Face to Face with the New Dean

On 4 November 2014, Prof. Kalok Chan returned to his alma mata and stepped into his new role as Dean of The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School. Prof. Chan is a distinguished scholar in finance and was previously the Acting Dean of the School of Business and Management at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

We recently sat down with Prof. Chan to hear his vision and mission as the new Dean. Here is an extract from the interview:

CONNECT: CUHK was a pioneer in the area of business education when it first started. It has just celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. What role do you see the Business School play in Hong Kong’s business education in the next 50 years?

Prof. Chan: With its long history in Hong Kong, CUHK has nurtured a great pool of talents, who later became managers and professionals, making great contributions to the economic prosperity of Hong Kong and the economic development in Mainland China. At the same time, it is a place where East meets West. So we also have brought in a lot of foreigners who wanted to access information about China.

Going forward, being a publicly funded university, we have the responsibility to continue training local talents. At the same time, there will much a greater need for Chinese companies to know more about the global economy and business practices. So I see a strong demand in China for people who have such knowledge. As such, we’ll have a lot of opportunities to train up Mainland talents and to help shape the future development of the Chinese economy. Of course, let’s not forget our mission of being a university with a global vision. So we’ll continue to be a platform to bring in students from all over the world.

CONNECT: The 21st Century is often dubbed the “Asian Century.” What kind of role do you see the School play to help realize this grand vision?

Prof. Chan: Asia contributes a big share of the world’s economic output and we expect it to continue to grow at a much faster pace than the rest of the world. The great economic prosperity in the region will call for a great deal of business knowledge. But within the region, there aren’t enough business schools that can compete at the top level in the world. If we are able to leverage our strength, we will be able to attract a lot of students within Asia to study here. Instead of going to the West for their further education, they can simply come to CUHK for their business studies.

Due to the huge size of Asia’s economy, there are many specific issues pertinent to the region. Our School can definitely participate in defining the research agenda. In fact, we no longer have to follow the West all the time. Of course, we will still be doing top-notch research in the global context, but at the same time, we have the potential to conduct a lot of research on issues that are specific to Asia and in doing so, make a big impact in the region’s growth. After all, as Asia’s economy expands, the problems it faces will also be faced by the rest of the world.

CONNECT: Business in Greater China is getting increasingly connected. Hong Kong has in the past played the role of a middle station to bring global business into China. What sort of development do you see will occur in the years ahead?

Prof. Chan: In the past, Hong Kong attracted a lot of foreigners who wanted to know more about how to do business in China. In recent years, many Mainland companies and business professionals want to know about the world. Some of the policy reforms in the Mainland clearly show that China wants to boost its competitiveness in the international arena. As Hong Kong is one of the freest economies in the world and has a long tradition of doing business with the West, it definitely has the advantage in helping the Chinese economy move in that direction.

In our Business School, we have a well-trained faculty, with a lot of experience and knowledge about international market practices. Certainly we can help China to learn how to compete in the global marketplace. In the financial market, in particular, Hong Kong can play a significant role in helping China with the deregulation of its capital market. With the ongoing development of the offshore RMB market and, eventually, the launch of “Shanghai-Hong Kong Connect,” the Chinese government can use Hong Kong as a gateway to take some of the capital out of the Mainland and finally enter the world financial market. That is the role that Hong Kong can play.

CONNECT: How is the Business School going to prepare its students so they are equipped for the formidable opportunities and challenges ahead?

Prof. Chan: Because of the complexity of business, political and social issues in the 21st century, we always emphasize that students should have a much broader base in their education than previously. There are three areas the Business School will focus on to provide students with a broad-based education so they can face the challenges ahead:

First, the 21st century is the era of globalization. Students need to know how to compete and function in a global landscape. The Business School will strengthen the curriculum to raise their awareness of global issues. We will continue to run exchange programs and short study trips so students can learn about different economies and cultures. We will also invite more international leaders to share their expertise.

Second, in this era of information overload and rapid technological development, students need to acquire the ability to get the right information and to come up with innovative solutions. To do that, it is not enough for students to just attend lectures and discussions. We need to provide them with opportunities outside the classroom. The School will continue its experiential learning, internships and company projects. We will make sure students learn how to think independently and work with others in a team environment. We want to train them to think out of the box and come up with creative solutions.

Third, after the global financial tsunami and all the corporate scandals and accounting frauds, we want to emphasize the importance of social and ethical responsibilities just as students learn how to grow profitable enterprises. The interest of stakeholders other than the shareholders should not be undermined. We really want our students to carry a good reputation for the school after they graduate.

CONNECT: Competition among business schools in Asia and worldwide have become increasingly intense. What kinds of change and innovation do you envision for our School for it to stay at the top of the game?

