A Visionary, A Trailblazer
Ong Hui Kuan, Undergraduate student of Tsinghua SEM
Tsinghua-MIT MBA Program Class of 2003
Head of China Desk, Singapore Management University
A Pioneer in Decoding the Dragon
Andrew Chin began his first foray into the education scene as a former Assistant Head of the World Class University Program at the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB). However, even though Andrew was working with universities from the west on a daily basis, he wanted to gain a deeper understanding of China even before the world started taking vested interests in the Middle Kingdom back in the 90s. “At that point of time, China just seemed to me like the ‘next big thing’”, Andrew recalled. “I started contemplating about the different options that will allow me to gain an exposure and at the same time, be more involved in the Chinese market. It dawn upon me that an MBA might be a good time; 2 years to make friends amongst students, network and know more about China seems like a good plan”.
When the Ministry of Trade and Industry of Singapore launched a fully-sponsored MBA program awarding talented civil servants an opportunity to pursue an MBA program in China under the Asian Business Fellow Scholarship program (ABF), Andrew was selected by EDB for the ABF scholarship. He immediately took up the ABF scholarship and coming to Tsinghua seemed like an effortless decision. To him, even though an MBA program in China appeared to be an unconventional choice back in 2001, it was a good proposition to gain an exposure of the Chinese market and make a few friends along the way. Even though he was also given the option to pursue an MBA at another top school in Shanghai, which was often coined as “The Place” to work and live, he was determined set foot in the political, educational and cultural centre of China.
There were only five foreigners out of a hundred and twenty students when he enrolled in the Tsinghua-MIT MBA Program, three were Singaporeans under the Asian Business Fellow Program. However, being a foreigner did not stop Andrew from forging close relationships with his local classmates. “In countless nights, all our classmates would sit together and talk about anything and everything over beer and that was how we build the bond. Drinking sessions make us seem as if we have known each other for very long when in fact, we only had a few drinks”.
Andrew was ever eager to understand the Chinese business environment besides what was taught in the classrooms. Seeking “more”, Andrew decided to spearhead the first ever MBA study trip to Qingdao, the largest manufacturing base of consumer electronics in China. He also did an internship at the China Electronics Corporation (CEC) to explore the possibility of bringing the company into Singapore. During his time there, he looked at their overseas expansion plan and did a presentation for the key decision leaders on the possible expansion strategies they can adopt.
Reaping the Fruits of Labor
Andrew continued to stay on in Mainland China for more than a decade following his graduation. During his four years as the youngest Country Manager and Chief Representative at Thomson Learning Group, he led a team of twenty-eight Chinese and rubbed shoulders with various governmental agencies, learning institutions, and even famous educator cum founder of New Oriental Education & Technology Group Yu Minhong. He had also led his team to surpassing their annual sales for four consecutive years even though he had no prior experience in sales management then and he credits his achievements to the skills he picked up during his time in Tsinghua. “I think it is all about knowing the Chinese culture and being equipped with skills essential to manage and relate to my team and clients. Things just move faster”.
After returning to Singapore, he took on the role of Head of the China Desk at the Singapore Management University (SMU) where his experience in China also catalyzed the establishment of joint-partnerships with top universities in China, namely Tsinghua, Beida, Fudan and Shanghai Jiao Tong. Andrew worked closely with SMU senior management on SMU China Initiatives which includes joint forums, research collaborations, program partnership and student exchange. SMU and Tsinghua University co-organized the SMU-Tsinghua Global Forum on Urbanization and Urban Governance in April 2014.
In 2013 and 2014, he had also personally contributed to the organization of two Tsinghua Distinguished Lecturer Alumni events in Singapore to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Tsinghua Alumni Association, all of which received overwhelming responses. Prof Zhu Yan and Prof Liu Hongyu spoke at the first and second alumni event respectively.
The Importance of Looking Beyond the Present
As one of the first few foreigners studying in Mainland China, Andrew firmly believes that the Tsinghua MBA experience was a correct choice.
Till this day, Andrew continues to remain in contact with most of his classmates through WeChat, a mobile text and voice messaging communication service popular in China (similar to mobile applications like Whatsapp), where they will discuss about practically anything and everything under the sun. “Having this group of network is very important because these are people who will tell you the “real version” of things beyond what is reported in the mainstream media. This makes you learn and do things faster”, he concluded.