How An MBA Helped Accelerate Our International Finance Careers

How An MBA Helped Accelerate Our International Finance Careers

Landing a top-tier finance career isn’t an easy job. Whether you’re dreaming of working in investment banking, corporate finance, asset management or commercial banking, you’ll have to demonstrate an array of high-end skills to stand out in a competitive candidate pool.

TopMBA caught up with two MBA graduates from HKU Business School to find out how this type of degree can help professionals accelerate their executive finance careers.

A challenging but rewarding experience

For Richard Gifford (pictured below), who has fifteen years of experience at the British multinational HSBC Bank, the MBA represented a challenging but transformative journey.

He said: “Coming out of the first [MBA] lecture, I knew I had made the right choice: I felt inspired and wanted to read as much as possible around the subject. This feeling continued throughout the programme, with various lecturers and classmates adding to that inspiration throughout.

“Studying for an MBA while working full-time and with a young family can be challenging, with many project meetings concluding well after midnight. I was lucky in that my wife was very supportive and took much of the strain in looking after the family.”

Rui Zhang (pictured below), who is the current Head of Alternative Investments for the CMS Asset Management(HK) Co. Limited, agrees.

He said: “Studying the Full-time MBA provided me with the chance to hit the stop button of my fast-paced working life and experience something new.

“The programme was far more diversified than I expected. I got to meet people from different industries and different cultural backgrounds, which drove me to learn and reflect from different perspectives. It was surprising and rewarding at the same time.”

The importance of being in an international business hub

Richard and Rui both agree that HKU Business School’s ideal location in the heart of Hong Kong, the programme’s focus on business models in Asia and China, and the international nature of the MBA cohort gave them a significant employability boost throughout and after the degree.

Richard said: “I had lived and worked in Hong Kong for six years prior to starting my studies. It’s an international city which I have always found to be surprisingly friendly and very safe when compared with other large cities. Studying there opened up a variety of new experiences within Hong Kong for me.

“One of the best things about the HKU MBA was that my cohort was truly international, with members from across the globe. This made group projects incredibly interesting. Ideas and experiences were shared that I am certain would not have arisen in a more homogenous group.”

Rui echoed Richard’s sentiment.

He said: “As a city that transcends cultural and linguistic boundaries and blends together the East and West, Hong Kong met my needs for professional, international exposure. The HKU MBA programme is renowned for its top economic courses, deep understanding of Asia and international businesses, as well as its commitment to the community.

“Studying the MBA in Hong Kong broadened my horizons with ample opportunities to communicate with professionals and experts from the financial industry and many others. The culture of the city also encouraged people to connect with each other through numerous social events. Being here in Hong Kong, I could understand why the city is the centre of Asia and the innovative bridge between China and rest of the world.”

Learning for real-life business

Another perk of doing an MBA is the opportunity to develop an in-demand skillset for real-life business challenges.

According to Richard, who currently works as a partner with the HBS Family Office in Geneva and as a managing partner for the company’s new London headquarters, HKU Business School was able to ensure that graduates would leave the MBA equipped with an ideal set of executive-level knowledge and abilities.

He said: “I feel that the HKU MBA gave me the tools to be confident in leaving a large organisation with a defined role and enter the world of small business which requires a multi-faceted skill set. These included building and maintaining your personal board of directors and being able to create and practice your pitches of varying lengths, from the elevator pitch to the full board room presentation.”

Rui, whose long-term goal is to establish himself in the Chinese multi-asset investment industry, says the MBA was a crucial step in laying the foundations for his future career path.

He said: “The MBA experience strengthened my abilities to communicate with people from different backgrounds, present my ideas in an efficient and interesting manner, and invest systematically with a better understanding of the international market landscape. I was able to polish these skills through various practices and debates during the MBA programme.

“The interactions among professors, classmates, alumni, and industry professionals created an ideal learning and sharing environment for my personal growth and armed me with the insights to pursue excellence in my current job.”

Leveraging the MBA

According to Rui, while an MBA degree does not guarantee students a top-tier job after graduation, it’s an important experience to leverage when trying to break into the higher ranks of the finance industry.

He said: “The MBA doesn’t teach you everything about your career. You can’t completely rely on an MBA to help you find a job, especially in a competitive market like Hong Kong.

“However, to start a career in finance, do leverage the MBA experience to understand the development of real businesses. Finance professionals should strive to maintain the integrity of the capital market and fight for the ultimate benefit to society. I am satisfied with my choice of pursuing an MBA and studying at HKU. The MBA experience was a buffer for me to adapt to the local work and lifestyle and lay the foundation for my career path to professional multi-asset investment in the Greater China Area.”

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