In 1943, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business established the first Executive MBA program in the world. With decades of experience in managing the program, combined with a unique educational approach that has made it one of the leading business schools in the world, Chicago Booth has grown to encompass three dedicated campuses on three continents – including one right here in Hong Kong.

Richard Johnson, Head of EMBA Program for Europe and Asia, and William Kooser, Associate Dean for Global Outreach, discuss in a recent conversation the program’s renowned “Chicago Approach” and share a glimpse of what the future holds for the school amid an expansion into the Asia Pacific region

By Jennifer Khoo What are your roles at the University of Chicago Booth of Business?

Johnson: My role is to ensure that the delivery of our world-class Executive MBA Program on the Hong Kong campus is of the highest quality possible and that it matches all of the other Booth MBA Programs. This includes oversight of all aspects of the program, including recruitment and admissions, student services, and faculty services as well as campus buildings and facilities. I also create and nurture partnerships with other departments of our business school which provide added programming and support to students during their time in the program and beyond. It covers career services, leadership development, and alumni relations, etc.

Kooser: My role is designed to broaden our connections with our alumni, corporate partners, and the media in order to increase our visibility and strengthen ties to our school. I travel throughout the region to meet with key organizations and alumni to inform them of new developments at the school, encourage them to get involved in alumni activities and work with companies who may be interested in our educational programs or looking for ways to attract and recruit our graduates. I support many of Chicago Booth’s departments and initiatives, including admissions, career services, alumni affairs and executive education. Ultimately, the goal is to increase our presence in the region and become an integral part of the Hong Kong business community. What is your EMBA program all about?

Johnson: Our program is based on a General Management MBA curriculum. Students will learn all aspects of how businesses work, how markets function, how capital is best allocated (both human and financial) and how people make decisions. In each course, students will learn both the theoretical approaches, including foundations and frameworks, that they will then apply to cases and problems.

Students learn to apply fundamental disciplines such as Economics, Psychology, Sociology, Statistics, and Accounting – the language of business – to business problems. The curriculum is then rounded out by a series of leadership courses and further personal leadership learning opportunities. Students leave the program with a fundamentally different approach to thinking about business and with a set of tools and frameworks to make them more effective leaders in their businesses and organizations.

As Dean of Chicago Booth Business School Sunil Kumar says, “Our goal is to teach you something that transcends your immediate contexts so that you learn from your classmates and professors (the best there is to learn in the world).”

We actively recruit a community of students with varied experiences, backgrounds, perspectives, and goals. That’s because we believe it is important to foster a collaborative learning environment/experience.

Our EMBA students work in almost every industry/- job function and come from around the world, providing an unending source of contacts, collaborators, consultants and friends. With students representing more than 50 different countries across three campuses, every class is an experience in cultural immersion.

Richard Johnson How would you describe your faculty?

Johnson: Where faculty is concerned, all our classes are taught by professors from Chicago Booth. Fiercely independent thinkers, our faculty members constantly test new ideas and theories. They appreciate and seek out divergent perspectives because they recognize that open and rigorous inquiry makes knowledge richer.

Apart from our seven Chicago Booth faculty members who have won the Nobel Prize award, other faculty members who are teaching in our program currently are also renowned in their fields. They have real-life business experience in terms of consulting with firms and serving on corporate boards. Their research and opinions are frequently sought after by major corporations and cited in prominent media worldwide.

They engage students in a learning environment where the principal modes of teaching are discourse and discussion. They’ll ask students and their peers to take an active role in uncovering the ideas and facts that lead to new solutions. They will challenge the students to take their thinking to the next level and beyond. What gives Chicago Booth’s EMBA program a competitive edge over other EMBA programs in the region?

Johnson: We are the only top American business school in Asia to teach in a format that we call “Pure Chicago.” Students in our program in Hong Kong are taught by the same faculty as our students in Chicago, and they are required to fulfil the same degree requirements as our full-time and part-time students in Chicago. The quality and rigor are just as high as in all Chicago Booth degree programs.

Members of our faculty create ground-breaking knowledge and ideas that define and shape the way the world does business. They have real-world business experience through corporate, consulting and board activities, and they bring all of this knowledge into the classroom.

The “Chicago Approach” to teaching and learning is based on the notion that transformational ideas start with a rigorous inquiry. Students learn to evaluate business problems and opportunities through fundamental academic disciplines such as economics, psychology, and sociology; they learn to examine problems from all angles, demand facts, question assumptions, test and refine ideas, and support them with data so that their ideas can stand up to the scrutiny of arguments.

