In 2016, the Chinese University of Hong Kong Business School celebrated the 50th anniversary of its MBA programs. Stephanie Villemagne, Associate Dean of Graduate Programs and Director of MBA Programs, reflects on the trends shaping executive education and shares her plans for the School going forward

By Jennifer Khoo

Stephanie Villemagne

Last year, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School celebrated the golden jubilee of its MBA programs. It must be doing something right, if longevity is anything to go by.

Stephanie Villemagne, Associate Dean of Graduate Programs and Director of MBA programs, was appointed last year to continue its success, and judging by her experience, there isn’t any question of whether she is up to the task.

Following a decade of employment at INSEAD, including time at its campus in Singapore where she served as Global Director of its MBA, Villemagne (an executive MBA holder herself,) is a veteran in the field of business education.

As Director of the School’s MBA programs, she oversees all program-related matters, from marketing to career support. As Associate Dean, she is responsible for the portfolio advancement of its graduate programs, including international recruitment, diversity, new program development and operational excellence.

Ingredients for success

Known for more than just its MBA programs, CUHK was named the ‘Most innovative university in Hong Kong’ by Thomson Reuters in 2016, having pioneered an impressive number of ‘firsts’ in the fields of entrepreneurship, learning, and business.

As the first business school to launch a Centre for Entrepreneurship, CUHK is committed to developing comprehensive entrepreneurship curriculum for its MBA, which it continuously questions and builds upon to keep it current and relevant, says Villemagne.

“We are also the first business school to launch a blended mode of learning for our Part Time MBA, i.e. 50 percent taught online and 50 percent taught face-to-face, which provides a much more flexible and advanced learning process for our students,” she adds.

CUHK also has a long history of contribution to Hong Kong’s business sector. Since the late 1990s, professors and students from the Business School’s marketing department have actively engaged with the local business community to help companies translate their ‘big data’ ideas into practical and strategic solutions. 

For example in 2013, the School and multinational technology company IBM, jointly established the Marketing Engineering Lab, the first-of-its-kind in the world, aimed at developing a new generation of marketing professionals.

And last year, initiated by the School’s Department of Marketing, CUHK Business School, IBM, and two other business schools in Mainland China jointly rolled out the ‘A100 Project,’ aimed at helping 100 companies in China set up the software infrastructure and business models necessary to support intelligent, data-based marketing decisions.

These achievements reflect CUHK’s innovative spirit and its willingness to embrace change – both key “ingredients” in its success thus far, and for the future, says Villemagne.

Skills for the ‘New economy’

Industries everywhere are being disrupted by advances in technology: MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have disrupted the world of education; Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are disrupting the way we learn, live and work; social media has disrupted the way we communicate.

“Traditionally, people went to business school to learn the skills necessary for excelling in and leading large corporations in the ‘Old economy.’ But our world is changing so much that what worked five years ago may not work anymore today,” says Villemagne.

She believes that business education, like all others, must adapt to stay relevant to their stakeholders (students, faculty, companies, etc.) Likewise, the definition of a good business leader is also evolving.

“In the ‘New economy,’ our society needs people who can innovate, create, and disrupt,” she explains. “That means schools are responsible for promoting innovation and technology, as well as critical thinking and creativity, to help the next generation adapt to this new context.”

CUHK takes this responsibility seriously and has been proactive in its commitment to working with change. “We are currently the only university in Hong Kong with a campus in Shenzhen (widely regarded as the Silicon Valley of China), and we have a close partnership with the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks (HKSTP),” she says.

Diversity - another word synonymous with success in today’s world – is about more than just nationality. “It’s also about gender, profession, and beliefs. We can draw from each other’s fortes and cultural richness to help society progress. This is what the next generation needs to understand in order to be good citizens and great leaders,” she adds.

Market observations

Villemagne says that executive education per se isn’t traditionally popular with companies in the city other than MNCs. However in recent years, she has noted a growing interest from Hong Kong companies that have begun to see the point of sending their staff to executive programs for training purposes.

Despite the positive trend among local companies, Hong Kong’s market for business education is still heavily subject to demand from its unpredictable next-door neighbour. Hence, business schools like CUHK should seize the opportunity to promote themselves in Mainland China whenever possible.

Especially now, amid the nation’s economic transformation - driven by the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution - which has produced wave after wave of entrepreneurs, innovation and new technology.

In the pipeline

Under her stewardship, Villemagne intends to bring several plans to fruition, starting with a curriculum review in early 2017 to ensure the MBA program’s continuing relevance to students and recruiters.

The School will also work towards the official launch of its blended learning MBA in 2018. “This is already an option that our current students can take but we hope to have it as a full-fledged standalone program by then,” she says.

Finally, the School plans to launch a new Master in Management program targeted at pre-experience students wanting to enter a management position rapidly. “It will be very innovative in its approach and content, and will allow students to understand the uncertainty of the world we live in and apply their learning to solve complex business problems,” she explains.

Words of advice

To those considering an international business education, Villemagne suggests that location is nearly as important as the quality of the course itself, a consideration which may surprise some people.

“Location, location, location - people should look for a location with vibrancy, cultural dynamism, action and energy. Hong Kong has all these and much more,” she says.

She recommends doing thorough research, like talking to alumni, looking at the network of recruiters, and looking at the ranking, but warns against total reliance on these steps to make what is an important and expensive decision.

“This is a good place to start but it will not tell you which program is the right one for you. Ask questions, more questions, and again, so that once the due diligence is done, you can be 100% sure you have found the right program and school for you, your career and your personality,” she adds.