MBA life: hard work pays off in Waseda MBA
Son Tae-hwa, 39, is in the final months of his two-year MBA course at Waseda Business School (WBS) in Tokyo. Founded in 1882, Waseda started accepting foreign students from Korea two years later. Currently there are about 4,000 international students, including 122 in its MBA program. WBS has both English-language and Japanese-language programs, and the classes are interchangeable.
Can you introduce yourself?
I majored in economics at Busan National University, and was working with Shinhan Bank at its private banking office in the city. I came to Waseda in September 2009. The course ends this September.
What are you doing these days?
I’m writing a thesis on management strategy. Unlike other MBA programs, the school lets us to do in-depth research on a specific project and you must complete a thesis before graduation.
Why did you decide to come to Japan for an MBA?
Each year, Shinhan sponsors around eight employees for international MBA programs and one slot is reserved for Japan. My career plan was to be an expert on Japan, so I worked really hard to get this opportunity. Thankfully, I was accepted.
How hard was it to gain this special opportunity?
First of all, I needed to learn Japanese. I went to classes early in the morning for about one year. This means that I had to get out of the bed at 4:30 in the morning. After one year of learning Japanese, I also thought I needed to hone my English skills as well.
So I added English classes in the evening, while continuing to learn Japanese in the morning for another year. On top of that, I also had to prepare for the GMAT exam. Since there was no GMAT class in Busan, I had to travel to Seoul every weekend by train for three months. This meant for two years I had to sacrifice my leisure time with my family.
Do you need to be able to speak Japanese at Waseda?
Not necessarily, if you are applying to the English-language course. But what’s the use of a Japanese MBA degree if you don’t speak the language? And the big advantage of Waseda is that there are both English and Japanese programs. In the beginning, I only went to English classes, but after one year I began to attend both English and Japanese classes.
What’s the difference between English and Japanese classes?
The students in the Japanese-language program are generally older and have held senior positions in their previous employment. It’s a good place to build a local network, and I believe this will help my future career. The English-language program has a younger population. But the school strongly encourages students in each program to take courses in the other language.
What was the most difficult part for you?
In an MBA course, you need to do more than just exams and reports. About 40 percent of the grades are based on class contributions, so you need to be active in discussion and presentations. This was a bit difficult for me in the beginning, but it’s much better now.
To get the most of the MBA program, you must be active and self-motivated. You have to look for friends and meetings, and be aggressive to build a network and learn the language.
What are the main advantages of the WBS?
The teaching faculty is renowned for their academic as well as practical excellence. And it is a good place to build a network with prominent Japanese businessmen.
What was your favorite class?
My favorite lecturer was professor Isao Endo, who taught operation strategy. He stressed the Japanese business philosophy of “Monozukuri,” or craftsmanship. He led us to several small manufacturing companies that excel in their respective fields. I think his class showed the essence of Japanese economic strength.
When you graduate, what will you do?
I am returning to Shinhan this fall but my new assignment is not yet decided. Whatever I do, I hope I can play a role in the bank’s growth in Japan in the future.
Interview by Cho Jin-seo