Teaching finance from Singapore to Romania – Interview with Joy Chan

26 Feb 2020

Joy Chan is one of our longest standing faculty. She started teaching Finance and Accounting to both our Executive MBA and Fast Track Management program in 2011 and since then, she has probably visited Romania 50 to 60 times, so saying she’s a regular is an understatement. She even has her own room in a local hotel, which she always gets when she flies for lecturing.

Trying to catch Joy for an interview wasn’t easy, with her currently teaching 12 courses at 4 universities across Europe, but we pulled it through. When she joined one of our customized corporate training programs in February, we talked about financing, the differences in the work environment between Asia and Europe, the characteristics of Romanian students and what should future managers learn about finance and accounting.

Tell us a bit about your background. When did you realise finance was your career choice? Or did you choose it?

My first degree was in management (in Singapore) and then I wanted to challenge myself with something different and more quantitative, and so I studied my Masters in Finance in Sydney. After finishing it, I worked for the Singapore Government and I was actually doing international trade, promoting Singapore to the world, encouraging people to come, to live, to do business in Singapore, and encouraging Singapore companies to expand into emerging markets. So it was not Finance at all back then.

But when I got married and we were posted to Malaysia, my husband was the former Singapore Trade Ambassador to Malaysia. I had to do something in my free time and teaching was the choice as working for a commercial entity would be a conflict of interest with my husband’s position.  The universities looked at my academic background and said ”ok, you probably can teach finance” and that’s how it all started. I’ve been teaching finance (and accounting) since 1999, first at the University of Sheffield (UK) that had a campus in Malaysia, and then at Corvinus University of Budapest and the Central European University, we moved to Hungary, where we live now.

Joy at home

Would you say it grew into you?

Yes, it grew into me and now, it is my finance is my passion.  Even though I am probably an old hand at teaching, I still strive to continuously improve my teaching techniques, and I think I’m better now at teaching finance because I have an evolved understanding of how adults learn and think, and equally, I have learned how to simplify complex concepts into “bite-sized” understandable parts (my students tell me that I am better than google at explaining concepts!).  I always start by showing my audience the big picture because it is important for them to see how the different topics are inter-connected so that they have a holistic understanding of the subject area.

How did you find your transition to Europe? What would you say are the differences between Asia and Europe business wise because obviously you meet a lot of business students now and they talk about their businesses, roles and so on?

I think that inherently there are cultural differences between Asia and Europe but I think increasingly it is also diminishing because of the evolution of a global culture (with subtle nuances rather than pronounced differences).

If you look at how we do business, you see the differences there. As an example, in Singapore it’s always about efficiency and effectiveness, you are given your Key Performance Indicators and you are expected to deliver results as soon as possible.   In contrast, in Europe, things are a lot slower, people are far more willing to wait for results to materialize.  There’s a lot more acceptance of ambiguity that you don’t see in Singapore.

I think the other big difference is cultural because of the way European societies are and the priority Europeans place on leisure and private time. In Singapore, it is rare that one takes two weeks off from work because you realise how much work will pile up when you return.  In Europe, you see people take a part of their summer off and they expect not to be disturbed. This will not happen in Singapore as you are expected to be contactable even when you are not in the office.

Joy with her mum and sister at the Singapore airport, the one airport where she’d welcome a delayed flight announcement 

From a finance perspective, which would you say would work best in a company, the Singapore way of life or the European one? Not of life, but business life.

I think some compromise between the two.  I think that there are advantages of certain systems that you can probably draw out and create.   I am a believer in the value of diversity, and in extracting the best practices from the American, European and Asian ways of doing business and adapting to the local context.  This is what the Singapore government is a master at:  learning the best practices in education, healthcare, pensions, tax, financial systems, etc. from around the world, and modifying and adapting to fit the Singapore context.

You are our longest standing teacher, you’ve been teaching at MSM for 9 years now. Do you have any memories from when you started that you’d like to share?

Wow, memories…. I think people have not changed very much.  I have very good students in Romania, that’s the reason I keep getting back.  I admire and I am fond of the people who run the institution, Dora (Surugiu-Kocsolade, one of MSM’s Co-Founders) and the team, and what they are doing in Romania, building a community and network of shared values and enlightened minds. That’s also a reason I keep coming back.  I appreciate what they are doing for business society and for Romania as a whole.

So, from a people perspective, we don’t see too many changes, because we always get very good quality students, but probably the city itself has undergone more changes.  Students wise, I think the past 10 years have brought technology, which makes teaching more complicated. Phones are generally disruptive to learning, and it is hard to stay focused when you have so many distractions in the class. I think you can only learn as much as you are willing to put into it.

You mentioned the quality of the students. What would you say about the students, how would you define them? Obviously, it’s hard to generalise, since you’ve seen so many students, but what would say it’s the defining characteristic of a Romanian student?

I think generally most Romanian students are fairly open to new ideas and concepts.  Many are enthusiastic about learning and are keen to do so.  However, I feel that they are not necessarily the best at time management, though this is not a uniquely Romanian phenomenon. I think many people (in today’s societies) take on too much (FOMO “fear of missing out” syndrome perhaps?) without realizing that it is not easy to continuously juggle work, family and studies and to always stay on top of it all.   I am a stickler for time management and I think we all should set priorities and say „ok, at this point in time studies are number one and I stay focused”.

Apart from finance, food is her passion and she’s sharing here one of her top 3 favourite cuisines – Japanese food!

You also recently met our Master in Management students. How was your experience teaching the fresh graduates that will become future leaders?

It was a good meeting the inaugural group of students. While they all had varied backgrounds, they were enthusiastic and keen to learn financial and management accounting.  Furthermore, as it was a small group, I could dedicate personal attention to each and every student to ensure that everyone understood the concepts and that we were always “on the same page” and no one was left behind in acquiring the knowledge.

What do you think are the top 3 areas of focus for new managers, in regards to finance and accounting?

  1. Integrating finance into all areas of a business – Delivering an effective finance support service to business units.
  2. Analytics and business performance, especially as they pertain to customer profitability and understanding drivers of value creation.
  3. Risk management – proactively managing risks, analyzing risks and taking precautionary steps to reduce/mitigate risks.

Joy loves travelling and this is her favourite part of the UK: Costwold.

Finally, do you have a favourite thing about Romania? You visited so many times, you know us by heart by now.

I have such a tight schedule when I’m in Bucharest…it is hotel-school-hotel-airport (on repeat).  So, for me, the hotel really matters.  On an average, I teach 6 to 7 hours each day that when it ends, I head back to take refuge in my hotel.

My second favourite thing about Romania are the people I have come to know.  Over the years, I have developed many friendships with my past students and we try to meet up with them when I’m back.   I have also been on many day trips with Dora when I stay for longer periods in Bucharest.  I have love to catch up with the staff when I am back.  It is always a nice sense of belonging I have here that I do not feel in many other universities or cities that I teach.

Just last year my husband came to Bucharest for the first time in 12 years. We had a good time eating out in different restaurants, taking walks around the city, and we hired a car and went to Constanța.


We wrapped up Joy’s interview just as the break was ending and the group she was teaching was rejoining the classroom, to continue the discussion on financial intelligence. This was one of the 3 trips she’s joining Romania for teaching in our programs and lucky for you, you can join her in one of the courses and get a taste of the MSM learning experience. Join Joy’s Finance for Startups Open Enrollment Course this May!