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Meet The Team: Lawrence Chan, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Get into the Greater China area as early as possible if you’re serious about a career there says MBA Recruitment Director at Chinese University Hong Kong

By  Maria Ahmed

Tue May 24 2011

We caught up with Lawrence Chan, Director of marketing and student recruiting for the MBA program at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), the city's biggest MBA program. Chan tells us why Hong Kong is a better place to do an MBA than Shanghai or Singapore, what you need to get into a Chinese investment bank, and what sectors are hiring these days.

A bit of background on the CUHK MBA...  90% of students are international, though many of these are “the new international”, namely students from ever-growing mainland China.

There are plenty of Europeans too, coming from Germany, Italy, France and the UK, as well as the Czech Republic and Poland. Chan praises European students for adapting well to the demands of Hong Kong’s China-influenced internationalism, and is actively seeking more applicants from Europe

Students on CUHK’s MBAs tend to have eight or nine years of work experience.

Now for the questions!

Why study in Hong Kong as opposed to Singapore or Shanghai?
If you want to focus on the Greater China market, Hong Kong gives you greater market access, career opportunities and more networks than Singapore. Singapore is a great location if you’re interested in South East Asia: it depends on your career goals.

In Hong Kong you’ll learn the Chinese language and Chinese business culture.

There are some great schools and multinational firms in Shanghai, but for a western student it’s easier to start a career in Hong Kong, especially if you don’t yet speak good Chinese.

What sets CUHK’s MBA apart from other MBA programs in Hong Kong?
Each school has its own character and personality. We have the biggest MBA intake – 100 full-time students and 120 part-time students this year. And we’re all-rounders: our students come not just from finance but also from marketing, entrepreneurship and family business backgrounds.

We also have the biggest number of business professors of all the Hong Kong schools which means we can offer more electives.


Hong Kong’s economy grew 2.8% in Q1 2011, compared to growth of 1.8% in the US and 0.8% in the Euro zone

What are the opportunities in Hong Kong outside of finance?
There are of course many opportunities in finance, both in international and Chinese institutions. But in Hong Kong you also see a lot of general business development, the major consulting firms, Fortune 500 leadership programs, and luxury brand marketing.

People who graduate from Hong Kong are considered adaptable and flexible: they can work in China, Singapore, Taiwan and of course in Hong Kong.

Recent MBAs from CUHK have worked in strategy for hi-tech companies like Dell, luxury brands like LVMH, BCG, McKinsey and HSBC. Our program develops strategic thinkers who can work in many different industries.

Do you need to know Mandarin or Cantonese to build a career in Hong Kong?
Learning Mandarin is a lot more important than Cantonese from a professional perspective. It’s spoken across the Greater China area. But a lot of graduates are able to get jobs in Hong Kong without knowing either Mandarin or Cantonese.

That said, speaking one of the local languages is always an advantage and we have some international students, from countries such as Italy, Germany and Japan, who speak excellent Mandarin.

Which sectors are hiring in Hong Kong these days?
2011 is going well. Some of the key recruiters are JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, HSBC, and BNP Paribas.

There are marketing opportunities with luxury goods and creative brands. For these roles recruiters are typically looking for someone with experience in franchise development, business partnership development, branding, online marketing, experience with a big branding agency and an understanding of the greater China market.

We’ve placed people at Kimberly Clarke, P&G, Nike and Puma.

We’re seeing a lot more opportunities with Chinese investment banks. The investment banking arm of, for example, Bank of China is doing a lot more M&A and IPO advisory work.

What’s your advice to students who want to get into Chinese banks
They’re looking for students with good analytical skills. About 25% of the people they hire qualified as accountants at a Big Four firm before doing an MBA.

Chinese banks are expanding and hiring a lot of people, many of them former bankers ate major US firms. Their hiring process is similar to Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley – you have to go through eight rounds of interviews and tests.

You also need knowledge of Chinese business culture and the Chinese language. Chinese citizens who have been away for too long in the US or the UK don’t have a good understanding and will have a challenge: a Hong Kong MBA will prepare them to transition back to China.

Chinese banks are looking for people who know the mainland and who have access to information, clients, markets, and networks. If you want to make it in China you need to get into the region as soon as possible.

You need to bring value and tangible return from the outset. They are different to western banks, which give you training and exposure. You need direct experience, and to be able to deliver to customers straight away!

We have students who have worked for institutions like HSBC and BNPParibas internationally, and we’ve helped them transition to a China-oriented career with help from alumni, coaching and mentoring.

What else is new at CUHK?
We’ve opened a campus in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, which is home to one of the two stock markets in mainland China (the other is in Shanghai). 80 per cent of the world’s mobile devices, including the iPhone and the iPad, are made there. We’re building links to the South China area and there should be 10,000 students there within two years.

How much is the full-time MBA at CUHK?
Students need to budget a total of 60,000 euros for tuition, travel, living plus a few trips e.g. company visits to mainland China, Japan and Korea.