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Through the comprehensive case method of teaching, which emphasizes discussion and application of knowledge in the classroom, Ivey Business School has risen to become one of the top business schools in the world with its EMBA and executive education programs. As the market continues to grow in Asia, the school is set to grow along with it

By Leon Lee

When the Ivey Business School opened the Cheng Yu Tung Management Institute in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in 1998, it was the first international business school to establish a permanent campus in Greater Asia. Since then, 8,500 professionals and executives have been trained by the school.

Since the beginning, they offered an executive MBA program that was identical to the one offered on the main campus in London, Ontario, Canada. They would fly their faculty into Hong Kong from Canada to teach the courses. While their EMBA program continues to be well-received, they have developed other programs to cater to changing needs of corporate clients and the business environment.

“Over the last few years, we’ve really developed our executive education, non-degree business to be pretty significant. It’s about equal to the size of the EMBA now,” says Robert Kennedy, Dean of the Ivey Business School.

“We run executive development programs in Hong Kong as well as in Mainland China. Now a lot of the work we do in China is not only for Chinese companies, but also for a lot of Hong Kong and multinational companies with significant footprints in China. So for the last few years, those have been our two main lines of business.”

Executive education

While an EMBA is a comprehensive education that could take up to two years to complete, executive education tend to be more focused and help companies achieve more immediate business and talent objectives.

“These are two really different value propositions. An executive MBA typically cost about US$80,000 to US$100,000 and a two-year commitment, which is a major investment in the person.

“A company can say, ‘this person has high potential so we’re going to spend $5,000 to send him to a marketing program or $10,000 to send him to a couple of modules on change management’. It is less financially costly and time consuming but has clear performance objectives,” Kennedy explains.

Ivey offers two main types of executive education programs in Asia – open enrollment programs and custom programs. The open enrollment programs tend to be functionally orientated with focuses on particular skill sets and professional development. For example, the school offers a consortium program where around 10 companies send three to four people each to attend different modules on a variety of topics such as financial management, change management, marketing, etc. Kennedy likens the program to “almost like a mini-MBA”. The school has recently entered into a successful partnership with the University of Hong Kong to offer a four-module open enrollment program on Data Analytics and Big Data.

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Custom programs are typically general management-related programs for executives, whose companies have identified to have high potential for advancement in the company. “Such custom programs place high potential middle managers in a functional area and develop them with specific career or professional objectives in mind, for example, innovation, entrepreneurial thinking, influence and persuasion, executive presence, collaboration and cross boundary leadership, etc. Many of such companies conduct talent review and development processes to identify gaps, based on which Ivey would design and deliver outcome-focused custom programs.”

Dean Kennedy believes the market for executive education is very healthy in both Hong Kong and China. There is a large demand for senior executive development from both Western firms operating in China and Chinese firms who have expanded abroad. Year on year, Ivey’s clientele has grown by 20 percent in recent years.

“There are many firms based in Hong Kong or China that would like to be more global and therefore they want to make sure their people have the skills and acumen to operate in Europe or North America. And for some of these Hong Kong-based companies, we actually run global programs,” Kennedy explains.

Ivey’s Associate Dean in Asia, Professor Chris Chan, is currently delivering a program for executives of a Hong Kong-based company. Then, he would travel to North America to run the same program with their executives based in those countries. This way the core talent of the company receives the same training worldwide.

The case method

However, regardless of EMBA or executive education programs, they would be taught with the case method. It utilizes case studies based on real-life scenarios to promote learning through discussions among students. Ivey is only one of four business schools to exclusively use the case method of teaching, others include Harvard Business School and University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

“It is sometimes called participant-centered learning. A lecture is a lot of one-way communication but it’s not active participation. The idea with a case study is, first of all, there’s no necessarily right answer. A case is a story or a platform around which people can grapple with issues and debate them and really illustrate the uncertainty,” Kennedy explains.

