Words of Wisdom from Former Deans
In celebration of the 25th anniversary of HKUST, Biz@HKUST was honored to talk to the first three Deans of the HKUST Business School. Their visions for the future have laid a firm foundation for the School, allowing it to rapidly ascend to international prominence. Their legacies remain all around us.
Professor Yuk Shee Chan was one of the first four senior faculty hired by the Founding President of HKUST Professor Chia Wei Woo in 1990, when the University campus was no more than a construction site. He was appointed the Founding Dean of the Business School in 1993.
Under his leadership, the Kellogg-HKUST Executive MBA (EMBA) program was inaugurated in 1998. Now that the program has claimed the top spot in the latest Financial Times 2016 Global EMBA Rankings for the seventh time, it could not have had this kind of success without the far-reaching vision of the two deans who inked the deal.
Professor Chan saw the need for an EMBA program in Asia in the early 90s when it was still a new concept in the region. It was clear to him that many senior managers would welcome the advent of a world-class EMBA in Asia, after noticing that some were commuting as far as the US and Europe to attend executive programs. Although HKUST was virtually unknown in the rest of the world during this period, Professor Chan, who was a former faculty at Kellogg, knew its Dean Professor Don Jacobs well and he decided to be the first mover and initiated the partnership idea with Dean Jacobs to launch the first joint EMBA program in Asia.
That first move has turned into a very rewarding venture. Professor Chan said one reason for the program’s great success is the uniqueness of the partnership between HKUST and Kellogg. “Most universities in the West at the time offered standalone programs, but ours was a partnership which leveraged the strengths of two unique schools to create learning experiences of great value to program participants, and it has become a model for other universities in Asia.” Professor Chan also gave special recognition and credit to Professor Steven DeKrey, Founding Director of the program, who steered and managed the program successfully from the outset.
Unprecedented Development Pace
The first step is always difficult. The HKUST Business School started with only 12 faculty in its first year, but set a very aggressive target to expand to 140 faculty and 2,500 students within only six years. The pace of development was unprecedented, recalled Professor Chan.
To build a strong faculty, Professor Chan made numerous long distance calls to convince some of the best and senior scholars abroad to join the School. He believed a strong commitment to intellectual excellence could help build the School’s reputation.
“We eyed faculty who were believers of innovation and adventure,” said Professor Chan. “Our Founding President, Professor Woo, pledged to make HKUST one of the best universities in Asia, and we convinced our potential candidates by sharing his vision and commitment.”
Because of his extensive experience in university administration, Professor Chan was later appointed the Vice-President for Academic Affairs at HKUST, and then the President of Lingnan University in 2007.
Professor Chan said his 16 years of service at HKUST enabled him to better understand the needs of a business school and a university as a whole, and their respective challenges. He took this knowledge to Lingnan University and led that university until he retired in 2013.
Professor KC Chan joined HKUST in 1993 after teaching for nine years in the US. He was appointed the second Dean of the School and made important contributions to guide the School towards being a leader in management education and research. “Our mission was to bring the School to the world stage,” said Professor Chan. “We were given a lot of freedom and opportunities to move forward and to innovate, pioneering for example the joint EMBA program with Kellogg, the home-grown MBA program, and the Global Business program for undergraduates.”
Professor Chan said one of his most unforgettable moments was the first time the Kellogg-HKUST EMBA was ranked one of the topten performers globally and HKUST celebrated its pride at a reception at Government House.
This was only the first step as the program later took the number one spot and has been at or very near the top of the list for many years. Professor Chan said the success of this joint program was founded on an exceptionally strong faculty and a commitment to academic excellence.
“Faculty recruitment and retention is very important for any world class business school. In addition to attracting the best talent, we need to cultivate an environment where faculty, in particular junior members, can grow and become successful professors.
“At HKUST, there is a well-defined model to attract and develop home-grown faculty, which encourages them to work hard on research and make an impact in the community. Our uncompromising research endeavors have enabled the School to gain growing recognition and international reputation.”
