HKUST Associate Dean Praises Successful 20 Year Partnership with Kellogg

HKUST Associate Dean Praises Successful 20 Year Partnership with Kellogg main image

Business schools are constantly evolving, and one of the most relevant changes of recent years has been the rise of the executive MBA.

One influx in the EMBA market has been the increase of joint EMBA programs across two business schools. Joint programs of this nature demonstrate the rise in globalization within business education, and further show how executives – and the market – benefit from studying across the globe during their degree.

Kellogg-HKUST celebrated the 20th anniversary of their joint EMBA partnership in 2017. Steven DeKrey, associate dean of HKUST Business School and director of the Kellogg-HKUST program, spoke to us about the top-ranked EMBA program.

The beginning

It may seem as though programs and partnerships of this kind come about through a smart business decision, but Kellogg-HKUST’s partnership runs much deeper than that.

DeKrey says, “There were three important parties to the start-up. I was the founding director, there was a dean of each school – Chan Yuk-shee at HKUST, and Don Jacobs at Kellogg.

“I’m a graduate of Northwestern. Chan Yuk-shee used to be a faculty at Kellogg, I’d worked with Don Jacobs, he was my mentor, and one of my references coming here. There was an immediate level of trust between the two schools. It started up really quickly, within a year of my coming here.”

As the driver of the joint venture between Kellogg and HKUST, DeKrey looks back over the past 20 years of the program fondly. Alumni have gone on to achieve great things, and DeKrey says, “That’s the point, right? You want to equip them to do bigger and better things, and the evidence is there.

“It was a zero ranked program, no one had heard of us, we were the first partnership out there. It’s been a marvelous 20 years, we celebrated our anniversary last July, and we had almost one-third of our alums turn up from 35 different cities.

“Don Jacobs passed away last October, and we named our EMBA classroom after him, so it was very gratifying.”

Business and technology

As technological advances reshape global business, HKUST-Kellogg’s partnership has introduced technology strategy including FinTech and Big Data, which DeKrey says is critical. He says, ‘There are MBA programs that are teaching coding, they want students to fully understand the innovation behind these companies.

“The biggest demand our Exec Ed has is digital transformation, companies want to know ‘how do we digitize our company.’”

“Our ‘Information Systems Management’ department is an IT program within a business school. We have an advantage at HKUST because we’re a science and technology institution; even our first MBA classes 27 years ago had IT, so we had a head-start.”

Global reach

Kellogg and HKUST’s program features several other partnerships at different sites including in Germany, Miami, and Toronto. DeKrey says, “We offer a global elective in Hong Kong, so that’s a unique advantage to our Kellogg Global Network.

“It took 10 years for it to morph into an advantage, and because of globalization, people want to know about other parts of the world. I think it’s a real strength.”

Changes in leadership

With a long history in the industry, DeKrey has seen the evolution of the way business works, including the complexities of leadership. He says, “Leadership styles are becoming much more open, welcoming, and flexible and that’s learned in classrooms of diversity, where students learn to listen.

“The earlier leadership style – the talker, the teller, the demander – is long gone. Now it’s the listener, the facilitator, the team leader, the person who gets along with others and pays attention.

“We teach that through diversity, and with global travel people have become much more accepting of differences. When you globalize, that’s critical.”

New partnerships

China was once the new hub on the block, but with businesses having more of an understanding of how to conduct business in China, there now seems to be a new player to look out for. DeKrey says, “We’re trying to capitalize on our knowledge in Russia where we have a program starting at the end of November.

“The Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO is a new, striving, hard-charging institution. HKUST is the supporting partner of this joint concept and we supply faculty. I’m chairing their academic council and I have a small number of staff that works on operations. We’re basically bringing in best practice.”

HKUST’s new partnership with Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO focusses on Eurasia, which DeKrey says is unique. He says, “We’ve expanded the geography. SKOLKOVO Business School is already the leading school in Russia, but they need us in order to win the region, and because of the ways we’ve globalized it’s very helpful to them.

“We’ve got to get our feet on the ground and get our student body organized. Russia is now becoming a business hub and people are interested.”

Topping business school rankings

As Kellogg-HKUST once again tops FT’s business school rankings and comes in second in the QS EMBA Rankings 2018: Joint Programs, DeKrey says, “We’ve become a target for the region and even beyond. This year looks to be one of the biggest applicant pools we’ve ever had. We’re going to have to turn away high-quality people and give them deferrals because it’s such a boom year.”

As business schools hope to attract high caliber students year-on-year, institutions need a niche element to set them apart from peers. DeKrey says, “Our average student age is 40 and these are very accomplished people. One gentleman I interviewed today was a hedge fund partner. He certainly doesn’t need an EMBA for income earning advantage, but he wants the knowledge so he can be an executive in one of the companies they’ve invested in – I thought that was fascinating.”

The importance of faculty

Although students bring diversity and experience, there are of course staff and faculty behind the scenes making developments to ensure the program continues to improve.

DeKrey says, “We have an exceptional operations staff, and it took me three years to find one of them, Miss Judy Au. I remember speaking to her during her first year, and I said ‘Judy, this isn’t just a regular program, this is world-class, we have to do everything top-end,’ and boy did she do it.

“When I thank her at the end of the program, the students give her a standing ovation, she’s exceptional. We benefit greatly by having very good staff and faculty, and now we’ve such a cadre both from Hong Kong and Northwestern.”

Changing environment

The business world continues to adapt, so it’s no wonder the market has changed over time. DeKrey says, “I’ve been in this business so long that I’ve seen a real transition.

“EMBA was considered a step-child in the US because it was an easy way to get an MBA; people had jobs and worked and were sponsored by their company. Now, many people don’t want to give up their job and go full-time, the benefit doesn’t seem to generate that demand.

“Another big change, it used to be 100 percent company sponsored, in fact that was a criterion when EMBA was founded – a company had to pay, now if there’s 20 percent it’s a big number.

“We’re getting a lot of entrepreneurs and family business people paying their own way, it’s not the public corporates anymore – it’s a real mix.”

As the program recently celebrated a successful 20 years, I ask DeKrey what the future holds. He says, “We change all the time, so we’re always getting better faculty, new courses in, more diverse students, those little tweaks happen constantly.

“If I’m looking towards five or 10 years, we might allow ourselves to grow and have a double cohort. We’re doing this in Russia now. As I look for EMBA opportunities for Hong Kong, we might look at other partnerships. I think the concept is a great one.”

Written by Niamh Ollerton

Niamh is Assistant Editor of TopMBA.com, creating and editing content for an international MBA student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of the business world.  

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