As China's economy continues to grow, Chinese enterprises
are seeking to expand globally and are having higher
expectations of their executives, urging them to pursue
continuous learning. To maintain competitive in the
job market, what are the key skills for executives to
master? What should be considered in selecting the right
Maggy Fang, Director of Executive Compensation Consulting
for Towers Watson in China believes that the most critical
challenge facing executives is how to effectively manage
change in order to maintain the winning edge of the
organisation in the volatile economic environment. As
such, it is imperative that executives master the skills
of change management. "A few years earlier, change
management was not that important, but facing today's
changing and challenging business environment, executives
must grasp these concepts and keep updating their management
skills, technical skills and industry knowledge skills
Skills to Learn
Maggy thinks that the following four skills are essential
for executives to ensure that their organisations are
able to create sustainable business value:
ii. Corporate culture building skills
iii. Change management skills
iv. Global strategic thinking and local leadership
"Nowadays, with the rapidly changing economy and
fierce competition in the marketplace, executives need
to develop good business vision to project the future
of business, build up a clear corporate culture, and
respond to change flexibly. In addition, with globalisation
taking hold, it is more important than ever for executives
to develop global strategic thinking and local leadership,
so that they can effectively manage local and global
business," she explains.
Jeffrey Tang, Director, Talent & Rewards and Executive
Compensation for Towers Watson in Hong Kong agrees with
the significance of strategic thinking, and points out
that besides financial skills, executives should also
know about business operation - how the business runs.
"Globalisation is an irresistible trend. As organisations
are going international with business expanding globally,
executives must possess both international and regional
perspectives to efficiently work across borders.
Meanwhile, executives also need to be highly adaptable
to the volatile market, different cultures and legislations
across the regions," he says. In such a constantly
changing world, executives not only have to adapt to
change, but also to revisit the current business models.
“In the old days a business model may be retained for
more than a decade, but now, as the world keeps changing
rapidly, it is crucial that executives have the willingness
to revisit their business models and adapt them in response
to market change. Even though they think the models
are okay, they should still optimise them to make them
more applicable," says Jeffrey.
Concepts - Learning and Execution
It is also critical for executives to keep up with the
times by learning new management concepts. In Jeffrey's
opinion, the key is to convert these concepts into real-life
applications. "We call this 'operational studies'.
When there is a good concept or idea, we need to learn
to execute it in real-life situations, and let everyone
understand what it is. For instance, the younger generation
communicates in a very different way, so the leader
should think about how he/ she could communicate effectively
with the young staff, so that they understand, accept
and recognise the new concept."
Jeffrey suggests that other than classroom learning,
executives should also learn by onthe- job practice.
The best way to learn is still a combination of the
two. Maggy agrees and thinks that through various working
assignments and job rotations, executives are exposed
to practice that helps enhance personal skills and experience.
Given the market trends, business schools are launching
more new executive programs to cater to executives'
learning needs. Maggy says that studying MBA programs
could be helpful to executives and provides them with
a platform for exchange. But a comprehensive learning
plan should be in place; otherwise taking executive
programs may not necessarily lead to competency enhancement.
"China executives have diversified leadership skills.
Some may have very high-level skills and competencies,
whilst some may focus on business models without solid
knowledge of basic management concepts. In this case,
studying MBA programs will be more essential,"
When it comes to MBA education, many associate it with
the financial sector. In this issue, we are glad to
have invited experienced investment manager Ed Chin
to share his views on business schools and executive
education. Having engaged in the financial sector for
more than two decades, Ed is currently Principal Consultant
at a hedge fund firm and Board Member at a family office.
Since 2006, he has been writing a highly popular column
in a local paper.
to Connect to the Real World
After the credit crunch in 2008, many thought that there
is a need for traditional business schools to reform
and innovate in order to rebuild the tarnished MBA brand.
