The mid-June graduation ceremony for the first class to complete the EMBA-Global Asia programme was an occasion for celebration. But it was also a chance for students and faculty to reflect on the experiences of the past 20 months and consider if the intended objectives - personal and organisational - had been met.
The consensus was a resounding "yes", but with the corollary - from graduates - that the next step is to target new challenges and career goals and - from academics - that refining course content and structure is an ongoing process.
The programme is run jointly by the University of Hong Kong (HKU) Business School, London Business School and New York's Columbia Business School. It was designed to offer something extra for executives aiming to reach the highest echelons of international business. And with classes at top universities in three of the world's leading financial centres, it combines core modules with a wide choice of electives that explore the changing face of global business.
For Madrid-based graduate Miguel Lorrio, whose background is in banking and finance, the big attraction was the chance to expand his horizons.
"Typically, when you work in any organisation, you are restricted to one area and not really aware of what is going on elsewhere," says Lorrio, who won a special mention for clocking up most air miles during the course. "You may be an expert in finance, but there are many other elements to getting to board level. It takes a broader academic education and a more general kind of experience."
Wherever you work, he adds, you tend to get the firm's take on events and exposure to just their culture. To improve as a manager, though, it is essential to know what is happening "out there" and not measure yourself continually against the same standards and benchmarks.
In his view, the programme's "added value" was being able to learn from classmates in different industries and seeing why and how things are done in other parts of the world.
"You learn by osmosis, just from being in the class, about managing yourself and other people," Lorrio says. "These softer skills are really important as you move up the ladder and spend more time communicating, negotiating and dealing with stress, and less on things like computation and execution."
For Shanghai-based Ivan Shyr, an IT and project management specialist, what stood out was how far the programme went beyond the core elements of finance, statistics, accounting and marketing.
Working for large organisations, he understood the need for subject experts, but also saw the risks of becoming boxed in. To move higher or to keep open possibilities for a career change, it was important to see things in their entirety and understand all the issues involved in leading a company and making it tick.
"Through the early years of our careers, a lot of what we do is execution," Shyr says. "But at a certain point, the emphasis shifts to needing the `softer' people and leadership skills, if you want to make the next big jump. To do this, you first have to learn a lot about yourself."
During a module on organisational behaviour in New York, Shyr was impressed when the professor brought in "improv" actors to illustrate various points about creativity and communication.
"It was to show how innovative companies brainstorm and how effective networkers work a room and develop relationships on the spot," Shyr says. "It has also helped in seeing how people perceive me in the workplace."
Andrew Scott, professor of economics and deputy dean of London Business School, noted that a big plus for the programme was being able to draw on the teaching strengths of three universities at a time when the world economy was rebalancing.
It gave students a truly international dimension, while presenting a welcome challenge for the professors.
"There is always someone in the room who knows more than you about certain things, so you need to find a way to interact," Scott says. "That way, the students can also learn from each others' experience."