Edison Zhang, who joined HKUST Part-Time MBA Program (Bi-Weekly Mode) in 2020, is on the SRT Design Group’s board of directors.
There are numerous choices, challenges, and confusion that people can face in life. For example, should you go for an MBA if you already have a Ph.D.?
Edison’s answer is YES!
From Guangzhou to Hong Kong, Edison studied all the way to obtain a Ph.D. in architecture. He wears many hats, including being a young scholar in the green building field, a member of the China Green Building and Energy Conservation Committee (China GBC), a guest lecturer at a number of universities such as the University of Hong Kong and The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and an entrepreneur whose company has participated in world-class award-winning projects in green building.
As his career was taking off, Edison chose to study for a part-time MBA at HKUST. He never obsesses about past successes and believes that one has to be empty in order to be full.
From Ph.D. to MBA
Edison describes himself as a person who “always walks on two legs.” One of his interests is green architecture and the other is business.
Edison has a deep-seated love for architecture, which started in high school, when he started to read magazines on architecture. In his words, his interest in creative design is probably written in his genes. After graduating with a degree in architecture (honors) from a well-known Chinese university in 2008, Edison went on to study green architecture in Hong Kong. His timing could not have been more perfect.
At that time, the Ministry of Housing and Construction announced that it would promote energy-saving, low-carbon, and livable green buildings. Related industrial associations sprang up all over the country, unlocking unlimited market potential. While assisting his Ph.D. supervisor, Professor Liu Shaoyu, in promoting the establishment and development of green building industry associations in Hong Kong and Macao, Edison was looking for an opportunity to try his hand in the market.
“Rather than focusing on theoretical research, I like to apply what I have learned to promote green building in commercial practices.” Edison founded GB Tech Consulting Limited in 2010 (acquired by the SRT Design Group in 2014), which focused on green building design and technical consulting. Under his leadership, GB Tech completed a number of key projects and studies such as the Henderson Double Cove residences in Hong Kong, the MGM Cotai, and the preparation of the National Assessment Standard for Green Eco-district, and won many important awards from global and local green building associations. In 2019, GB Tech was listed among the top 30 green building design and consulting companies in China.
While business was booming, Edison decided to pursue a goal he had set for himself when he graduated from his Ph.D. program five years ago: to study for an MBA to acquire more business knowledge.
“As the company grew bigger, I gradually realized that technical input alone was far from sufficient. I also needed comprehensive business management experience,” said Edison, “and an MBA program allowed me to quickly gain relevant knowledge.” In December 2019, Edison registered for HKUST’s MBA (Bi-Weekly) program and officially started his study here.
An Impressive Immersion Week
“You have to be empty in order to be full,” this famous quote by Bruce Lee, a martial arts superstar, can best describe Edison’s mindset while studying at HKUST. In his view, being an active learner, who is open to new things and keen to expand his horizons, is the only way to keep making progress.
Edison’s MBA classmates came from different industries such as finance, the Internet, retail, high-tech, headhunting, AI, and new energy. They all had impressive track records in their respective fields. “All my classmates were extraordinary and we needed to communicate more and grow together over the next two years,” said Edison. The Immersion Week helped him bond quickly with his fellow classmates through one well-designed activity after another.
Edison was most impressed by the case study, in which the students were divided into different teams to brainstorm and make strategic recommendations for the Hong Kong Ocean Park project. However, this was a really challenging task for a team assembled on short notice and who had only known each other for 24 hours. However, Edison’s knack for logical thinking helped his team members quickly clarify their thinking.
The students were elites from all walks of life, so it was very important to integrate different opinions and determine common goals. “After a thorough discussion, we took on different tasks according to our strengths. We wrote the proposal, prepared the PowerPoint presentation slides, rehearsed the presentation until 1 am, and finally received a good result in the next day’s competition!”
The Immersion Week experience brought Edison so much more than just that. For him, the four-day and three-night week was a microcosm of the future curriculum at HKUST, and a chance to adjust his mindset. He joked that his classmates were desperate to go home and get a good sleep after the event. “This is probably the school’s way of letting us know that studying for an MBA is not easy at all.”
Stay hungry, stay foolish
Edison would use the words “optimist” and “critical thinker” to describe himself in two words. He explains that he is a cheerful person who is interested in everything about art and design. He visits art exhibitions and enjoys photography, working out, playing in bands, and even cooking, which, in his words, is a creative process. Taking MBA courses while running his company takes up most of his time.
Edison does not find it hard to cope with such a busy schedule. Instead, he enjoys it very much. “Learning is my way of relaxing after work, and work is my way of relaxing after class.” In his opinion, he needs to make trade-offs in each stage of life. Optimism is his formula of success, and critical thinking runs throughout his MBA studies.
Edison’s first course at HKUST was the MBA Accelerator, which was very exciting and opened up a new world for him. Originally, he was a bit reluctant because he thought accounting would be boring. Nonetheless, Edison became completely immersed in the professor’s in-depth yet simple explanations and he looked forward to every class. However, he hit rock bottom emotionally after taking the course exam.
“For someone like me who is completely new to this subject, it was nearly impossible to digest the knowledge of a whole new course in just two months,” said Edison, “I thought I had studied well, but it turned out that I understood nothing more than the surface.” Edison, however, sees the difficult exam as a good thing, “because it makes people grow.” Edison believes that the real point of studying for an MBA is not necessarily to pass the exams but to learn as much as possible about different disciplines and put that knowledge into practice. His advice to future students is that “when you decide to go for an MBA, don’t study for the sake of studying, but know yourself and plan your career in advance, and then consider how you can use what you learn to develop your career.”
Steve Jobs once said, “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” This quote tells us that we should always be curious and be in awe of the world and new things. It is only when we are hungry for knowledge, strive to grow, step out of our comfort zone, and keep making progress that we can become our better selves. Perhaps, this can best describe Edison’s current state of mind.