He believes there are three types of learning students should receive from business school. But only one can be achieved through lectures which is learning technical skills such as how to price a bond or segment a market. However, knowing those skills doesn’t necessarily mean students know how to apply that knowledge. The case method has a strong emphasis on putting information into action. The third type of learning is what the Dean calls process learning. It involves picking up skills such as the ability to present arguments clearly and concisely, working effectively in a team, and knowing how to disagree and putting your point across without offending teammates or co-workers.

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“Using various different business cases, we put the students into decision-making positions and then they have to look at and weigh the trade-offs, do the analytics, challenge the assumptions and operate well in a team-based discussion rather than one single person making the entire decision. So all of that enables students to make better decisions under uncertainty,” Professor Chan adds.

Professor Chan also observes that first-time students who are used to the traditional way of lecturing might take a little time to get used to the teaching method but they quickly come to appreciate it.

For the last two years, Bloomberg Businessweek has named Ivey’s MBA program as number one in its international rankings (schools outside of the United States). Employer satisfaction is weighed heavily in the survey, which Ivey scored the highest.

“When we talk to recruiters, any MBA has got to have the basic tools, but it’s those other things – working in teams, communicating effectively, being decisive even without complete information – those are really the things that distinguish our graduates. We think that case method learning is much better at teaching those things. Sometimes you proceed a little slower but you’re learning at a much deeper level,” Kennedy says.

Supporting growth

The school’s success and expertise with case studies have led to another business line. Ivey is the second-largest case study producer in the world with about 15 percent market share globally, only behind Harvard Business School. It has the largest collection of China and India cases locally-sourced with about 600 translated into Chinese.

More and more Chinese business schools are utilizing case studies in their classrooms so besides selling cases to them, Ivey also run three- to four-day workshops on case writing and case teaching for the schools.

In June of this year, Ivey will launch a case center for Asia in Hong Kong to support its growing business. Previously, the business was supported by overseas staff based in Canada.

“Going forward, the case center is going to do three things. They’ll write a significant number of new cases, they will provide service and support for our Chinese and Asian customers, and third, they’re going to take over responsibilities for the case writing and case teaching workshops,” Kennedy explains.

“The needs [of Chinese business schools] are fairly distinctive. They need a lot more support. A lot of these schools are just adopting the case method so they don’t know how to write and teach cases. To provide the necessary support, it makes sense to have a local presence and resources in Asia.”

The Dean believes offering such services and support distinguishes the school from other business schools that normally just offer programs. Through this, Ivey can work more closely with local schools and form partnerships that are beneficial to both parties.

Another aspect that sets Ivey apart from its peers is that besides creating case studies, they also accept submissions from faculty of other schools. Faculty can send their case studies to Ivey where they would undergo a stringent review process. If accepted, the cases would be edited to fit the school’s standards. Last year Ivey registered about 150 cases written by their own staff and another 250 submitted from around the world.

Kennedy expects the new case center to produce 10 to 12 cases in the beginning, while working with Hong Kong and Chinese business schools on receiving submissions from them.

“We anticipate about 40 to 50 cases from China last year but we think that number will go up as well. So we’ll write a few and then we’ll publish many more from others. Ivey has a very good brand presence in Asia now and we think the case center will strengthen it,” he says.

Moving ahead

Over its past 18 years in Hong Kong, Ivey has expanded from only offering an executive MBA to running executive education programs and developing case studies. It is the Dean’s vision that Ivey will continue to grow and become more multidimensional. It is beginning to look into incorporating more innovations into the classroom.

“We’ve grown our undergraduate program and reformatted the MBA so we’re really thinking hard about how do we innovate. Can we use digital tools to take some of the basic things out of the classroom and then make better use of the classroom time? So you can learn about booking debits and credits at home and then we use the classroom time more effectively to think about how do you apply those things,” Kennedy says.

And as more business issues are becoming more globally-oriented, the school plans to increase their global presence. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be building new school campuses, but rather through mutually beneficial partnerships with schools to offer Ivey’s programs at their facilities.

“[The case studies] are a core competence for us and that is a competence that a lot of people want to tap into. We feel there is a need and interest in that from a lot of potential partners.”