Practical skills for the business world

by Mary Luk

Simon Ho, dean, School of Business, Hong Kong Baptist University

Regular reviews of the curriculum provide relevant course content

It is well known that many business deals are not done in a conference room, but are talked through over lunch, during evening drinks, or even at the golf club. Though the atmosphere on these social occasions is generally more relaxed and therefore conducive to more open discussions, certain basic rules of business etiquette are still in force. However, for younger executives unsure about the way things are done, such situations can be an ordeal, especially if they've had no guidance on how to behave and are uncertain even about how to start a conversation.

However, some undergraduates will soon be able to acquire the necessary skills and gain the boost in self-confidence that goes with them. Starting in September 2006, all Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) freshmen at Hong Kong Baptist University will be taught how to break the ice and interact with strangers at various types of business function. Among other things, they will learn how to appreciate wine, conduct themselves correctly at a formal dinner, dress in the approved style, and address an audience.

"This will greatly broaden their perspective and add value to their education," says Professor Simon Ho, dean of the university's School of Business. "These are things that cannot just be learned from a textbook."

To create another competitive edge, the school has devised a young executive development scheme that systematically records each student's achievements and progress during their course of study. This makes it possible to provide an official non-academic testimonial upon graduation, showing prospective employers a clear record of the series of attainments and the rate of progress.

As part of the scheme, skills in leadership, communication and solving problems are fully assessed. If students are found to have weaknesses in certain areas, they then have the chance to participate in workshops to sharpen their skills.

Research philosophy

The faculty sees this as just one of the ways in which they can differentiate themselves from other business schools. Another is the approach that staff take to conducting research: the focus is practical and linked to what is of use in the classroom. "We pursue academic research in a more balanced manner," Professor Ho explains. "That is why our work gains recognition and is able to influence government policies." Professor Ho points out that some universities mainly support research projects which have only limited relevance for the local community. "In contrast, we do not lock ourselves away to do narrow academic research," he says. "We pay attention to the world around us and our faculty members have close contacts with the business sector. Another policy is to encourage students to help the community via a service learning scheme, and they derive satisfaction from doing this."

Realising that things can change quickly, the school reviews its curriculum every year to ensure it includes the latest thinking. "All our stakeholders - parents, teachers, the government, employers and the university authorities - have a say and can make their expectations known," Professor Ho says.

Training CEOs

One response to external demand is the planned introduction of a Doctor of Business Administration programme in late 2006. Its main purpose is to help current or aspiring CEOs to become more complete business leaders. This will be done through a unique combination of advanced coursework and applied research. The programme will also put a strong emphasis on corporate governance, strategic planning and analytical ability. The initial intake will be around 20 students and most are likely to be working for large corporations with at least 10 years' senior management experience.

"Hong Kong needs more people with advanced training in modern management knowledge and techniques," Professor Ho says. "We look to them to educate and influence their own industries, as well as to share their views with the public via the media."

The school also plans to extend the number of MBA student exchange programmes with overseas universities. The focus is on developing skills as entrepreneurs and includes a collaboration with Babson College in the US. Exchange students there will work together to launch a business in four months and with a fixed capital investment. Besides this, the school has signed student exchange agreements with more than 40 other institutions.

With the third phase of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) coming into effect, Hong Kong professionals in many fields will have the chance to work in the mainland with fewer restrictions. Consequently, Professor Ho expects the demand for China-based MBA courses to soar. He adds that it is not easy to find the lecturers who have relevant China experience, though the school has an edge in this respect.

"Finding resources may be a problem, but that doesn't stop us from training top-quality students," he says. "Whatever their course, we expect students to be dynamic and to pick things up fast. They must also be ready to challenge certain academic ideas and should not be afraid of making mistakes." He believes that the current model and direction of the business school is the right one, something proved by their steadily enhanced reputation.

Top Mark

  • Students are taught social skills useful in a business context
  • Development scheme tracks students non-academic achievements
  • Research by faculty members should have practical applications
  • Demand for China-related MBA prgrammes is expected to soar

Taken from Career Times 10 February 2006
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