Micheal Collins made the big leap from one Asian business hub to another a couple of months ago to kick off the Shanghai office of Singapore’s premier GMAT preparation center, Prep Zone. In this interview, he talks to Shanghaiist about the challenges and how the student’s individual motivations differ from place to place.
Tell us about yourself and how you came to be in Shanghai.
I’m an Irish potato farmer with an MBA from INSEAD, 41 years old, married with two kids, and a big fan of Chinese food. I came to Shanghai as my business partner Nagitha and I decided that it was the best place to address the market opportunity in China for assisting people to prepare for, and gain entry to, the world’s top universities and business schools. We have been traveling back and forth to Shanghai for almost a year now, working with our team on the ground to get the Prep Zone established in Shanghai. We liked Shanghai as it is a cosmopolitan city, that is still very Chinese where the most ambitious people from all China come to go to the next level in their education and careers. And that’s where we fit right in, helping them to get to the next level.
Prep Zone started out in Singapore. How did you make that big leap from Singapore to Dubai, and then Shanghai?
Singapore is a hub city for its region, a stepping stone location for the careers of people from all around who see it as a place to build career credibility and plan their next step. Dubai is very similar, for the Middle East, and is also an international cosmopolitan location. Knowing that this market would fit perfectly with our product, we launched the Dubai centre two years ago, and its success in establishing itself as a leader in the city showed us that in a very different culture we could succeed by sticking to our values of offering high value, continuous improvement for ambitious professionals and students.
What makes Prep Zone different from other local MBA training centers? How do you work with students?
We offer unlimited training hours and support to every student who enrolls in a Prep Zone GMAT course! Thus, each Prep Zone student is able to access weekly advanced review sessions, repeat core sessions and utilize unlimited training materials until 100% satisfied with his or her GMAT score. This personalized and comprehensive approach is anchored by Prep Zone’s trainers, who are not only 99% scorers, but also superb teachers who receive tremendous feedback from our students. In fact, our full time trainers are themselves graduates of top schools such as Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Berkeley and more. We even have a McKinsey consultant as well as an INSEAD MBA graduate on the Shanghai team, working full time in the Prep Zone! You won’t get this quality of trainer elsewhere, and you won’t get this value of unlimited tuition elsewhere either.
We also don’t pressure students to rush into a course, but instead offer free introductions, free trial classes and free diagnostic tests so each potential Prep Zone student can get to know us and the test before jumping into a course. We are confident that we are the best in the business, but are more than happy to allow each student to make that determination before spending their hard earned money on a course.
Not only do we assist professionals in getting into top MBA programs, we also assist students and parents to get into the world’s top universities. In Singapore and Dubai we have a 100% success rate in getting kids prepared and admitted into the top US and UK college programs. We do this as our staff are themselves graduates of those same top programs.
What motivation to enroll in an MBA program should a successful candidate typically bring? Do you notice a difference in the individual motivations between foreign and local applicants?
The motivation should be really to have a plan in mind for a future career, and to see the MBA as a stepping stone to getting there. Many people feel that the MBA is a goal in itself, and do not think about how they are going to achieve their career goals by using the MBA as a tool. As MBA graduates ourselves, we know that you need to have a very long term view of how the MBA fits into your career journey. You will be better served by an MBA program if it gives you a network of people that you feel inspired by being with, and will stay in touch with for the rest of your life. Choose a school based on your personal fit to the culture of the program and the students who like to apply there.
What percentage of your students are local? Do you notice any significant differences in the career aspirations of students in China versus other parts of Asia?
Currently about half are from China while many others come from the U.S., Europe and other parts of Asia. Our students’ careers aspirations vary based on the person, rather than the location! Whether it’s Singapore, Dubai, Jakarta or Shanghai, you will find starry-eyed entrepreneurs, hard-headed industry leaders, and simply ambitious people who recognize the unbelievable value that the right education and network can bring to their lives and future careers.
Have you discovered any unique teaching challenges (or pleasant surprises) specific to Chinese students?”
Something we hear on a daily basis here in China, primarily from Chinese students, is “Hey, my math is awesome… can you just help me with the verbal and writing aspects of the test.” Unfortunately for these students, most of them are counting on the faulty assumption that the GMAT is a “math” test. In reality the GMAT does require math skills but to get a very good score, a test-taker must be able to apply those math skill to some pretty unique and funky GMAT question types.
Getting a very good to great score on the GMAT thus requires not only “being good at math(or English)” but more importantly maintaining well developed approaches to each question type, a structured study plan and excellent test-specific skills. This would explain why you’ll find Chinese engineers and American investment bankers with average GMAT math scores, but hard working full-time mothers acing the test! Getting back to the original question, Prep Zone absolutely does provide tailored options for student who’ve already proven their mastery of the math or verbal section of the exam, but one of our challenges in China has been in explaining to those new to the test that the GMAT is much more than a “math” or “English” test – something these guys quickly realize as they take their first diagnostic test.
Your plans for the future?
Right now, we are focused on ensuring that our Shanghai clients are delighted enough to spread the word of our services as the top prep center in Shanghai. We have worked hard for years in Singapore and Dubai to gain the trust and admiration of our clients so we know that as our firm grows and people around the world take advantage of our services, that we will continue to grow. Our focus is simply on delighting clients, and delivering excellence.
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