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This CUHK MBA Is Pushing The Circular Economy With Asia-Based Recycling Business

Atsushi Sugiyama wants to promote sustainable business practices in Asia

Sun Apr 17 2016

The astronomic rise of industry in Asia has only been matched by rapidly increasing levels of pollution and waste. This month, the Chinese water ministry revealed that over 80% of rural wells in its industrial north-east contain water unsafe for drinking.

Asian countries have been reluctant to adopt international environmental laws and many Asian factories continue to dump their industrial waste into rivers, polluting water supplies.

Atsushi Sugiyama, an MBA student at Hong Kong’s CUHK Business School, has set out to fix this problem. He’s expanding his family’s Japan-based recycling business – the Sun-up Corporation – into the wider Asian market.

Using Hong Kong as a base, he’s targeting factories in Thailand first, to develop his business and conduct the on and off-site recycling of organic solvents, chemicals widely used in industrial production.

Prior to his MBA, Atsushi worked in supply chain at car-manufacturing giant Mitsubishi in Japan. Now, he plans to promote sustainable business practices in Asia and hopes to one day make a massive expansion into high potential markets in India and China.

What are the future plans for your business?

We’re going to set up a joint venture, providing cutting-edge Japanese technology to recycle wasted organic solvents in Thailand.

Firstly, we’re going to start on-site recycling conducted in our customer’s factories. Then, we plan to invest in an off-site business, with recycling conducted in our own facility. It would be great if we could move off-site within three years, but for that we need intensive capital.

How have you prepared for your entry into Thailand?

We’ve conducted countless feasibility studies, interviews and research and we’ve traveled around Hong Kong, Japan and Thailand so many times to help materialize the idea and make a strategy.

Thousands of people may have a similar idea to ours at present, but there are few people who will seriously implement their plan and never give up until they get results.

What challenges do you face?

The most crucial challenge is to acquire suitable talents.

Even if we’re very successful in the future, I don’t want to create a huge pyramid organization. I’d like to keep to small numbers but exceptional talents: 10-15 people at most, each person with a distinctive ability.

What advice do you have for MBA students looking to start their own business?

Start a business as lean as possible. It’s essential to manage risks, especially financial risk at the infant stage. Don’t hire people too easily and don’t have fixed costs further than you can manage.

I also think that acquiring suitable partners is one of key factors for success. Even though we’re a small enterprise, we’ve successfully acquired resourceful and experienced partners, who are leading companies in the sector.

How severe are the environmental problems caused by the growth of industry in Asia?

The more the region is developed, the more we consume and are confronted with serious pollution and environmental problems.

While Asian countries have been rapidly developing in the past 20 years, environmental awareness has not yet matured. Many Asian countries have not yet adopted environmental protection laws that developed countries enforced more than 10 years ago.

Why are some Asian companies resistant to change?

Cost pressure is key. Big companies aside, the majority don’t dare to purchase and install high-end recycling and environmentally-friendly equipment if it can't reduce cost. 

Decreasing cost as well as increasing eco-awareness is essential for Asian companies to take environmental preservation and sustainability into serious consideration.

Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at CUHK?

To acquire a wider network and new insight to foster my business idea.

It was a natural decision for me to join CUHK. Hong Kong is the gateway to mainland China, which has huge potential for my business. And CUHK has the longest history and the biggest alumni network in Hong Kong.

What is the highlight of your MBA experience at CUHK so far?

In one group project, we presented my business idea to renowned venture capitalists and angel investors. It was a truly hands-on experience and I was able to refine my business through the feedback I received from investors.

Student Reviews






One of a kind

I studied Bioinformatics at CUHK last year. It was the only Master's degree in Hong Kong in this field. This program developed my analytical skills and equipped me to be a Bioinformatician in a very practical way. I enjoyed my year here and met classmates from different parts of the world. If you are thinking to enhance your profile, this degree program would be a good option.




On Campus

general education courses, unique college system, large campus

The university facilitates multi-dimension and interdisciplinary learning. In social science faculty, we need to choose courses as our faculty package from other departments (architecture, psychology, sociology, etc.) to learn more than our major required courses. We are also required to finish general education courses, which aid our critical thinking and humanistic sensibilities. I do recommend the social science broad-based program, and the professors I met so far are all responsible and erudite.





