The Turning Point

Catherine Chan

‘Embracing uncertainty: When the strategy is uncertain, the best managers acknowledge what’s unknown, but also look ahead to what is known.’

The Harvard Business Review (Special Issue) Summer 2020

Most of my work revolves around resilience.

In times of crisis, everything that we do has to be re-thought, and the strategy has to be relevant. 

This is the best time to learn, to share best practices on how to survive through a downturn and strategise like a futurist. It is crucial to build a strong foundation amid the most difficult challenges ahead; for the future of my family, the community I am serving, and the society in general.

We need to understand not only the superficial issues, but more importantly, how to overcome the challenges that go deeper. The late Sir Ken Robinson, a professor of arts education, quoted: "If you are not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original."

I look at the GEMBA as an expansive science laboratory, which will allow us to test our hypothesis in real time.

Imagine the attributes of the candidates who would walk through that door at such unprecedented times. I imagine the discussions we will have are on the most unpredictable circumstances affected by VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity).



The decision to enroll in the GEMBA puzzled my best friends. They were supportive, but reminded me to consider the ROI due to the challenges amid COVID-19. It has been a tough 15 months here in Hong Kong as the chaos started with social unrest in 2019. Everyone in Hong Kong is trying his or her best, just to get back to normalcy. Going back to school that comes with a significant price tag is not an investment one should consider lightly.

My husband has always been supportive throughout my career. He attained his PhD years ago, therefore, he understands how much it means for us to continue our education when we are in our mid-careers. It did not surprise him when I told him casually that I was looking into executive courses.

What surprised him was my ‘gutsy’ choice to apply at INSEAD.

There are other equally attractive options available in Hong Kong, where I live. The INSEAD GEMBA programme stood out as it allowed me to continue my learning at different geographical locations in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. More importantly, I appreciated the fact that INSEAD embraces diversity, equality and inclusion, something I value incredibly, especially after the experience I had when my daughter was born. 

My daughter was born premature, and had to be warded in the neo-natal ICU (NICU) for a while. I watched newborns fighting for their lives there on a daily basis, and it broke my heart to witness struggling parents make certain medical treatment decisions based on the gender of their child. Though this mostly affected families where financial resources were an issue, I noticed that some parents would do anything for their newborn son, but not quite the same if it were a daughter. The newborn little boy in the incubator next to my daughters' had an under-developed heart and the doctors gave the parents two options: to have minor corrective surgery, or wait while observing his development. The father of the child told the doctor that since his child was a boy, and not a girl, they wouldn't risk the wait and opted for the corrective surgery.  

It's heartbreaking to know that sometimes fates of children are set from the day they were born, and that gender inequality is still so prevalent.

At INSEAD, staff and alumni gave me the confidence that I would be able to learn, grow and to fulfill my purpose, especially as a woman. I could not thank Antony Widjaja from the recruitment team enough for the advice and support he gave me during the application process. I can be an introvert at times, and so at the INSEAD information session in Hong Kong I intentionally put myself at the back, quietly watching the energy in the room. At the end of the session, Antony was kind enough to take me to a breakout room where the crowd was smaller, introduced me to an alum and another person who was also interested in the GEMBA before he went on to assist others.

Teresa Peiro-Camaro, Alice Lim and Carolina Bouza from the admissions team were amazing, especially when the school was closed during COVID-19. I felt very privileged to be able to speak to Teresa for some feedback on my performance after receiving the acceptance email. Alice and Carolina are the best cheerleaders and always helpful.

The journey with other GEMBA'22 candidates has been amazing.

The Asia cohort has grown to know each other months before the course starts. Looking at the overachievers in GEMBA'22, I told the group that I am a diversity hire. The response I received, in one voice, ‘We are all a diversity hire!’ That says a lot about the values we share and more importantly our mission: ‘To ensure that our past has a future’.