Lawrence, who graduated with an MBA from CUHK himself in 1995, had interviewed 30 serious candidates one-on-one over the previous week in London and Paris, so the question of what makes a successful MBA applicant was top of his mind!
Which candidates have impressed you on your European trip so far?
The candidates who have impressed me are incredibly multicultural. I’ve met people from Africa, India, Italy, France and the UK, who have graduated from excellent schools and had good exposure in good companies. They’re adaptable and they have the learning capabilities necessary to work in a large multinational in Asia.
The key is adaptability, the ability to lead across cultures and to deal with the challenges of an Asian environment.
A lot of Europe-based students will have excellent opportunities in Asia. The CUHK MBA
admits around 25 European students each year (out of a class size of around 90), and half of them end up working in Hong Kong after graduating.
We help find them opportunities in the large Chinese multinationals that are in the Global Fortune 500. These companies are operating all over the world, and they’re not just looking for Chinese people.
Chinese firms like CUHK’s model
of developing people who can work in a Chinese environment but who also have strong Western management training in finance, HR, operations and so on, and who can hit the ground running.
Tell us more about what you’re looking for in a candidate
We’re looking for people with multi-location experience, who have been at good schools and been through an adaptation process, working with people from different walks of life.
Another thing we look for is candidates who have a job in which they work with people, with clients. Most candidates these days are in what we call complex service businesses. They’re not doing repetitive tasks every day, every client is different, and they need to think of new ideas. We need people who are proactive and can respond quickly to changes. In Asia the speed of change and of adaptation is tremendous.
We look for candidates with the potential to manage across a multi-dimensional team. This means being able to handle complex relationships with clients, co-workers, business partners and investors in a multi-dimensional environment, covering multiple locations, cultures and products – a complex matrix organization.
What do you think about people who don’t get a very high GMAT score?
I don’t put a lot of emphasis on the GMAT. I put a lot of emphasis on interviews to assess a candidate’s soft skills and adaptability. We require a decent result, which means a score of around 600 but beyond that it’s about whether you can perform well in the commercial market.
Asian students are examination experts. They can crack all kinds of standardised tests invented in the West. If it was just about GMAT scores my life would be very simple – I would just fill up our MBA programme with Chinese and Indian students with scores of 700 or more. But that wouldn’t make our programme good for employers!
The reason I spend hours interviewing people is that I’m looking for candidates with strong credentials and capabilities in the business world. I look at the person as a whole.
Do you meet candidates who aren’t cut out for an MBA?
I recently met a senior lecturer in IT at a good British university. An Egyptian native, the candidate had earned his PhD at the UK’s prestigious Imperial College and was thinking about doing an MBA so that he could move into business development or consulting: essentially, get out of academia and into business.
I told him bluntly: "Sir, you have zero chance of getting into commercially-oriented jobs in Asia”. The candidate said that other business schools had given him some encouragement, and that I was the first one to say honestly that an MBA would not help him achieve his career goals.
That said, 80 per cent of CUHK’s MBA grads
in 2012 changed either their function or their industry, typically moving from and engineering- or technology-related role into client-facing, project management or marketing roles, often within the ICT (Information and Communications Technology) industry.
What’s your own background?
I worked for 20 years in regional business development and marketing in the IT industry. I helped to open IBM’s office in Shanghai in 1992. I learned a lot about what kind of managers top global firms need and how business schools can help to train them.
Your next stop is Amsterdam. What’s your favourite city in Europe?!
London. I’ve been here 15 times since 1994. It’s a fascinating place to walk around, though I’d like to see some improvements to the tube!
What’s your favourite weekend activity in Hong Kong?
As an admissions director, I don’t get a lot of free weekends. Half of my weekends are taken up with meeting and interviewing candidates, outside of their work hours. But my favourite activity is golf. I’ve played on two or three golf courses in Southern China and in Thailand. I would love to play in the UK too.
Who are your favourite CUHK professors these days?
is often on Chinese TV discussing capital markets and corporate governance, often with a very critical viewpoint.
Netherlands native Ralph Van Put
has been trading and running hedge funds in Hong Kong for 20 years. He teaches derivatives trading. Van Put could be earning a heck of a lot more as a full-time hedge fund manager, but he’s an adjunct professor at CUHK because he’s really passionate about educating the next generation of finance professionals. Van Put also brought in sponsors to help CUHK build a financial trading lab with 50 Bloomberg terminals.
, is Director of the MSc Finance programme and Associate Director of the MBA programme. He brings a lot of energy and passion to his job.
Lawrence also likes…
People who have studied journalism. He thinks they have good people skills, and are generally smart and good at picking up the important points from masses of information. They do particularly well in corporate communications, branding, marketing and client-facing roles.
On the tech scene in China
There are lots of tech parks all over the country, particularly in the “second-tier” cities, where costs are lower. If there’s one Silicon Valley-type leader in China’s tech scene, it’s the southern city of Shenzhen, one of the first Special Economic Zones established in 1979. A sleepy fishing village 30 years ago, Shenzhen now has a population of over 10 million people and is home to 100 large tech companies doing everything from telecommunications software, medical equipment, and high end manufacturing. Until recently, all of Apple’s iPhones and iPads were made here!
CUHK recently opened a campus in Shenzhen, and has strong links with China’s high-tech giants. Each year, global ICT firm Huawei sends ten students on the CUHK MBA
All areas of finance are growing
CUHK was asked by the Chinese government to deliver a Chinese-language MSc in Accounting in Shanghai. Accounting, auditing and financial regulation are huge growth areas as more Chinese companies list on foreign stock exchanges.