The faculty of law is relatively new. You do not need to have a LLB to pursue a LLM, which is special. The taught programme is great for mature students who want to obtain legal knowledge. CUHK has good teaching staff too.




Amazing Campus and Great Educational Environment

Not only is CUHK's main campus breathtaking, it provides for a good educational environment for students. The university is well-equipped with modern and up-to-date facilities to help students with their study. We have 8 libraries in total around the campus; one for media, one for architectural studies, the medical library and the law library. The Professors are always helpful and are happy to talk to students when needed. Moreover, the college system within the university brings forth the uniqueness of CUHK. Each student belongs to a different college, and in that students are able to meet different peoples from different countries and students from different faculties. I think CUHK provides for a well-rounded university life for all students.





One of the most down to earth places in HK. A great opportunity to learn and embody the local culture. Also had one the most beautiful campus in Hong Kong up on the hillside. Glad to have graduated here.




Innovative and Supportive

My university provided me with all the support I needed, and encouraged me to be up to date with all the new developments in the world. They also provided me with the incentive to excel at what I do, and they take much pride in my achievements. I have had a very rewarding university experience.




Small, New But Friendly Law School

To being with, I think the campus of CUHK is the best and the biggest in Hong Kong, with fresh air and trees everywhere. I am an undergraduate Law student at CUHK and I think the teaching here is great, with very friendly and nice professors and the new Lee Shau Kee Building. In terms of the courses offered by CUHK, as one of the largest universities in Hong Kong, CUHK is an all-rounded university, offering a wide range of courses to students. Students may take the introductory courses of discipline other than their own major, or even declare a minor. For law electives, due to the small amount of intake, the variety of law electives are not that huge. However, the Faculty is offering some international programmes, which can be treated as law electives, but at the same time, provide us with an opportunity to travel and know more about the legal system of another country. The career support from the Faculty of Law is also amazing. The Faculty will organise CV Sessions and talks on how to get an internship from law firms or mini-pupillage from barrister's chambers. Each student will also have a Distinguished Professional Mentor, which is a current legal profession, providing us with practical advices and updates of the legal field. Finally, from my personal experience, I think the students in CUHK are friendly and genuine. As Law students, competition is inevitable for grades, GPAs, vacation schemes and training contract. However, I think the competition in CUHK Law School is a positive one, in a sense that help us grow together, instead of fighting with each other no matter what. That is the biggest reason why I am having a very good time here in CUHK Law School.




A place to explore your interests

As a law graduate from CUHK (both undergrad and post-grad), I realise that I had many opportunities to explore my areas of interests (legal and non-legal both). The faculty/university requires us to take a certain number of non-law electives, and offers a plethora of courses to choose from. Personally, I took 3 modules in Korean --I can't say it's made me highly proficient, but it's definitely given me a good foundation (I can walk into a Korean restaurant and confidently order food, at the very least). The fact that language courses are offered also provides students who are more financially constrained an opportunity to learn a language without having to shell out a premium for a decent language course. On top of that, we have a range of law electives as well. I know of classmates who have developed lasting interest in different areas of law because of the electives they took in school. The two electives that I would say have changed me is (i) mooting and (ii) family law. I think my experience in an international commercial arbitration moot competition has helped tremendously in formulating legal arguments and legal writing. On the other hand, taking a family law elective has made me very interested in the family law practice, especially in terms of child rights. For these experiences which I have gained, I'm grateful for the opportunities provided by the school. One main issue most students I know have is with the way our GPA is calculated and the lack of transparency in terms of how the honours system works. As our GPA is marked on a curve. it's highly unrepresentative of what we have achieved as individuals. Given that our GPA is the only criteria that is looked at when we apply for the compulsory post-graduate law course (mandatory should we want to practise law and/or be trainees in Hong Kong), it will put our own students at a distinct disadvantage when we compete for limited spaces with students from schools where GPA is not on a bell curve.




On Campus

Valuable time in CUHK

I like the learning environment and people at CUHK. Surrounded by hills and Tolo Harbour, CUHK provides a balance between nature and hustle. You can always escape from the busy study life and meet your friend around the big campus for different activities.