2023 MBA To Watch: James Hughes, Hong Kong University Business School

James Hughes

HKU Business School, University of Hong Kong

“I’m a creative problem solver with a strong work ethic & competitive energy.”    

Hometown: Belfast, Northern Ireland

Fun fact about yourself: I won 11 All-Ireland National Basketball Championships and 3 All-Ireland National Cross-Country Team Medals (1x Gold, 2 Bronze) during my time at St. Malachy’s College growing up.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Ulster, (BSc) Business Studies

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Options Technology, Head of APAC Support & Technical Account Management 

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? NA – I attended language school to learn Mandarin.

Where will you be working after graduation? Unconfirmed

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Committee Member of Consulting Club

Founder / Committee of Language Club

Founder / Committee of Sports Club

Student Ambassador

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I was part of a team that wrote a 22-page technology research report focused on a high performance Web3 analytics product for a large technology and digital transformation consultancy house between Hong Kong and Austin, Texas. We were able to analyze its current market position in comparison to other web3 products & technology platforms. In addition, we compiled a full strategy proposal, evaluating the underlying technology architecture and end user engagement. By really understanding its purpose, we were able to provide actionable strategy and product development recommendations.      

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My biggest achievement was when I was voted in as Chairman and President of the Hong Kong Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in 2019. GAA is a sport native to Ireland which consists of Gaelic Football, Hurling and Camogie and HKGAA. It is also the largest association in APAC. A few weeks into the year, we experienced an admin error with our bank accounts, where we lost access to our funds. We were at real risk of not being able to operate for the year as we couldn’t make payments or fund the associations tournaments and operations during the year.

Working with the committee and our treasurer, I financed the association’s annual opex. We reviewed the operations and were able to restructure inefficiencies in certain elements of our operations, which gave us greater scale by streamlining costs and gave us greater capacity to generate revenue.

It was an incredibly intense project and one in which the committee and I had to work on around our full-time jobs. In the end, we were able to execute a turnaround from a worst-case scenario to one of the association’s most successful years, returning 109% in 12 months. We won 3 major championships at the Asia Gaelic Games and runner up in the All-China Games with a myriad of players awards and accolades.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose HKU Business School primarily on its international reputation for excellence in business, and I’m glad that I did. There is a saying that there is no smoke without fire. Being able to experience the HKU Business School and the MBA program has shown me why it has the reputation it does. The campus settings are spectacular, with the Cyberport campus located on the back of the famous Victoria Peak Ridge, and can watch through the panoramic lecture hall windows as the container ships sail past during class. It’s quite surreal.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor so far has been Dr. Maurice Tse for Advanced Corporate Finance. It’s a very intense module, but his delivery makes it an enjoyable experience. Every week, our classes on capital structure and debt and equity financing are interspersed with his life learnings and hints and tips on how to get ahead. It’s an unexpected class to look forward to attending.

I also need to give a shout out to Dr. Zhu from Analytics for Managers, Dr. Ting Ting Fan from Marketing Strategy and Mr. David Bishop from Business Ethics. They all taught us how to challenge our own thinking, not just with the class material, but towards business in general. They are incredibly knowledgeable in their fields.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? My favorite course so far has been Analytics for Managers with Dr. Zhu. Dr. Zhu taught the content in way where we could tangibly apply analytical thinking toward solving real world business issues. It delivered the content in a way where we developed a perspective that continuous learning and learning new tools like R will help us stay competitive as tech and business advance. By the end of the module, we could identify business issues and rank their magnitude of impact through statistical regression across multiple business functions and, by applying quantitative modelling in R, we could visualize the data analysis and provide solutions to large datasets.

Business Ethics was my other favorite module. It wasn’t based around theory but pushed us you to address how we account for how we make decisions in business.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite event so far this year was having the opportunity to celebrate Diwali with our classmates and friends from India. The whole class dressed in authentic Indian clothing and was great to see the whole class enjoying the evening.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? The HKU MBA is such a time and workload intensive program. The one thing I would do differently is that I would put a lot more time and focus in building a network and taking more time to meet with people outside of class, especially the professors, and setting aside more time for club-based competitions with other students. We spend a lot of time learning on the course, but I think it’s as important to learn about each other.

What is the biggest myth about your school? We kept hearing from Alumni that during the course, there are 3 S’s – Studies, Socializing & Sleep. But you only get 2 out of the 3 at any point in time because the program is so intense. With the program condensing the usual 2-year MBA program into 1 year, there is definitely an element of truth in this.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? Even after a few difficult years, Hong Kong is at the social, business and financial center of Asia. It packs a lot of everything in such a small area. It’s not uncommon for people to get a swim or a hike in the morning and be in work for 8/9am and the night life is the best I’ve experienced. With such a diverse population you can make good friends from all over the world.

What surprised you the most about business school? I knew it was going to be a busy year, but I was most surprised with how intense the program is. We’ll have 3-4 modules a week, ranging from one-to-three 3-hour lectures a day. On top of this, the program hosts a multitude of company sharing sessions and a leadership speaker series. We have language courses, executive development sessions, and coaching and mentor sessions, along with completing our work around everything else.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I think there is an element that always comes back to people and relationships, so I wanted to speak to the school and the MBA office directly and engage myself as much as I could in the application process. It wasn’t just a box-ticking exercise where you fill out the submission and that’s that. Applying to business school is a life-changing event for anyone and I wanted to make sure it was the right fit. I went to MBA fairs and introduction sessions and asked to come in to see the campus and ask about the structure of the program in more detail.

I still prepped a lot by continually redrafting my cover essay and CV for at least 6 weeks and prepped intensively for the interview. Taking the time to prepare is hugely important, but making sure it’s a relationship based process­ as well will give an edge for anyone.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire Masahiro Itabashi. He exudes confidence and sheer determination completing an MBA course in a second language! I have seen this year that he will go out of his way to work in groups with people he hasn’t worked with before to meet and get to know people from different cultures and languages, which is a difficult thing to do, even on top of group work. Mas has an ability to make things look easy and always gets people smiling.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? I look forward to being able to return my learning and experiences in the future by becoming a speaker and a coach for others going that want to build and develop their careers.

I want to become CEO and run a company in the TMT, FinTech, or Financial Services industries. They are areas of particular interest where I want to specialize and utilize my business, technology, and leadership skills to operate and grow a company in that space.

What made James Hughes such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“James is an outstanding student, both inside and outside the classroom. He actively participates in various enrichment activities including the Corporate Partnership Project with BCW Group, emceeing of HR leaders Forum, and acting as the student ambassador for several company information sessions. James is also a committee member of the Language Club, Sports Club, and Consulting Club.

James is a cheerful individual and always brings positive energy to the class. He has good communication skills and an approachable personality, as evident by his good relationships with his fellow classmates. James is very enthusiastic and actively participates in and contributes to different areas of the MBA programme, from academic to sports. I fully support this nomination.”

Josephine Chan
Director of Operations and Student Affairs (MBA Programmes)


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