Varun Thakur started a full-time MBA at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) as a man on a mission. His aim: to change role, industry, and location, and triple jump into the marketing department of one of the world’s top tech firms.
He completed his MBA in August 2014. On his very last day, he got a job offer from Amazon. Now, he’s global marketing manager for Amazon, based in Luxembourg.
He owes it all to the HKU MBA. As an only child in India, Varun initially followed the traditional route into his family business – a manufacturer and exporter electronic parts, toys and games - before relocating to Hong Kong.
On the London track of HKU’s 14-month program, he gained global exposure, experiencing business in Beijing, the core MBA curriculum in Hong Kong, and several months at London Business School in the UK.
He interned with Rocket Internet startup Easy Taxi in Hong Kong. And he hosted a major technology event at HKU, bringing global tech companies - like Evernote and Easy Taxi – and local high-tech startups together. After the event, Evernote offered him a job in Singapore. But Varun had already turned his attention to a career in Europe.
He was keen to take the career leap, and he was well-placed to do so. The HKU MBA has been ranked number one in Asia for seven consecutive years by the Economist. In the last three years, it’s placed 34th on average in the Financial Times’ global MBA rankings.
85% of Varun’s MBA class landed jobs within three months of graduation. 68% changed location.
Today, Varun handles Amazon’s Certified Refurbished line, managing the entire B2B and B2C marketing operation globally. He’s also a part-time career and life coach. The majority of his clients are MBAs.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at HKU?
I’d always wanted to live abroad and do an MBA. I didn’t want a two-year MBA in the US. Culturally, I’m more attuned to Europe and Asia. And the two-year MBA is very expensive. The opportunity cost is way higher.
I liked the format of the HKU MBA. The balance between the east and the west, and the constant change – between China, Hong Kong, and London - was what excited me.
What should applicants think about when deciding to do an MBA?
Think about location, brand, cost, and the core value of the MBA. Is it a generalist program? Is it finance-heavy? Is it more marketing or consulting-focused?
Focusing on the Economist and Financial Times top 100 MBA programs is a good place to start. If you’re looking at a change in your location and career trajectory, then doing an MBA from a top-100 ranked school makes a big difference. I’m an example of that.
How did you use the HKU MBA experience to your advantage?
When you start an MBA program, a lot of your classmates have strong brand names attached to their resume. They’ve already worked for Goldman Sachs, Google, or Amazon. For me, it was different. I just had my family business in Mumbai.
I was clear that I wanted to get into a tech company and focus on marketing. So right from the start of my MBA, the challenge was to build my profile and sell myself.
HKU were extremely supportive. They helped me get my internship in Hong Kong. They gave me access to all the possible resources of the university, and they helped me organize one of Hong Kong’s largest technology events.
I highlighted these experiences on my resume. And the technology event was one of the biggest talking points during my interviews.
What does Amazon look for in its MBA job applicants?
The key thing with Amazon is it’s very strong on its culture. Amazon hires people to do multiple things; not just for the job, but for the way they work. In the interview, you are heavily assessed on Amazon’s 14 leadership principles, and how you have performed in your previous career based on those principles.
Can you tell me something about working at Amazon that most people wouldn’t know?
At Amazon, when they say one of its core leadership principles is ownership, they really mean it. You’re completely responsible for the top-line, the bottom-line, how the business performs and how it scales up. It’s a very challenging environment, but the experience you get here is incomparable to anywhere else.
Would you be where you are now without the HKU MBA?
Definitely not! It would be impossible. The HKU MBA made the difference because it really made me stand out. It’s a globally-renowned program. It gave me the opportunities to really build my professional profile.
There’s not just an entire focus on academics. It’s about focusing on what you really want to do, and building towards that during your MBA. I think that worked for me.