From Ed's perspective, disconnection exists between
b-schools and the real world, which urges b-schools
to reform. "The world is constantly changing. Therefore,
whether for MBA or EMBA programs, besides core subjects,
syllabi for other subjects should be adjusted based
on market trends. As these programs are highly practical,
b-schools should follow the market tightly and ensure
that they are connecting with the real world,"
The worldwide economic crisis has brought profound and
devastating impact to the international business arena.
Ed says, "These days many think that 2012 would
be a 'nuclear winter'. Will it be that bad? God knows.
From the business schools’ perspective, it's about change.
A b-school has to connect what it teaches with the outside
world. No doubt we need theory, but we can't do with
only theory without practice. In recent years, local
universities started to invest in innovation, for example
a university established a trading lab to simulate real
trading in i-banks for practical training."
The majority of executives pursue selfenhancement today.
Ed thinks that executives do not need to know all the
technical skills in depth, but they need to have an
understanding of the big picture. "Today's executives
should be generalists who are flexible enough to manage
change. They can be specialists in certain areas, but
at the same time generalists with broad horizons."
Ed illustrates with an example, "my specialty is
hedge fund, but as the investment world is so broad,
I also look at other investments. In fact, in my sector,
besides hedge funds, we also work on alternative investment.
It means that we not only engaged in stock or securities
trading, but also impact investing – searching for potential
social enterprises in emerging markets for investments
that create social impact."
Ed obtained his MBA at The University of Toronto. "It
was a long time ago in 1996-1998. I returned to school
after around ten years of work. I would suggest executives
to think about their personal need for program selection.
It would be better to choose programs with an international
student mix. Learning with students of diverse nationalities
and industries creates more valuable learning experiences.
It is also a good opportunity to broaden your horizons."
Eric Wong, President and CEO of Richburg Motors, has
been in the pursuit of lifelong learning for the past
decade. He has studied programs at a number of renowned
schools including The Chinese University of Hong Kong
(EMBA), Harvard Business School, INSEAD and Party School
of the Central Committee of CPC. He is now a columnist
for a number of local papers where he shares his management
philosophy with readers.
As Eric says, the best way to meet global trends is
learning, "I take one short course from Harvard
Business School every year to update my current knowledge
and achieve my learning objective. In the meantime,
I take this as a chance for annual review and preparation
for my new strategies. I believe that executives should
develop outside thinking and learn to think outside
the box. Learning helps us review our positions in an
objective way, and sometimes we may discover
new visions from that."
Speaking of the trends of executive education, Eric
reveals, "The first is 'technology' - how should
we leverage technology to deliver more accurate, timely
information that caters for our needs? The second is
'profession' - how can we acquire visionary knowledge
As told by Ed earlier, when selecting a program, those
with a diverse student mix would be a better choice.
Eric agrees and reminds executives to look at students
mix first rather than school rankings. “Rankings can
be seen as reference, but more importantly we should
look at the teachers’ background and specialty, the
graduates’ comments on the program and teachers. Moreover,
today many programs emphasise China elements, for example
with some of the students coming from large corporations
in the mainland. I would say this element is critical,
given the flying growth of China.
Learning with China executives will be a good chance
to get a closer look at China's conditions." Eric
shares with us the four key points for continuous learning
- Don't think that the certificate will surely lead
to better career development, as you are not the only
one who has the certificate. We should value the learning
process, not the outcome.
- Has learning changed your critical thinking and
helped you make objective judgment?
- Have you achieved intellectual improvement? To
do this, have you had any intellectual interaction
with your classmates and teachers?
- Have you learnt anything from each of your classmates,
regardless of his/her status or position?
"If you are able to follow the above four points,
then it's good to pursue learning. Remember that the
key is to have learning gains instead of merely seeing
the certificate as your asset for job changing. As for
program selection, I suggest that executives make decision
according to their own core values and strengths and
weaknesses. As mentioned earlier, the best way is to
refer to alumni and graduates'’ comments to know more
about the teachers' background and quality, whilst the
mix of students should not be overlooked," he concludes.