An MBA degree, career in business development, and a unique events startup—they all point to one person.
Whodunnit? Polina Milashevskaya, who launched an events management agency offering mystery experiences in Hong Kong, after graduating from her MBA at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).
Alongside her company, Polina balances a full-time role as business development manager with global digital innovation enabler, Zühlke Group.
Before the MBA, Polina began her career while earning her first degree in international management, juggling studying and part-time corporate positions. Upon graduation she started working as product manager with MTS Group—the leading telecom provider in her native Russia.
Two years in she felt the itch to continue her education, and decided to broaden her horizons by studying overseas.
At first, Polina considered a Master’s degree, but since she already had significant work experience under her belt, she opted for an MBA.
“I wanted to engage with a more practical learning experience, and focus on my development as a business leader,” she explains.
The search for the perfect MBA led her to Hong Kong, a city she didn’t know much about. But when she first visited Hong Kong, Polina fell in love with the city.
She turned down offers from schools in Boston and Singapore to study at CUHK, attracted to its prestigious reputation for developing innovative leaders with a deep knowledge of Asian business.
“At first, I was drawn to the huge economic growth occurring in Asia, which shows no signs of slowing. Then, since the very first visit, I instinctively knew that Hong Kong would become my new home," she recalls.
"Thirdly, having visited CUHK, I was impressed by the school, its campus and history, as well as the curriculum and the international landscape."
Experiential learning in Hong Kong
When Polina arrived at CUHK, the practical learning experiences were exactly what she was hoping for.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the entire learning process, which combined practical case studies, team work, field trips, and several public presentations,” she explains.
CUHK equally cemented her passion for innovation, which was initially sparked by her work with MTS. Through the managing innovation and technology module, Polina dived deep into how emerging technologies can be a disruptive force in business—and how to leverage these breakthroughs to the advantage of a company or sector.
Attending a business school in the heart of Hong Kong also supported Polina’s transition from a European business landscape to an Asian one. This meant adapting her communication and teamwork style—a process she honed through group work projects and visits to Asian companies.
“I found the real-world case studies and teamwork exercises incredibly helpful in preparing for developing my new career abroad,” she explains. “And the CUHK career services team assisted me with the adapting and sharpening of my resume and cover letters, as well as preparing me well for job interviews.”
Taking a leap of faith
When she graduated from CUHK, Polina transitioned from product management to B2B sales—first with ecommerce and digital marketing specialists, Digitalab, and subsequently with electronics wholesaler and distributor, Trends Trade Hong Kong.
Throughout her time in these roles, Polina continued to learn more and more about her adopted home of Hong Kong, and was eventually inspired to take another—unexpected—career leap: quitting her job to launch a company.
“I was heavily inspired by the beauty of Hong Kong and its unique heritage, so I wanted to create something that would convey this and help others to feel it,” she explains.
With the support of her co-founder, who shared her enthusiasm for Hong Kong’s history and culture, she founded Harbour Secrets. The agency creates immersive ‘murder mystery’ parties, where guests are thrust in a fictional crime scene and must work together to solve the crime.
Though the company’s first party was just for friends, things rapidly developed, and now they run several business lines, including private and large-scale corporate events for over 400 people. Polina attributes the success of the company to finding a lucrative gap in Hong Kong’s entertainment market.
“Residents of Hong Kong find that while the city has a lot to offer and is truly unique, its entertainment scene is sometimes limited,” she notes. “It can be challenging to find an experience that’s fresh and immersive—I think we identified a novel opportunity in the market.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic reshaped the entertainment industry, Polina and her co-founder have managed to adapt, adhering to new social distancing precautions and offering some DIY options for smaller gatherings.
A dual career in innovation
Just one year after founding Harbour Secrets, Polina took her latest career step: adding a full-time role with Zühlke Group to her portfolio. In this dual career, Polina finally feels able to reach her full potential, making use of everything she learned at CUHK and in her career so far.
As business development manager, Polina is responsible for bringing in new clients who could benefit from digital transformation. She specializes in the insurance sector, which has been undergoing significant digitization in recent years.
“Hong Kong is a global business hub, and has one of the most booming scenes for tech innovation,” she says. “But equally, in terms of technology, traditional approaches often persist, hence there’s ample demand for innovation across industries.”
As the coronavirus pandemic continued to disrupt the global economy, the silver lining is an uptick in digital innovation.
“Although Hong Kong was already known as a supportive environment for startups and innovation, many corporations have made astonishing leaps in digital transformation, and achieved in three months goals that would have originally taken two years,” Polina explains.
Growing her business while working full-time, Polina’s MBA has been hugely useful, thanks to the time management skills she developed juggling multiple assignments, an internship, and extra-curriculars. She is excited to continue working in Hong Kong as the city makes these strides in tech innovation.
“Choosing to study an MBA at CUHK was one of the best career decisions I’ve ever made. It allowed me to move to an amazing city, while providing me with the ideal skill set to kickstart my career in a previously unfamiliar place,” she concludes.