliance, audit and security.

Mike asks: “What’s every brand owner's number one problem in China? It’s contract manufacturing overproduction, the grey market."

With blockchain "you can prevent that", he says. "You can provide a digital twin which is born on the very first day the product is created, link that to the product through its entire life cycle, and immediately detect grey market goods entering the supply chain.”

The Kellogg-HKUST EMBA alumni network is still supporting Mike and Guardtime, as the company’s growth is built on the forging of partnerships with new businesses and sectors.

“Once you’re part of that network, you can go on to the website and, if you’re interested in a particular vertical or you’re looking to get a contact in a particular business, the Program can provide that,” Mike says.