My CUHK MBA enabled me to embark on a new career. Here’s how it helped me thrive
Vernon Tam, Vice President of IPO Vetting at Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd (HKEX), transitioned from a career in pharmaceutical research to investment banking through his Master of Business Administration (MBA) studies .
Science graduate Tam embarked on an MBA at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) to expand his business knowledge for his sales and marketing role at a pharmaceutical company. However, the studies opened up a whole new career path for him.
Following his graduation from the MBA programme, Tam spent 10 years working in investment banking at Bank of China International and Deutsche Bank, where he focused on IPOs, M&As, bonds and structured lending.
Today, he is Vice President at HKEX, mainly responsible for vetting biotech and healthcare companies seeking to list on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
Vernon Tam, Vice President of IPO Vetting at Hong Kong Exchanges
A comprehensive programme
Tam, who had previously completed an M.Phil in Obstetrics and Gynaecology from the medical school of the University of Hong Kong, decided to pursue an MBA after realising he needed to improve his skills in financial forecasting and marketing planning for his sales and marketing job.
He was attracted to CUHK’s programme as it provided comprehensive coverage of various subjects he needed, ranging from financial management to corporate financial reporting to marketing management. “I was a bit greedy, and I wanted to cover everything,” he says.
He was not disappointed. He soon found that the programme, not only covered theoretical knowledge, but also its practical application through case studies and class discussions.
In addition, CUHK brought in experts from the corporate sector to help students understand the importance of what they were learning and how they would be able to apply it in their future careers.
One of the most helpful aspects of the MBA programme for Tam was the Business Practicum, which involved an eight-week project at a top tier global investment bank, supervised by the late Professor Leslie Young. Professor Young was the Wei Lun Professor of Finance and Executive Director of the Asia-Pacific Institute of Business at CUHK. He was described as "an outstanding economist by any yardstick" by the New Zealand Association of Economics. He wrote papers on the impact of uncertainty on international trade and finance, and the effects on welfare of trade restrictions.
“It was during the time when renminbi was gaining more importance in the international markets, and we were exploring ways for people and institutions to effectively capitalize on this opportunity. The project provided us with the opportunity to collaborate with individuals in the investment bank, allowing us to gain insight into their day-to-day activities and experience of working in that environment. It was one of the most impressive courses in the programme,” Tam says.
His future career was also shaped by having the opportunity to participate in the international programme at Duke University in the US, where he studied its MBA Healthcare Finance programme.
“Duke University offered courses on how to do valuations on biotech and healthcare companies, particularly in those pre-revenue stage companies with comprehensive R&D pipelines. This experience opened a new world to me and taught me how I could apply my science knowledge in the finance world. It helped me to portray myself as a sector specialist in my career, leading to my current position as a biotech specialist at HKEX.”
Hong Kong’s largest alumni network
Another factor that attracted Tam to studying at CUHK was its impressive alumni network. “CUHK’s MBA programme has the most extensive alumni network in Hong Kong. My own background in both science and business was not common, and I thought it would be helpful to find someone who shared this background who could help me understand my career options,” he says.
Tam was assigned an alumni mentor who was a Managing Director of Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “It was inspiring to see how a local Hong Kong person could be successful in the commercial world at a well-known Wall Street institution. It made me believe that I too could achieve similar success” he says.
It was also an alumnus who was visiting CUHK for a sharing session who suggested instead of continuing his career with a pharmaceutical company, Tam could consider leveraging his science knowledge and the skills he had acquired through the MBA to work in a consulting company or investment bank. “They painted me a picture of how it could work,” he says.
Tam experienced the power of CUHK’s alumni network firsthand when he just started working at Bank of China International. “I received a phone call from someone who was the head of another department at the bank who was an alumnus of the CUHK MBA. We had a coffee chat and he shared with me the culture and values of the institution, which helped me to better prepare myself in starting the new job. Talking to someone who was that senior inside the institution was really helpful and I was very grateful.”
He was also impressed by the support he received from the Career Management and Alumni Engagement Team.
Alongside helping students put together CVs and prepare for interviews, the Career Management and Alumni Engagement Team also produces a resume book, containing details on graduates and their contact information. If students have to sit a job interview or written test at a potential employer, the Career Management and Alumni Engagement Team may connect with senior alumni who may share some of their personal experiences which help to prepare for the interview.
It also has information on jobs that are not advertised in other forums. “This is very useful because if you are only competing with a small group of people, it increases your chance,” Tam says.
For those considering CUHK’s MBA programme, Tam advises: “It is important to have a clear idea of what you want to do after the programme, as it will enable you to get the most out of it, picking the courses that align your goals and aspirations and helping you to seize the chances it offers.”