The School has been ranked No.1 in Asia by the University of Texas at Dallas Top 100 Business School Research Rankings since 2005. Professor Chan added that academic excellence is reflected by not only the number of published research articles in top journals, but the positive impact the faculty could make on students and society.
Professor Chan was also pleased to kick off another project for the School in 2005 – the development of a new building. Today the purpose-designed building is continuing to meet the School’s ongoing growth and expansion needs.
Commitment to Public Service
Professor Chan encourages today’s business students to develop an entrepreneurial and innovative mindset. He noted that some overseas students in Hong Kong see the city as being an idea place to start new businesses, where business schools can provide opportunities for more students to experience successful ventures for inspiration.
Professor Chan has been very active in academic and community service. With his expertise in finance and dedication to public service, he was appointed Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury in 2007.
“I was given a lot of opportunities to learn about vision-setting and leadership as Dean of the School. This experience is valuable to my current job on positioning the financial market for Hong Kong.”
Professor Leonard Cheng was appointed the third Dean of the School in 2009. He grew the School from strength to strength with programs that won many accolades. As an eminent economics scholar and founding faculty of HKUST, Professor Cheng has witnessed the economic ups and downs of the region and the ways in which academia has helped to address some real-life financial issues.
After more than 20 years at HKUST, Professor Cheng said one of the most unforgettable financial events was the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997.
“When the HK dollar was attacked by overseas speculators, we contributed articles in local newspapers and organized seminars to facilitate an in-depth discussion of the issue,” said Professor Cheng. “Some of our faculty members studied the issue closely and put forward a proposal that could defend the Hong Kong dollar peg and avoid the turmoil that seriously disrupted other Asian markets.”
The proposal of a Hong Kong dollar “put option” to be offered by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) to local banks in the form of a convertibility undertaking under the Linked Exchange Rate System was made by two of the School’s faculty members, Professors Naifu Chen and Alex Chan. Despite all the misguided criticisms earlier against this proposal, its eventual adoption in the form of a US style “discount window” plus a convertibility undertaking with a clearly stated duration by HKMA succeeded in restoring the public confidence in the HK dollar and prevented further speculative attacks on our currency. “This incident was a showcase of academic contribution to policy making,” said Professor Cheng.
He also added that in the 1990s HKUST was still a very young university. It was through this and other similar contributions to important economic policy analysis that the Business School started to gain the community’s recognition and support.
Strength and Reputation
Speaking of reputation, another vivid memory of Professor Cheng was his first visit to HKUST when he came to Hong Kong for a job interview in March 1992. The taxi driver who took him to HKUST asked him whether the University offered degree programs. This question reflected the public perception of HKUST in the early days.
Professor Cheng pointed out that HKUST’s positioning as a serious research-oriented university, set by the Founding President Professor Chia Wei Woo, had a positive effect in quickly improving the new University’s reputation. To complement this strategy, some senior faculty members of the Business School started a weekly column in Hong Kong Economic Journal to share their economic and financial insights with the local community.
Professor Cheng said that in addition to producing research of real substance and high quality, gaining international attention and recognition were also important to the School. A strong reputation has meant the School can ascend further by sending a positive signal to students, alumni and the world, thereby improving the quality of students and faculty who come here and gaining local support for the School.
During his deanship, the Kellogg-HKUST EMBA program was ranked No.1 for five consecutive years, a new record, and the MBA program climbed to a record high of No.6 globally. The School’s faculty continued to excel in research and the School came to be seen regionally and internationally as a research powerhouse.
Professor Cheng was appointed President of Lingnan University in September 2013, succeeding Professor Yuk Shee Chan. Coincidently, the two former deans are also graduates of The Chinese University of Hong Kong and UC Berkley in the US. Professor Cheng said he has maintained a close-knit network with some founding members of the School. They get together from time to time to share fond memories of the School’s past and learn about its new developments.