Recently, Mr Yu Minhong, Founder and Chairman of New Oriental Education & Technology Group, a private educational services provider in China, led his team of senior executives to Singapore on a learning journey. Through a custom executive programme, the week long knowledge exchange addressed the current marketplace realities, trends affecting competitive advantage as well as effective management practices.
Outside-in speaks to Mr Yu in between his classes as he shares the importance of continuous learning and training, even when you become a boss.
Q: Is this your first time in a Singapore classroom? How often does your team go for training?
YMH: Yes, this is my team’s first learning trip to Singapore. Previously, the New Oriental executives have been to other learning institutions such as Oxford and Wharton business schools. Executive training at this level is organised once a year, and are personally led by myself. We’re also really privileged, as the academic office helped us arrange a complete holistic experience by hosting us within NUS campus’ residences – which I know was a really tough feat to pull off!
Q: How does having such executive training in Singapore benefit your organisation?
YMH: The greatest gain is having experts outside of your organisation, and evaluating your work with a fresh pair of eyes. Different perspectives bring new ideas. Also, I’m impressed with the School’s professors’ English and Chinese proficiency levels. Their ability to freely switch between both languages to express a view or explain a point is valuable. Back in China, our classes are created for domestic businesses, and sometimes when a teacher encounters certain definitions, they might not necessarily know how to translate it accurately. Or when we’re in Europe or the United States, instructors only speak English. If the content is unfamiliar, as students, we might not keep up. Having training allows our executives to have more open discussions and ideas that’s not restricted to the organisation, and definitely also time to bond with one another.
Q: How important is it to you, to have your team undergo continuous training?
YMH: I think it is very important for everyone to continue their education. If executives do not possess the ability to learn, knowledge gets outdated and we cannot lead effectively. It does not matter what level you are in the organisation, executives need to be able to accept new ideas, otherwise projects will just become routine. I feel, as a founder and the senior management is responsible and accountable to first accept new cultures, new structures, new ways of doing something “old”.
Q: Has New Oriental’s management ever have to make u-turns on decisions previously made?
YMH: Sometimes, it is necessary to take a detour. That is the constant of change, and to be successful, we need to accept that. In the course of your work, you will find that some business models simply do not work during a specific period of time, and that’s how progress looks like.
Q: What is your secret to successful “management” of a team?
YMH: I think it’s important to never rest on one’s laurels. You must always be at the forefront to challenge your “original” success, and find new ways to improve. The biggest difficulty in making decisions is that you are never 100 percent sure that it is a “right” decision. Leaders need to remove obstacles and clear that out of the way. Hesitation can sometimes create more problems, than a “wrong decision”.
Q: In this mobile and internet era, there are an increasing number of online educational institutions around the world, especially in China. How is your team ensuring you stay ahead of the game?
YMH: The emergence of online education is actually a good thing! This has helped enriched the entire education industry with more offerings. Innovation is the key – so for example, having such learning journeys allow us to be exposed to new pedagogy or content where we can explore strategic partnerships. Also, with the advent of so many different education options, it has also spurred the sector to development at a faster pace.
As an “old guard” in the sector, we have a natural advantage. It is not our place to contend against technology or business models. Instead, it is to find innovative ways in investing in educational resources. For example, there are some companies within the same sector, with the same technology and resources, but they do not understand cultural differences, or do not invest in building the brand through marketing. We have seen this happened to Uber in China, going against Play, or eBay not succeeding like Alibaba. Understanding your local customers is an absolute advantage.
To find out more about NUS Business School’s executive programmes, please visit http://executive-education.nus.edu/.