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27 February 2017

Excelling in Academics and Business
Welcome to the Select Club of 0.1%

It is definitely true that very few people are Howard Lam's (BSc in Computer Science 1986, MBA 1988, and PhD in Marketing 2000) equal when it comes to achievement in the fields of academics and business. Academically, he holds five degrees. He co-authored the book Brand Connection: Best Practices of the Top Ten Marketers, which topped No. 1 in Hong Kong Eslite Bookstore's Finance and Business Bestseller List 2016. In his career, Howard served several multinational corporations as marketing head and launched innovative marketing campaigns, including one for juice brand ‘Minute Maid’ which created a sales miracle at its parent company, Coca-Cola. Having achieved all this, Howard is integrating his academic and practical knowledge to establish OnePersonalisation, a sales platform that offers tailored shoes for customers. Howard likes to joke that people often call him ‘abnormal’. But if that is true, then 0.1% of ‘abnormal’ people drive the world’s evolution.

Howard (left), appearing as Chairman of the Rehab Power Day 2016 Preparatory Committee promoting the integration of handicapped and non-handicapped people.

Earning Five Degrees Through Perseverance

Howard grew up in a poor family - his father worked as a hired hand, and his mother a factory worker. At a young age, he realised that he would need to study hard and win scholarships and financial aid if he wanted to pursue higher education. He persevered and successfully entered CUHK, where he not only received a BSc in Computer Science, but was also the only one in his class to pursue CUHK MBA program right after graduation. After six years living on government’s financial subsidies, Howard possessed two degrees and heavy debts. Through his hard work, he paid off all his debts by the age of 30. Then, he furthered his studies while working: he passed all the examinations required by the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants, obtained a PhD in Marketing from CUHK and a Master's degree in financial management from the University of London, and took part in General Manager’s executive training at Harvard University.

Many people think that it takes extreme intelligence to earn five degrees, but Howard believes that “a PhD requires more diligence than intelligence.” He modestly says his IQ is just average, but that God rewards the diligent.

Howard (left) was taught by his mother, herself never having many educational chances, to always cherish the opportunity to study. That is why he keeps on with academics

Tacking Challenges and Creating Marketing Miracles with Leadership

In career, Howard set his goals in marketing not long after leaving his studies. Starting as a brand assistant, he has worked for more than 20 years as a brand/marketing director for P&G, McDonald's, Pepsi, and Coca-Cola. During that period, he launched a number of successful marketing programs. While working for Coca-Cola China, he led the team to create the juice brand ‘Minute Maid’, which won the best new product award and became Coco-Cola’s first global bestseller orange juice outside of the developed world. Other awards the brand achieved included best juice drink advertising, best sponsorship of Beijing Olympic, and the best marketing campaign.

Howard leads marketing at the Beijing Olympic while working at Coca-Cola China

In the early 90s, Howard shifted his career to mainland China. "The Hong Kong market was too small to perform. I remember when I served for P&G, my colleagues moved to Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and other countries for their career development. I alone chose the mainland." At that time, China had just adopted its reform and opening-up policies. The business environment was very challenging. Sometimes, he had to wait in a long queue just to make a long-distance call. "My mother taught me that the way fewer people go is the way to go", he says.

After years as a manager, Howard sums up his management mantra: Change the ‘I am asked to do’ to ‘I want to do’ attitude. "Most bosses only assign tasks, which leads employees to think that they are just doing what they are asked to do. This makes them feel disengaged. Instead, I encourage my employees to do it because they want to do it," he says. In addition, Howard respects the 80/20 rule. “Focusing on important issues means that paying 20% of time and effort can gain 80% of the results. This makes my work more efficient, and I can free up my time for my family and studies,” he adds.

Howard in class, happily sharing his practical experience with EMBA students.

Bringing Business Experience into the Classroom

In 2012, Howard moved from Shanghai to Guangzhou. Finding himself with more free time on Saturdays, with a desire to reach out to excellent young students, he accepted an invitation to be an adjunct associate professor of MBA Programs. During the period 2013-16, he became a professor and the associate director of EMBA Program. In his classes, Howard integrates the business principles he learned in school with the years of experience he gained in the business world, and shares his knowledge without reservation. "The business world is volatile," he says. "If I return to my alma mater to share my experience with young students, we all can improve and contribute to a better world!"

As a board member of OnePersonalisation, Howard (2nd from right) commits himself to offer tailored shoes to customers by combining technology with traditional industries.

Innovative Startup: Tailoring Shoes for Everyone

Today, apart from being a consultant, Howard has also launched a sales platform called OnePersonalisation, in which he and his friends have invested millions of Hong Kong dollars, offering tailored shoes for customers. "My students and I worked out this idea together, a combination of three business trends: 3D technology, personalisation and a platform strategy," he says. So how does it work? On one end, the platform allows customers to measure and submit their foot size through a mobile app, and then to select the shoe style online. On the other end, the platform connects shoe designers and manufacturers. Once an order is received, they immediately search their inventories to do the matching or produce a new one following the foot size. In this way, customers can get tailored shoes that fit well at a reduced cost. In December 2016, OnePersonalisation was successfully admitted to the Incu-App Programme of Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation.

Howard likes to joke that he is a frog, playfully jumping back and forth between the worlds of academics and business. Change is eternal, and for Howard, to keep flexible, pivoting, and innovating, is the number one rule of the game.

Video ― Messages from Our Alumni

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