Prof. Chan: If you look at the missions of all business schools, they more or less cover the following three areas: to produce top-quality research; to educate students as future leaders; and to help contribute to economic development. These missions will not change. But because of the changing expectations and needs of the students and the society, we will be looking at change in all these areas. Let me elaborate:

In research, what we’re looking for is not just the quantity but also the impact it can have on the business community—it should be relevant and applicable. We want our research to be able to change some of the market practices and to prescribe best practices. So we need to make it possible for the faculty to apply their research in practice and make an impact in society.

On the teaching side, we have to make sure our curriculum is innovative. As such, it needs to be revamped from time to time. There are a lot of expectations of how our student profiles should be. We need to review the curriculum to meet those needs.

Thanks to technological innovations, the Business School could take advantage of the online learning platform so we can deliver knowledge in a more flexible way, allowing students to learn at their own pace and in different locations. Still, it is essential for students and professors to be able to hold discussions face to face as experience sharing is a crucial element in the education experience. As such, let me emphasize the unique campus life that CUHK provides. This will always remain an attraction for our incoming students.

CONNECT: Many Western business schools have set up branches in Hong Kong and Mainland China to provide a Western-style education to those who are interested in doing business in China. What differentiates our School from them?

Prof. Chan: Many of these Western business schools and programs in Hong Kong and Mainland China are like satellite programs that don’t have on-location faculty and staff. The professors are flown in to deliver courses. This is a very long-distance approach. As such, the programs and schools do not really integrate with the local business community.

I believe that a business school has to facilitate the development of the local business community and society. Our School has all the advantages with a long history and a large alumni base—it is a very good way for us to tap into the local corporate world. We also have a comprehensive course offering with multiple programs on different levels. That means we are able to provide different kinds of training for different participants’ needs, such as training for companies’ staff on specific subjects.

In addition, CUHK is a comprehensive university, not just a stand-alone business school. So we can have a lot of inter-disciplinary research as a lot of issues are not only within the confines of business. For example, we can work with other schools, such as health care, law and social sciences for interdisciplinary research and programs. This is not something that the satellite programs can provide.

Let me also mention the brand-new Shenzhen campus. If we think of our two solid bases—one in Hong Kong and one in the Mainland, not many schools can challenge our position. We just need to leverage on our strength and take advantage of our potentials.

CONNECT: How important are rankings in your view?

Prof. Chan: When it comes to business schools, people often look at their MBA and EMBA rankings. Rankings are a pragmatic way to measure a school’s reputation. They define the value of our graduates and provide information for prospective students. They act as mirrors for us to see how we stack up with our peers, and help us strive for continuous improvements.

Having said that, I don’t think we should be blindly led by rankings. Different attributes may be given different weightings by different ranking agencies. No business school can say they are at the top of every criterion. So they need to decide which area they want to push far or promote.

Some attributes or criteria may not be consistent with the objective of a particular program. For example, a lot of MBA students come to our School to learn management skills to promote social causes. NGO or social enterprise jobs are not necessarily highly paid, but the Business School should promote them nonetheless. What I’m trying to say is that educational programs should have a broader agenda than just achieving high rankings.

CONNECT: Which areas will you prioritize in the beginning of your tenure? Any urgent tasks that you plan to tackle first?

Prof. Chan: During the first few months of my office, I will be meeting with different units and departments. There are four aspects that I’d like to promote and encourage:

  1. Faculty: I’d like the School to try its best to recruit, nurture and retain faculty members who have strong commitments to produce excellent research and teaching. For research, I’m looking at providing a platform not only to produce papers for top-rated journals, but to produce research with bigger impacts on the business profession and the academic profession.
  2. Students: There are rising expectations for our students. We hope our curriculum will reflect the elements demanded by the corporate world. For both graduates and undergraduates, we hope to see more emphasis on global issues, innovation, creativity and CSR as part of the education experience.
  3. Diversity: I’d like to see and continue to encourage the diversity of the student body. I hope the School will bring in more students from around Asia and the West, in addition to Mainland China.
  4. Business connection: We should have more connection with the alumni and corporate community. Our previous Dean Prof TJ Wong had done a lot in this area and I’d like to see our School continue pushing in the same direction. After all, we do have a long history operating in Hong Kong and Mainland China, and we should be able to do more to gather the support of the business world.

Our Business School has a very solid platform with the comprehensive university behind it, plus a long history, strong alumni community and now, the Shenzhen campus. If we are able to integrate these elements, I think we can be very powerful. As the new Dean, I can’t do it alone. I hope to get all the support and feedback from the faculty and staff that I can, and I’ll work with the students, alumni and corporate contacts. I strongly believe we can improve and succeed to become one of the leading business schools in the world.

By Louisa Wah Hansen