'You should know why you need MBA'
Lee In-gu worked at KDB Daewoo Securities as an analyst for six years before he started an MBA program at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in August 2011. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration and economics from Yonsei University. He plans to spend the third ― and the last ― semester at Tsinghua University in Beijing as an exchange student.
You were working as an analyst at a major brokerage house. What made you leave for MBA?
I was analyzing overseas markets in KDB Daewoo Securities’ global research team. After six years at work, I felt like I had consumed all my knowledge. I was interested not only in equities but also in bonds, alternative investment and global hedge fund strategies. I thought further education would help me to learn foreign languages and build an overseas network.
The company chooses around four people each year and sponsors their education abroad. For the 2011 program, applicants had to receive an admission from top business schools in Asia. Hong Kong is a global financial hub along with New York and London, and HKUST had the highest ranking among Asian business schools back then.
While studying at HKUST, what did you find special about the school?
The school admits some 100 students each year — much fewer than other business schools. Harvard Business School, for instance, enrolls 900 students each year. That may limit the size of the alumni network, but you get to know nearly all the classmates while working in different groups.
And I liked that the school has many finance-related electives. At the beginning, I struggled with core subjects focused on management, but later on, finance-related electives were very helpful as there are great faculty members in this field and you get to interact with part-time students who are working for financial firms in Hong Kong.
What were the challenges?
I was used to working and writing papers by myself. In the MBA program, you have to often work in group and participation in class discussions accounts for a large part of the grade. I was little frustrated with the different culture. I also initially felt that many subjects weren’t related to my interests.
After six years spent at a brokerage house, were there more to learn from the MBA program?
The purpose of an MBA program is to foster middle-level managers with all-round skills. I wasn’t familiar with management-related subjects such as operations management and strategic management and wasn’t sure if I needed to learn them. I gradually understood that I would need them when I advance in career.
In the field of finance, studying bonds and hedge funds may not directly benefit an analyst but one could learn an overall picture of how a securities firm works.
You are the president of Korea Club. What does the club do?
The school authorizes 12 official clubs each year and sponsors them. Last year, six Koreans were admitted, and we wanted to form an official club, which is open to everyone. We presented the club, organized a road show and won enough votes to get it approved. There are now only two official clubs that represents a country — China Club and Korea Club.
We have organized Korean dinners, cooking events and movie nights. We also wanted to share job and internship opportunities at Korean companies, but realized that foreign students weren’t that interested in them.
How is it like living and studying in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong is similar to Seoul. The school, located east of the Kowloon Peninsula, is actually far away from the Hong Kong island. The downside is that it is very humid here.
Some choose to study in Hong Kong because they believe they can learn both English and Mandarin here. Not all Hong Kong people are fluent in English and they mostly speak Cantonese, not Mandarin.
What do you think those preparing for or considering doing an MBA should know?
Before doing an MBA, you should think why you need it. For those who do it merely to change a career and take a break from working, an MBA may be disappointing. It is a big investment — it takes around three years to prepare and finish an MBA program.
Interview by Kim Da-ye