Johnson Voices

Jonathan Ho

Jonathan Ho

Executive MBA Americas '17

Age: 41
Hometown: Vancouver, British Columbia
Education: Bachelor of Applied Science in Chemical Engineering, University of British Columbia
Master of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Virginia

Why I chose Johnson

Through the implementation of local Boardroom teams and global classmates, the Cornell Executive EMBA Americas program allows for study in my hometown while incorporating classmates from across Canada, the United States, Mexico, and South America.


March 24 2017

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

In my first “real job” after earning my undergraduate engineering degree, I interviewed with a small consulting firm in Washington, DC. During interviews, my soon-to-be supervisor always asked the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

My answer was pretty straightforward: “An engineer!” This may have been because I was preordained to become one—my mother was a chemical engineer and my father had a Master’s degree in chemistry. I bring this up, because if I was asked this question now, I don’t know if I’d be able to answer quite so succinctly.

The reason, of course, is personal and professional growth. Coming out of my undergraduate program, I had collected 2 years’ worth of job experience through a cooperative education program. This exposed me to a number of different jobs in the public and private sector, from the Ministry of Environment, to a pulp and paper facility, to a fuel cell company making advanced propulsion systems for automobiles. In fact, it was this last job placement (or internship, as it is known in the United States) that led directly to my being asked what I wanted to be when I grew up.

It’s now March 2017. Our Global Business Project final report, which I described in a previous blog post, has now been marked—our last academic activity. But there was one last set of academic courses we had to take before the end of 2016 to complete the Cornell Executive MBA Americas program: our last residency session, the Global Business Session. Unlike our other two residencies, the entire Class of 2017 cohort was brought together at the Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg, VA, just outside of Washington, DC. (In our off-days, we took advantage of being in DC, and I spent time at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport.)

During our last residency, we completed two courses: Global Strategy and Global Economy. Not surprising for a program with a most decidedly international focus, these two courses looked at how we could apply the frameworks we learned to date on a global scale. In today’s economy, you do not work in a localized environment. With international supply chains, information services that are provided on a globalized basis, and market differences between your home country and a potential international market, the modern business leader has to understand the currents that will inform a key decision for your industry—how or if you should “go global.” Should you lead your business to go global beyond buying materials or merchandise overseas or selling your products and services to global customers? Or stick with your own “backyard,” and focus your efforts on understanding your customers, building that customer loyalty, and working hard to innovate and retain your distinct competitive advantage?

We were very fortunate to round out these last two courses with perhaps two of the most dynamic professors in the program: Michael Sartor (from the Smith School of Business) and Marc Busch (currently of Georgetown University, but when the EMBA Americas program started, was himself a Queen’s University professor). Certainly, done on purpose to keep us engaged for our last two courses, Professors Sartor and Busch took what the course outlines indicated to be dry topics (what do you mean we need to understand World Trade Organization rules?) and made them come alive with great case studies and real-life examples that made sense to us on a personal level.

Photo Credit: Prof. Michael Sartor, Queen's

Professor Sartor was able to get Akash Jain, VP of International Commercial Development of the National Football League, to describe their efforts and challenges in expanding beyond the North American market. We engaged in a mock international negotiation between two potential joint venture partners: a Finnish telecommunications company and a Malaysia firm that had just won a contract with their national government to install a telecommunications infrastructure in rural parts of the country. I learned how ECCO, the Danish footwear company, is positioning itself internationally in ways that differ from those of their direct competitors, such as Geox (full disclosure: I own pairs of both Geox and ECCO shoes, so I used this case for my individual case write-up).

But hands down, the greatest surprise for me was hearing from Professor Busch about how companies use non-market strategies to gain an advantage in the field of international trade. Why? First off, let’s start with the difference between market and non-market strategies. Market strategies are those well-known to undergraduate business students: supply and demand, marketing strategy, pricing, competitive advantage, and the like. In the proverbial “perfect world,” companies are able to sell around the world, and market forces would determine winners and losers. Winners would gain market share due to their superior offering and sustained competitive advantage.

However, the world is not perfect. Countries use trade policies to encourage domestic firms and discourage foreign ones. Non-market strategies involve what is known as the “political economy.” For example, Brazil considers Embraer, the aerospace company, as a key way to demonstrate the country’s capabilities as a high-technology society. But the aerospace industry is a constant push and pull, and national governments provide support to these companies as a means of “keeping up with the Jones’.” Thus, the Canadian federal government offers interest-free loans to support Bombardier, the Canadian equivalent of Embraer.

What limits the extent (and overt nature) of government support is the World Trade Organization. For example, WTO rules state that countries cannot “tip the scales” in favor of domestic firms by offering support that is not available to foreign competitors. When Bombardier received their interest-free loan from the Canadian government, Brazil, to paraphrase (however apocryphally) Queen Victoria, “was not amused.”

Each course I’ve taken in the Executive MBA Americas program has given me a different view of the challenges that face a modern, global, business leader. I found some courses particularly fascinating, like Operations Management, Strategy, Marketing Strategy, and Global Strategy, and Global Economy. There were some courses I thought I wouldn’t perform well in, like Managerial Accounting or Valuation, but I did surprisingly well. Perhaps the greatest insight for me, now that I’ve completed the program, is that whatever the future holds for me, I want to make much use of these different tools, perspectives, and frameworks. While this could point to management consulting, it may lead to a private equity firm, or perhaps “hanging out my own shingle” to bring a sustainability idea to fruition.

Our dual-institution Convocation happens in May 2017. I’ll blog about that experience, of course, but I’m hoping to have some additional clarity in answering the question: “what do I want to be when I grow up?”



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