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Challenging, Rewarding Intellectual Journey for Business Professionals

15 May 2018

After years of working as an accountant and as partner in US capital markets at Ernst & Young, Dr Yin Toa Lee brought fresh challenges to himself when he decided to pursue a Doctor of Business Administration degree. He started pursuing the degree at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) on a part-time basis in 2013 and graduated in 2016. Now armed with the degree, he is pleased to have taken the plunge and fulfi lled a personal goal by juggling work and study.

DBA programmes are offered by various universities in Hong Kong, but PolyU was the fi rst to launch this kind of programme for senior professionals 22 years ago, says programme director Prof. Wilson Tong.

"Other institutions saw the market for it and offered similar programmes," says the finance professor. "Ours is more like the traditional research-oriented PhD programme, aiming to train students to think like scholars. We expose students to frontier knowledge uncovered by research and help develop their ability to think logically and analytically."

Enlightened by theoretical knowledge
While the popular EMBA courses targeting senior professionals are more based on case analysis, Prof. Tong says, the goal of PolyU DBA programme is to help students integrate their management experience with new found knowledge, and be able to discuss issues with theoretical back-up.

Dr Lee, the accountant, has since been used to incorporating scientific data in his work, as well as drawing on the research he did for his thesis, the topic of which is on listed companies' reporting frequency, including the pros and cons of releasing company results more frequently in a year.

"There is more information to investors for their decision making process but there is also the issue of what investors might do based on such information," he explains, "whether the stock prices are more stable given the information are more priced in or more volatile because of more information to trade".

The compulsory subject of Business Research Analysis and Design in the programme aims at providing students with a solid foundation in research skills. But unlike PhD candidates, few may eye an academic path in the long run.

Dr Lee has remained in his profession, but with increased confidence in dealing with clients, for example when discussing issues such as dual class shares with supervoting rights. "The course gave me useful tools to tackle problems in a scientifi c way."

He also developed a broader understanding of the factors at play in different markets through interactions with fellow students from diverse sectors, including family businesses, entrepreneurs, banks, listed companies to non-governmental organisations. There are ample opportunities for cultural exchanges due to the international mix in the programme. Some students hail from countries such as South Korea, United States and Vietnam. Prof. Tong said recent years have seen a growing number of students originally from the mainland who are working in Hong Kong. They make up about a quarter of the total enrollees of 20.

Overseas experience and exchanges
Students also have access to international exposure, vital for today's globalized economy, through short-term residential programmes abroad. Through collaborations with the IMD business school in Switzerland and the Summer School and Executive Programmes unit at The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in the United Kingdom, PolyU DBA students can attend executive programme at either institution as an elective course.

Dr Lee went for summer training at IMD, Lausanne, which was attended by up to 400 senior management executives from around the world. "It was very interesting and international," he recalled. "The students came from different sectors like European luxury brands such as watches, industrial equipment manufacturers like elevators and toy manufacturers on building blocks etc.."

After the course he joined other classmates for sightseeing and art appreciation in Europe. That's not the only time when the DBA students studied and had fun together abroad. The programme's orientation was held in Thailand.

Making good use of time
In Hong Kong, when he was doing the programme, Dr Lee met with classmates who worked close by after work as a way of relaxing, when not discussing projects. Studying part-time required much discipline after all. In the fi rst half of the three-year programme, he attended classes for the core and elective subjects at weekends.

Understandably, good time management is necessary for balancing competing demands in life. Dr Lee allocated time to write papers in the library at weekends and meet with his thesis supervisor once a month.

Academically, students in the programme receive help from the programme offi ce to ensure smooth progress. Professors advise students on the elective subjects and research papers that suit their own research and interests. An annually updated supervisor list will be provided from which students can identify their individual thesis supervisor for guidance on thesis topics and thesis development.

"Whatever the area is, we introduce them to innovative research, and try to enable them to provide theoretical and logical back-up for their views," says Prof. Tong. He found that many business professionals have much practical knowledge but are not used to backing up their views through logical analysis. Besides management skills, the ability to convince others is crucial in the business world, he adds. "Surprisingly, in presenting their thesis proposal to panel members, many students are not well-trained in making their case."

New Horizons
Students can derive a good deal of satisfaction from the intellectual quest associated with the training. Many are not necessarily driven by future monetary gains or job promotions, says Prof. Tong. "They are already in senior positions and are doing the programme more for self-actualization."

Some indeed have continued to do research after graduating, with hopes of reaching the goal of publication. Dr Lee is no exception. In the past two years he has kept updating his research fi ndings, amending his thesis in his free time. He is also delighted to have had the chance to attend academic conferences overseas. Prof .Tong said it is the hope of PolyU's Faculty of Business to have DBA theses published in top international journals.

The training has certainly opened new doors for Dr Lee. While also serving as treasurer of the Hong Kong Society of Financial Analysts, he delivered two public lectures at PolyU, where he could share his research on reporting frequency and US IPO professional knowledge with students, alumni and the public.

" I got feedback from scholars and industry specialists from my research interests," he smiled. "People regard scholars as being neutral. The doctoral training gives me higher credibility in what I say." In a modest manner, he said: "DBA research could have an impact on future government policies to continue Hong Kong's competitiveness as a global financial center. That is far more important than getting a salary increase as a result of completing the study."

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