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Anyone who thinks a world-class business school cannot be created in a couple of decades, or that you cannot do it in Asia, should think again. For in 15 years, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology has grown to be one of the most respected business schools in Asia.

Much credit for all this must go to the two professor Chans, its founding dean, Yuk-Shee Chan, senior advisor to HKUST’s president, and the school’s current dean KC Chan. He joined the school in 1993, became acting dean in 2001, and was given the top job in 2002.

He is a deceptively youthful-looking 49-year-old and would look at home behind the dean’s desk at any global business school. He taught in Finland and the US – at Ohio State University – before pursuing a career at HKUST. He received his bachelor, MBA and doctoral degrees from US universities. At the school he hopes to build a bridge between the world-class aspirations of HKUST and the local needs of Hong Kong business.

“We have to be a first class international school – faculty, students, curriculum,” he says. “But we have to give context, we have to give a Chinese flavour.”

As one of the few Cantonese speakers at the school he can interact with the local Hong Kong business community as easily as speaking on the international stage. He is a Justice of the Peace and a member of the Hang Seng Index Advisory Committee and chairman of the Consumer Council in Hong Kong.

It is clear that the strength of the school lies in its founding philosophy, to build a research institution second to none and recruit only internationally- trained faculty. “These are the people everyone is trying to grab,” says the dean.

Almost all the HKUST faculty have PhD degrees from US, Canadian or European institutions. Indeed, the most popular PhD at the school is from the University of Chicago – Prof Chan earned his Chicago PhD in finance in 1985. Only 15 per cent of the faculty are from Hong Kong, with a further 30 per cent from mainland China, Singapore or Taiwan.

The school has also taken a decisive stand on research: it should appeal to both the academic and the business world. Articles have to be published in the top academic journals and then adapted for publication for business readers. Practitioner articles have to be published in Chinese as well as English, to reach to business people in mainland China.

Prof Chan sees dissemination of articles as a way of building the brand. “We tried to figure out how we could build the brand. We went back to our core value. We are a school with excellence in research. We have tried to communicate this.”

Its position as a global business school has been boosted by location. “Hong Kong is not a Chinese city; it is one of the world’s international cities,” he says.

“Firms in Hong Kong are doing global recruiting; our students are competing with the Ivy Leagues and Oxford and Cambridge.”

The flagship programme at HKUST is the executive MBA programme the school teaches jointly with the Kellogg school at Northwestern University. It has been ranked in the top 10 executive MBA programmes by the Financial Times since it entered the rankings in 2003.

“We love the thing,” says Prof Chan. “I must give credit to Kellogg: they had this vision of going to Asia and working with a local school. At the time it [the partnership] felt right because of the chemistry.”

The joint degree has given HKUST access to some of the best business school faculty in the world and provided brand recognition. Students who sign up for the Hong Kong-based EMBA are often US citizens working in Hong Kong. This is one reason why alumni from the programmes command the highest salaries ($294,374) three years after graduation of all who respond to the FT survey.

But when Prof Chan became dean he had his work cut out developing the full-time MBA programme. “When I stepped into the dean’s office I realised we had to really beef up the MBA programme. We looked at the MBA market and realised we were embarrassingly tiny. Students [in Hong Kong] wanted to be part-time but this did not give us the challenge we needed.” At its low point the programme had 17 students, because that was the number it could attract that were of the required calibre. These days there are 70 on the MBA programme.

To make the leap the school had to move from attracting local students to being global. “Eight years ago our students were only from Hong Kong: now they’re from China and all over the world,” says the dean. “We’re still not a major international business school like London or Insead, but when people look at Asia, they consider us.”

The number of MBA alumni may be small, but the school has a substantial undergraduate programme, admitting 700 a year. It also teaches a 15-month international EMBA programme in China, including Beijing and Shenzhen as well as Hong Kong, a part-time MBA programme in Shenzen, MSc programmes in finance, economics and information systems and a PhD programme. All in all, a portfolio of which many older schools would be proud.

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