TJ Wong has arguably one of the most interesting business school jobs around. As dean of the business school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, his success is dependent on keeping one eye on China and the other on the west.
Maintaining the balance between the two business cultures will be critical to the school in developing the next generation of business leaders. “In the US and the UK you worry about investor relations, but in China you worry about government relations,” points out Prof Wong. “With a government focus, you may miss the market.”
But this academic balancing act is a challenge that he relishes. “Future business leaders need to know both sides well and be able to do the trade-offs.”
As China’s growth slows, Prof Wong believes the country needs to think differently to kick start the economy. “I think what China needs now is innovation, the ability to think independently” he says. This means business schools in the region will have to adapt. “As business schools we need to understand what innovations from the west can be impactful. That requires a lot of research.”
As for all business school deans, the balance between teaching and research is a delicate one for Prof Wong and is intrinsically tied to the school’s attempt to become a globally recognised institution, rather than just an Asian player. “We now want to play in the global game.”
It was not until the 1990s that CUHK moved from a teaching model to a model that combines both teaching and research. The impetus was the acknowledgement that although many western practices are useful in China, others are not. “We cannot rely on the Americans and Europeans to develop China-focused research,” says Prof Wong. “We are developing business knowledge that is important to the region.”
One example of such work is research into Asian family businesses. “In Hong Kong we are worried about succession and family businesses. Everything in Hong Kong is about family and relationships.”
The big push has been into writing case studies – “telling stories”, as the quietly-spoken dean puts it. But he is concerned that is not enough. “We are developing cases now that are local but what is needed is a general framework for the region, that identifies the restrictions and the restraints of the region.”
CUHK is not alone among Asian schools in pushing for global recognition. All the top schools in the region have now achieved accreditation from both AACSB, the US accreditation body, and Equis, its European counterpart. This should benefit the whole sector, says Prof Wong. “It should improve the quality for the whole market. There is an assurance of learning.”
But this push has brought difficulties as well as benefits, in particular in the competition for internationally trained professors. “The top 10 business schools in Asia are all looking for US and European-trained professors and there is a very limited supply in subjects such as accounting,” worries Prof Wong. “There has to be a change or there will not be enough supply.”
One response is to build the size and quality of PhD programmes at Chinese schools – Prof Wong is very much in favour of this. The business school at CUHK already has an MPhil and a PhD programme, as well as an MBA, EMBA and masters degrees in accountancy, finance, IT and marketing. Masters degrees “are a huge market for us,” adds Prof Wong.
One reason is the thirst for credentials in China. “For Chinese students an undergraduate degree is not enough,” according to Prof Wong. The appeal of Hong Kong is as much cultural as it is academic and the Hong Kong government’s decision to allow Chinese students to live in Hong Kong for a year after graduation adds to the attraction. “For the bilingual student that is the advantage.”
Prof Wong’s next move is clear: “We want to expand, especially in China.” Short courses for Chinese companies are of particular appeal, says the dean, but he is not turning his back on the west. These short programmes may be run in conjunction with European or US business schools. “US and UK schools need partners.”