How does my business actually work? The power of an MBA for engineers

The HKUST MBA is an ideal program for engineers who are hoping to kickstart their business careers. We spoke with a recent graduate of the program to learn what the course taught him, his reasons for choosing HKUST, and how an MBA for engineers is immensely valuable.

In short

The connection between engineering and business

In engineering, all of the pieces matter. Every calculation has to be perfect and every component has to work together seamlessly, otherwise the whole thing will collapse. It’s the same in business. If one cog in a company breaks down, the entire business stops working. It is perhaps why so many engineers are drawn to the world of business.

The path from engineering to an MBA is a well-trodden one. An MBA for engineers is the perfect way to add some business acumen to their technical knowledge. Giacomo Riboni saw an MBA as the ticket to the next phase in his career. 

“Before my MBA at HKUST, I was the Head of Engineering at a small company in the south of Milan, close to Piacenza in Italy,” he tells us. “They were mainly a manufacturing company, building mechanical components for power generation companies.” (01:01)

He continues, “When I was hired, my goal was to switch the company from one that just did manufacturing to one that could also offer engineering, design, and more technical support to our clients. I spent three and a half years there and it was a big challenge for me, but it also opened my eyes a little bit and gave me the opportunity to understand different parts of the business.” (01:35)

A powerful MBA for engineers at HKUST

Although he may not have known it straight away, these experiences would be the first steps of Giacomo’s MBA journey. For now, he was learning on the job. But, he knew that if he really wanted to understand how businesses worked, an MBA was the solution to his problem.

“Building something from scratch gave me the opportunity to see different parts of the business, and for this reason I wanted to find out more about it. After having this experience, I thought an MBA was the next step for me,” he says. (04:22)

Giacomo set out to find a business school that sat at the intersection of engineering and business. At the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), he found the place for him. The HKUST MBA leverages the university’s renowned engineering faculty to deliver a unique, forward-thinking program that is built for engineers. Giacomo says the program helped him understand how an engineering role fits into a business as a whole.

“As an engineer, you don’t have that mindset where you see a problem from a broader perspective. So, you work at a company, but you don’t really know how it works,” Giacomo reveals. “In my MBA, I’m now learning how different strategies affect your company and how many important decisions have to be made. It has given me the mindset where I really understand how my job affects the company.” (07:47)

How the HKUST MBA changed Giacomo

Beyond the contextual knowledge he’s gained from his MBA, the program has also changed the way Giacomo communicates with others. It’s something he’s had to learn as a result of working with such a wide variety of people. He believes it’s something a lot of engineers could benefit from in an MBA.

“My MBA has changed how I approach a problem and how I approach people. I guess this applies to a lot of engineers, because normally engineers just work with other engineers. Now I have to learn to work with people from different backgrounds, so that’s one way I had to change my approach, which was quite standardized before,” he explains. (10:54)

If there is one enduring theme of Giacomo’s experience, it is connectivity – understanding how a business functions as a whole and learning how all of its pieces fit together. It’s also about understanding how the different departments of a business – accounting, marketing, finance – work alongside each other to move towards the same goal.

“The MBA is only one year, so you can’t really do a deep dive into each subject,” he concedes. “But it does give you a very clear view of different topics and how they’re related to each other. That gives you a very broad perspective on things and changes how you think and how you problem-solve.” (12:17)

Giacomo’s advice to future MBA students

As an engineer coming into an MBA, it has been a steep learning curve for Giacomo. He has had to get to grips with new concepts and ideas that some of his classmates will have learned years ago. His engineering background also means he hasn’t had much experience working with other departments.

“An MBA isn’t that easy! First of all you really need to get to know the other people on your course because it’s tough to understand who is better at what, and how to work with different nationalities. But that’s a real plus point for an MBA: how to work in these teams and not just with other engineers,” he adds. (09:40)

The HKUST MBA has allowed Giacomo to gain a greater understanding of the different pieces that go into the jigsaw of a business. However, in order to do that, it has required a change of mindset on his part. He believes that’s something that could benefit anyone – not just engineers.

He concludes, “I think in an MBA, you really get the big picture and it changes you because you start thinking in a different way. It’s always good to change your mindset, I think. I would really suggest it to engineers, but not only engineers, different people from different backgrounds too.” (14:11)

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