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Student overcomes incredible obstacles to achieve online MBA

Personal struggles combined with a challenging course load didn't stop Yoyo from completing an MBA from Imperial College Business School

Posted by Charley Rogers | August 29, 2017 | People

Yoyo Pui Man Chu, originally from Hong Kong and now living in Auckland, New Zealand, overcame considerable personal challenges while studying for her Global Online MBA at Imperial College Business School.  

In her first year she became pregnant and gave birth to a boy and then in her delayed second year was pregnant again and had a miscarriage. Yoyo overcame all the stresses these events brought to complete her MBA and subsequently gain promotion within her company, Pacific Basin Shipping Company, a world leader in small-sized cargo vessels, where she is the only female General Manager in the group’s 12 centres around the world.

Why an MBA?

I’d been in my career for ten years and was looking to take the next step. When I discussed this with my boss it was felt that studying for an MBA was a good move. I was looking to enhance my knowledge and skills around strategy and the human side of running a business. I chose Imperial College Business School because I thought it would be best placed to deliver an online MBA programme, which at that time was a new concept, but one that I believed would best suit my needs. Even so, when I signed up I wasn’t sure whether it was going to work out for me. In fact, it’s been far better than I expected. During the programme I gained so much in terms of learning about strategy, about other people, and about myself.

The programme is a gem, not just for its content and its people, but for its structure. Without the incredible level of flexibility Imperial offered, I couldn’t have completed my MBA at all.

The programme is a gem, not just for its content and its people, but for its structure. Without the incredible level of flexibility Imperial offered, I couldn’t have completed my MBA at all. That flexibility came into play three months into the programme when I became pregnant. I went through all the exams while I was expecting and was 36 weeks pregnant when I took the last exam of my first year. Some people thought I was crazy when I went back to studying only a month after my son was born to start my second year. I said ‘why stop? If I stop now my life is only going to get busier anyway.’

I did find it tough at times to study while on maternity leave, attending lectures online with minimal sleep and trying to breast feed at the same time. Sometimes I had to mute the screen so my classmates wouldn’t hear my baby crying. I had a main project to complete when I became pregnant for the second time, which subsequently was a miscarriage, and my body was really down. The flexibility of the programme was really illustrated when they then gave me a month’s extension to complete the paper. 

How helpful was it being online?

Away from the studies, I’ve been through a lot physically and mentally during this GMBA. I don’t think any other programme could have allowed me to go through all that I was facing and still offer the flexibility to complete my studies. The fact that it’s an online programme allowed me the freedom of time to complete all the tasks, which I just couldn’t have done if I’d been on campus. Although there are set weeks you have to be at Imperial, you’re given the option of which ones to attend. This allowed me to travel to London once my baby was eight months old. 

It’s such a productive journey. Not only is there so much knowledge to take on board, it is also a programme where you learn a considerable amount about yourself and develop as a person. 

All the study and demands of the MBA probably took my mind off the mental strain I was going through with my baby. In meeting all the deadlines and requirements, the GMBA helped me to stay focused, to prioritise and organise my time.

How has the MBA changed you?

It’s such a productive journey. Not only is there so much knowledge to take on board, it is also a programme where you learn a considerable amount about yourself and develop as a person. My MBA enabled me to gain promotion as General Manager of the company’s centre in Auckland. My boss was impressed with me achieving the MBA in spite of all the challenges I had to overcome. One key element of the programme that has helped in my work was the innovation module, a hallmark of the MBA at Imperial. The focus on innovation and entrepreneurship is so relevant in my industry, which is very old fashioned and where there is a need for more awareness of technological development.  It’s led me to encourage my staff and colleagues to extend their boundaries and has placed me at the forefront of what’s needed for the company to stay ahead. 

This MBA journey is only the beginning for me. It has opened the door for continuous learning and has given me new perspectives on running and taking forward a business. It has allowed me to examine the traditional approach and keep me in tune with the latest business techniques in managing teams, leadership, and coaching.

This MBA journey is only the beginning for me. It has opened the door for continuous learning and has given me new perspectives on running and taking forward a business.

Since my MBA, I’ve adopted a number of personal development initiatives, including practice leadership skills, writing articles for internal publications, and running a coaching programme across the entire company, which has been well received, particularly amongst younger staff. 

Did you find it tough?

Not really. I’m very organised,  determined and disciplined, which helped me to meet the academic challenges easily, I suppose because I’ve studied before in taking two different degrees, albeit over 10 years ago. What I did find difficult was the exams because I’d not done those for years. And, of course, my personal circumstances did make it a huge challenge.  Maybe my circumstances masked how difficult it was as everything was easier than what I was facing away from my studies. 

Whoever masterminded the Global MBA deserves praise for making the programme so accessible for participants studying from afar.  With this MBA you don’t have to search for material, it’s all made readily available, and it’s easy to access further support from the faculty.

Did you miss the on-campus social life?

Even though the programme is online, you still capture the social and personal rapport that exists on campus. Through the MBA I have made very good friends all round the world who help with work or just a chat, all in very different market sectors from mine.

 All in all I gained so much career-wise, as a person, and in friendships. It was a life-changing experience.

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