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MBA Connect Story: From Finance to Startup

MBA alumnus Herman Kam is director of LINKA, an Internet of Things tech startup, which designed and developed smart bicycle locks connected to the mobile phone by an app...

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MBA Connect Herman Kam

Herman H. Kam (Full-time, Class of 2015)
Director, LINKA Group
 

Herman Kam worked for Toyota USA as an engineer, often on the road between numerous cities in the US where Toyota had business, before deciding on uprooting himself and moving to Hong Kong to do an MBA. Having worked in many parts of the US and gained experience in design, manufacturing and quality improvement, he wanted to have international exposure and after five years in engineering, he aspired to moving to the product development side of the business.

“The decision was pretty easy,” says the New York native, who received his Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from The City College of New York. “I knew I wanted to move abroad and, as a mechanical engineer, intended to stay in an industry with tangible goods. With Asia pretty much manufacturing most products in the world, Hong Kong was a clear choice as the gateway to China and other parts of Asia. CUHK was the only MBA program in Hong Kong that offered an entrepreneurship concentration as well as a focus on China business, which aligned to my goals.”

Today he is director of LINKA, an Internet of Things (IoT) tech startup, which designed and developed smart bicycle locks connected to the mobile phone by an app. He does “pretty much everything”, from developing business to following up on orders, visiting fulfilment warehouses and supporting product development. His career path, however, has been less than a straight line since graduation from CUHK.

While doing his MBA, his most memorable experience was to lead a committee of 19 members to organize the annual Corporate Social Responsibility Conference. 

“As the president, I had to oversee the organizational structure and team dynamics, fundraising, products, sales & marketing… it was pretty much like running a small startup,” he says. 

The conference held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre was a sold-out event attended by over 300 industry professionals and included the first ever Business Case Competition sponsored by Swire Pacific and the CUHK Business School.

Another new experience for him was his internship in financial services with Citibank. As a summer associate for more than two months, he organized a successful regional workshop, analyzed Asia-Pacific’s alternative payment landscape and identified markets for product development. After his summer stint, he accepted Citi’s offer for a place on the associate program starting the following year.

“Coming from the U.S. automotive engineering industry, it was difficult to find competitive salaries in Hong Kong unless it was in finance. With an offer on the table from a global bank in one of the major finance hubs in the world, I had to take the opportunity to give it a try,” he says.

After completing all his courses and internship, he went on a three-month trip around the world before coming back to attend graduation in November. Since moving to Hong Kong, he has visited 15 countries on four continents. 

With time off before starting with Citi, he took on a contract position with Bloomberg APAC accounting team as Process Improvement Specialist, helping the company reduce overtime and increase overall productivity. The job fit in perfectly since the department was on the client side of the business he would be joining later that year with Citi as part of the APAC Treasury and Trade Solutions team. 

However, soon after he started with Citi, he was contacted by an old classmate from his engineering days, who was running the startup LINKA and visited Hong Kong to kick off production. Herman was drawn to the exciting project and agreed to support it with fundraising. He soon found himself practically working two jobs, spending any available spare time cleaning up pitch decks and pitching to potential investors. 

Having been recently married and planning to start a family, he wasn’t quite ready to go full time with a startup until an investor was secured. Finally, he was able to join fulltime at the end of last year.

His MBA has helped him to build a network of contacts in China and Hong Kong and understand the risks of doing business in China. It has also prepared him for running a business by providing him with the relevant management and leadership skills, whether it is managing a team or his peers, or dealing with different cultures and personalities. 

“We had 20 courses; that meant working with 20 different teams. That’s valuable experience you can apply directly to the real world,” he says. 

To stay flexible, the company has only a handful of fulltime staff and mostly works with contractors, but they are looking to build up the team in Hong Kong. He expects to have more than 10 employees by the third quarter. However, Herman finds hiring a challenge. While some people have the relevant experience, they may not want to take a risk by joining a startup. His other problem is that simply there aren’t enough hours in a day.

For Herman, being in a small team does have its definite attractions. He says, “It is much more fulfilling than being employed in a large company. Here you can make a decision and start getting it done without the bureaucracy.”

These days, he is preparing for Series A fundraising and looking to leverage his MBA network to connect with potential VCs. LINKA's products have expanded to Software as a Service (SaaS) model to capitalize on their proprietary technology and being the first to market.


This interview was first published in the MBA Connect by MBA Programs Office, CUHK Business School in its February 2017 issue. Please click here to read more.