Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Jerry Hong, MIT (Sloan)

Jerry Hong

MIT, Sloan School of Management

“Ex-Singapore navy officer enjoying my newfound liberation from a closeted lifestyle as a gay man.”

Hometown: Singapore

Fun Fact About Yourself: I am a commissioned officer in the military services in two different countries (Singapore Navy and the US Coast Guard). I have the honorable discharge papers to prove it.

Undergraduate School and Major: United States Coast Guard Academy, Bachelor of Science with High Honors, majoring in Government

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Singapore Navy, Executive Officer of a Littoral Mission Vessel

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? Having had no prior experience in the private sector before the MBA, it was important to me that my business school provided a structured curriculum that would frame my learning and guide me to acquire the necessary skills as an aspiring business leader. At the same time, I also wanted to have an appropriate amount of flexibility to go in depth on certain fields once I have discovered my passions and strengths. I believe that MIT Sloan’s legendarily grueling core semester and the multiple tracks and certificates available would provide me with the right balance between a structured curriculum and flexibility of choice.

When you think of MIT, what are the first things that come to mind? How have your experiences with the Sloan program thus far reinforced or upended these early impressions? I initially thought of MIT to be stoic and cold engineering school where brilliant minds come to bury themselves in their research work. In reality, I never witnessed this perceived aloofness. On the contrary, the Sloanies I met over AdMIT Weekend were all very personable and affable. What’s more, Sloanies mostly seem more genuine and less snobbish than MBA candidates I had interacted with from other schools. My experiences with Sloanies alleviated my fears of a potentially dull social environment.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? I think most MBA candidates are socially intelligent and thoughtful leaders. However, one thing that sets Sloanies apart is the spirit of “Sloanies helping other Sloanies”. This culture of helpfulness was a notable common feature highlighted at every information session that I attended, and I believe it is somehow ingrained in the admissions teams’ candidate selection process and school community culture.

In many ways, there was no better showcase of this culture than with the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19, ranging from the delays to the visa application process and the multiple administrative hoops to jump through to finally settle down in Cambridge. I saw a camaraderie and team spirit particularly within the international Sloanie community in the Class of 2022, and I was truly encouraged by the sheer number of people who were willing to go above and beyond to help other Sloanies who need help. This was certainly something special for a group of people who live in multiple time zones and have never met each other in real life, and it has galvanized me to do more to contribute as part of this community.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: The most rewarding accomplishment in my career was leading my ship and my crew through two major challenges back-to-back. The first happened in 2019, when I led response operations during a bilateral maritime boundary dispute between Singapore and Malaysia. Then, in 2020, I led COVID-19 response efforts to maintain the safety, administration and operational readiness of the ship during Singapore’s nation-wide lockdown.

In both instances, operational fatigue and declining crew morale were critical challenges that I faced, and I had to adopt an even-keeled sense to balance the larger organizational objectives while alleviating the pressures on my team and creating a sustainable environment to prepare for a drawn-out crisis. Having steered my team through these two difficult periods, I could feel the genuine sense of accomplishment and fulfilment from my crew. In turn, I felt personally accomplished that I had done a good job as their leader and officer.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Having remained as a closeted gay man throughout my military career, I wanted to pursue an MBA to pivot towards the private sector and allow myself to finally live openly as a gay man while seeking new avenues of leadership and service to society beyond the confines of the government.

Traditional views and archaic laws in Singapore make it especially difficult for LGBT people to gain credibility and success professionally in the public service. Section 377A, an archaic colonial law criminalizing homosexual activities, has become a symbolic justification for society to dismiss any possibility of an LGBT public leader. The embedded institutional bias and social stigma has forced many LGBT people working in the government, including me, to stay in the closet during their service.

I believe that the MBA would be an essential enabler for me to continue to establish myself as a leader in the private sector and leverage the leadership and organizational skills I had accumulated in the military to find success in the business world. Eventually, I hope to become a role model for other LGBT Singaporeans, and prove to society that LGBT people do not have to hide their identities in order to find success.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? HBS, Stanford GSB, Wharton, Kellogg, and  Haas.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? “What makes you feel alive when you are doing it, and why?” This was a really tough question. Even after having done the required soul-searching before I began penning my admissions essays, it was still especially difficult to find a way to answer this question directly while staying true to the story that I wanted to tell.

What was the most impact factor in choosing a business school? How did you evaluate fit according to that factor? The factor with the greatest impact in choosing a business school was in evaluating if the school is able to appreciate your pre-MBA background, and then provide the right environment and tools to enable you build on your past experiences and eventually springboard to a better career post-MBA. When I first visited MIT Sloan in April 2019, I bumped into a more senior officer from the Singapore Navy who was attending the Sloan Fellows Program at the time. He shared with me that Sloan Fellows regularly accepts senior Singapore military officers. This gave me a huge sense of assurance that MIT Sloan understands the caliber and quality of Singapore military officers, and that the school is hugely experienced in contributing to the leadership and career development of non-US military veterans like myself. This assurance was enough to convince me that I could definitely fit into the Sloan community.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? My defining experience was my opportunity to represent the Singapore Navy at the US Coast Guard Academy. As the only foreign cadet from an Asian country, I was thrust into an environment where I became the racial and cultural minority. The culture shock was substantial when I had to adapt to American military regimentation while also adjusting to the American way of life. My strategy to deal with the culture shock was to emphasize my similarities with my American classmates, and try to draw attention away from my foreign identity. I adjusted my accent to sound more American and participated in many casual pop culture discussions – all in pursuit of highlighting that despite my obvious differences, I was still more similar than I was different – and that I was a worthy friend and partner.

This American military experience eventually helped me realize the power of finding common ground and in becoming a communicative and relatable leader and partner. In my time in the Singapore Navy, I adopted a similar leadership style that emphasized work ethic and communication, never forgetting the importance of influencing and motivating members of all ranks to achieve a collective goal.

I believe that this empathetic style of leadership would be crucial in navigating the business school environment, always respecting diverse opinions while forging common ground through communication. I also believe that this experience in adapting to new environments and cultures is immensely valuable as an aspiring business leader, and I hope to build on this ability by developing an astute business and leadership instinct at MIT Sloan.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from studying it? I am fascinated with Grab and the company’s ability to integrate its products seamlessly into the lifestyles of so many people in Southeast Asia. I deeply admire Grab’s innovative spirit and its desire to create and distribute significant amount of value to the masses, eventually establishing itself as an essential part of the consumers’ way of life. In particular, I think business students would gain a great deal of insight by learning how Grab was able to modify its business model, services and supply chain based on the different consumer behaviors and market conditions in the various countries of the diverse South East Asian environment.

DON’T MISS: Meet MIT Sloan’s MBA Class Of 2022

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