Feature Stories

19.11.2013

A Case Study in Enhancing the Most Important Asset

What is a company’s best asset? The standard response is its employees. Prof Riki Takeuchi is trying to explain the rationale by producing a precious tool: an Asian business case study, with the assistance from the Thompson Center for Business Case Studies of HKUST Business School

Prof Takeuchi teaches an MBA course on human capital enhancement and he has produced a case study of a Hong Kong company, Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN), which exemplifies his perspective and also contributes to business knowledge about the region.

“I wanted a case that would fit my course content well but when I flicked through case studies from Harvard and other well-known producers, I couldn't find a single case that talked about human capital embedded in employees,” he said.

“I knew there were companies that valued employee capabilities so I talked to the School’s Thompson Center for Business Case Studies and they mentioned HKBN and its successful corporate performance.

“It’s relatively rare to have Asian or European case studies, so this was also an opportunity to leverage being in Hong Kong to get access to this company for a case study.”

The Thompson Case Center was set up in 2008 amid growing demand for high-quality Asian cases from professors and students, who wanted to study business examples that were relevant to their environment and daily lives. All the cases are produced by the School’s professors, such as Prof Takeuchi who found it very useful to focus on an Asian company.

“Some management policies and principles may be unique to Asia and the example of HKBN shows that,” he said.

Unusually for an Internet company, HKBN has invested heavily in enhancing its human resources. For example, it decided its management talent should all pursue EMBA and MBA degrees so it provided them with big subsidies to do so, to the extent that 75 per cent of its managers now have or are in the process of obtaining these degrees. Financial support has also been given to less senior staff to improve their qualifications.

Team-building and highly-competitive recruitment have become part of the company’s culture, and compensation has been tied to company performance to encourage employees to feel more invested in the firm.

All of these initiatives have helped HKBN to become the second largest and fastest growing broadband provider in Hong Kong – and made it an ideal case for broadening students’ understanding of the importance of human capital enhancement, Prof Takeuchi said.

“Many MBA students have a particular orientation towards finance and accounting issues and they think human capital enhancement is important only for service intensive industries or companies,” he said.

“After the course they realize in a much deeper sense that employees are one of the most valuable assets for any companies, not just a limited set of companies.”

Prof Takeuchi said the case has not only helped to illustrate the lessons in his teaching, but it has also been a useful opportunity for him to get close first-hand exposure to a company. He and his team worked with the Thompson Case Centre and conducted numerous interviews with senior management and ordinary employees at HKBN.

“I had fun developing this case because I got to know HKBN and how Hong Kong companies in general work. The outcome has been substantial in terms of the teaching effectiveness in the course,” he said.

This more than compensated for the time commitment that case-writing required, he added, and he is now looking for a second case to write up.

“I really enjoyed this process. Yes, it’s time away from other things like research, but particularly as a full professor, I feel some obligation to contribute to the School and I think this is one of the distinct ways I can make a contribution.”

Prof Takeuchi’s write-up on HKBN is available to educators and other interested parties through the Thompson Case Centre, which makes a point of offering HKUST business case studies for free and promoting them around the world. More information can be found at http://www.bm.ust.hk/cbcs/index.html