This rigorous approach is taught in an extremely collaborative and supportive environment. We say at Chicago that ideas compete but people collaborate. Students and faculty help each other to work hard and get the most out of the program – with individual successes considered part of an overall collective success.

The lounge What can students expect to gain from your program?

Johnson: Students will gain a wealth of knowledge, experience, and analytical problem-solving skills. They are challenged to question conventional wisdom, to push conversations further and to uncover unexpected opportunities through rigorous inquiry and examination of business problems. This approach generates new insights and allows our graduates to make better decisions, think ahead of the problem and set new standards for leadership.

With 50,000 alumni in 122 countries and over 90 alumni organizations, the program provides an ideal setting for expanding your network – for personal and professional growth and development.

Our alumni and students have a strong sense of belonging because they know they come from the same school, receive the same education and the same degree – no matter which campus or program they graduated from. We constantly hear encouraging stories about our alumni helping one another and collaborating together. It is the breadth and depth of the network that makes it so powerful.

In addition, students receive lifelong learning opportunities as they may register as alumni for open seats in EMBA program electives offered each year in Chicago during summer. These courses are tuition-free, and students just pay a fee to cover expenses. Through additional courses, our alumni can brush up their skills and continue to learn in areas of their interest. Why was your program relocated from Singapore to Hong Kong in 2013?

Kooser: Although we were extremely successful for over 15 years in Singapore, we felt that we could diversify the class and expand our influence by moving to Hong Kong. Our hope was to increase the number of students from North Asia and to begin to build closer connections to organizations throughout China, Korea, and Japan. So far, with three intakes now in Hong Kong, we have indeed been able to achieve this goal.

We have increased the number of students from Hong Kong and Mainland China while maintaining a solid number of students from Southeast Asia. We still maintain a presence in Singapore and offer a selection of non-degree executive education courses there, and we continue to provide support to our alumni and marketing efforts. What is the level of demand for EMBA programs in the region? Do you find your students in Asia any different from their counterparts in Chicago?

Johnson: Hong Kong and Singapore are both very popular and leading cities in Asia. Every year, we see applicants with outstanding professional experience and academic qualifications. Our student population has always been very diverse. Since our move to Hong Kong, we have significantly increased the number of local Hong Kong students in our program, but have also maintained very strong demand from students in other East Asian countries as well as South East Asia and India.

All of our students come into the program eager to learn and to engage with each other, with the faculty and the school. For this reason, they are motivated and participate in the life of the school both in and out of the classroom. All students have their own individual strengths and weaknesses, but this is the beauty and the benefit of this program – it allows people to build on strengths and improve on any gaps that might exist in their knowledge and experience. What can you tell us about the construction of the School’s new campus in Hong Kong?

Johnson: We have just begun construction on our brand new permanent campus building – designed by Hong Kong-born architect Bing Thom – on Victoria Road at Mt. Davis in the western part of Hong Kong Island. The campus will be a combination of new build construction as well as adaptive re-use of several historic buildings that currently exist on the site.

We are extremely proud to have been awarded the site in a land grant competition with the HKSAR government. The site is a beautiful and historical one, and we are very keen to revitalize the site for our program so that the Hong Kong public can have access to the site and understand its historical significance after decades of being left derelict and barricaded off from the public.

The new, state-of-the-art campus will have several classrooms as well as function space and study rooms. The primary function will be for the Executive MBA Program, but we’ll also offer non-degree Executive Education Programs, Programs on Social Enterprise and Innovation, as well as a full program of conferences, seminars, and activities offered by the University of Chicago academic community.

Digital rendering of the School’s new campus on Mt. Davis

19 (with name) What other plans do you have for the EMBA program going forward?

Kooser: The new building is really the primary major project at this time. Of course, we are always making improvements to our services and regularly update our curriculum. For example, each year our selection of elective courses is adjusted based on current issues in the business world and the interests of our students.

As such, our faculty continually update their courses to reflect that latest thinking and application of key business concepts, and our careers and alumni offices continue to enhance and expand the services, events, and activities that they offer to support both our students and our alumni.

One thing I do expect to see as we settle into our new home in Hong Kong is an expansion of our non-degree executive education programs. We already offer a handful of these courses in both Hong Kong and Singapore, and I expect that we will increase the number of these programs over time.