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Janet De Silva, dean of the Ivey Business school in Hong Kong.
Janet De Silva, dean of the Ivey Business school in Hong Kong.

Your Business Abroad

Meet the new dean of Ivey Asia Add to ...

Janet De Silva starts her days early to “catch up with what has come in from Canada overnight.”

As the newly appointed dean of Ivey Asia, the Hong Kong campus of the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business, she works closely with colleagues based 12 hours away. Within her own time zone she manages a team of 15 behind what has become one of the region’s premier management-education institutions.

Half of the executive MBA (EMBA) enrollees on the campus tend to be entrepreneurs. Eighty applicants compete for the 30 or so slots every year. “In a mature market like Canada, it takes a lot to move the needle, so a lot of the concerns are about strategy,” says Ms. De Silva, who was CEO of Sun Life Financial’s Hong Kong arm before taking charge of the business in China from 2000 to 2007.

“The reality in Asia is that it is a high-growth market and issues like how you execute effectively (are bigger priorities).”

The Hong Kong program is highly diverse. Although the bulk of students are from Hong Kong, China or Taiwan, the EMBA attracts applicants from North America and Europe who are looking for international experience. Ivey in Hong Kong prides itself on delivering Canadian expertise and adapting it to a more global context.

Ms. De Silva groups the entrepreneurs that do the intensive course into two categories: first-generation self-made business people without a strong formal management education who feel the need for the structured training, and those who are heirs to successful family enterprises who want to “sit back and think about what’s next for the business and make a difference.”

Ivey has also been successful in conducting specialized short-term management courses for thousands of experienced executives annually. In a recent pilot effort the school has been operating a customized program for the Agricultural Bank of China, a major financial institution on the mainland. The students go to the North American main campus to attend school and they also receive practical work experience at a Canadian bank.

“Canada is seen as a safe place to invest by Chinese and there is much investment in natural resources and services companies in North America,” Ms. De Silva says. “It used to be that things were made in China for North America, then it was made in China for China, now Chinese overseas investment is a very big theme. Chinese are interested in our Canadian heritage (at Ivey) because they want to understand the market and the culture.”

One of Ms. De Silva’s plans is to explore how shorter programs, designed for high-achieving managers wanting to make further breakthroughs, can be tailored for the growing Chinese market in business education. She believes Ivey is already well-positioned to expand in this area, given it has faculty whose mother tongue is Mandarin and because nearly half of its cases have been translated into Chinese. Ivey, along with the Harvard Business School, has received accolades for its case-study-based method of management training.

EMBA students, most of whom also work full time, spend the bulk of their classroom hours in Hong Kong, supplemented by a few weeks at the Canadian campus. Shorter courses can be made a lot more portable.

Ms. De Silva, a 1994 Ivey graduate, became an entrepreneur after leaving Sun Life when she helped start a successful retail business that was sold to a Singapore company in 2009.

Ivey was the first North American business school to open a campus in Asia when it launched there in 1998.

Special to the Globe and Mail

Alexandra A. Seno has written about economics and business trends in Asia since 1994. She is a regular contributor to Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune and The Wall Street Journal Asia. She lives in Hong Kong.

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