Soaring Ahead: From Classroom to Boardroom

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CM Hwang, '08 (AXP-7) at the 2012 opening of the Bell Helicopter Service Center in Singapore, an idea that began at Chicago Booth. 

When Chih Ming Hwang entered the Executive MBA Program in Asia in 2006, he sought validation of his business knowledge and credentials. He was happy with his career in sales, and hoped to move up in his company. He never imagined that, in a few short years, he would transition from working for a major corporation to running his own successful company - but that’s exactly what happened.

Chih Ming (better known as "CM") was on an accelerated career path even before enrolling.  After serving as staff writer and photographer for the Republic of Singapore Air Force, he pivoted to the private sector and spent the next 23 years working in aviation. He held a variety of roles and was employed by Bell Helicopter as Business Development Director for Asia Pacific when he began his journey at Chicago Booth.

A shift in gears was set into motion during CM’s second year in the program. He participated in the first iteration of the Global New Venture Challenge [GNVC], the executive branch of Chicago Booth’s well known New Venture Challenge. This early offering of GNVC allowed executive MBA students a platform to develop a business plan and receive feedback from industry experts.

CM saw this as a perfect opportunity to bring value back to his company. During his time at Bell Helicopter, he had observed a gap in the services they provided. The company was focused on their helicopter and parts business in the Asia Pacific region, but CM could see there was the possibility to do much more.

One of the most valuable aspects of doing an Executive MBA Program is the amount of human talent available to you through your classmates. CM approached two study group members whose financial prowess he admired; they joined him and set to work writing a business case that called for a new Bell Helicopter Service Center to be built in Singapore, offering enhanced services to clientele.

As they prepared the case, CM relied on skillsets he learned at Chicago Booth. He scoured his networks and connections to build common, vested interest in the project as he’d been taught to do by Ronald S Burt, a social network expert. He referenced his Corporate Finance class to systematically structure the financials. He leaned heavily on what’d he’d learned in Strategy to think through the market needs. Lastly, he relied on a number of alumni connections facilitated through Booth’s Career Services.

After honing their case in GNVC, the team used Bell Helicopter’s annual regional meeting to pitch the idea directly to company leadership. CM remembers a stark silence in the room after they finished. He wasn’t sure if the idea had taken root or not. No one spoke until the CEO weighed in: “How soon can you get this implemented?”

Though it took several years to complete, CM oversaw the opening of the Bell Helicopter Service Center in Singapore in July 2012. It is a $30 million, 165,000 square foot facility with hangars for Bell and Cessna and now employs 100 people.  

The experience changed the way CM viewed himself. “It caused me to imagine that I could do something different,” he remarked. He had taken a risk by stepping out of his sales role to take on something new. The venture’s success gave him a new level of confidence.

Today, CM is leading a new company in the aviation industry – Aero Infinity. He decided to leave Bell Helicopter when his mentors suggested they would support him if he was ready to step out and “do his own thing.” Those early investors are now his current business partners. The company facilitates financing and leasing for aircraft and services private clients, corporations, airline carriers, and emergency medical personnel. Aero Infinity finalized their shareholders agreement in December 2015 and celebrated a soft launch during the Singapore Air Show.

CM maintains an entrepreneurial mindset. He is driven to continue identifying needs unmet and thinking about where he can add value. At this point in his career, he finds himself pondering how he can contribute to society at large versus meet company KPIs. It’s a fulfilling position to be in.

His best advice to would be entrepreneurs is simple: “Always double check information and validate the data” – a fittingly “Boothie” approach.

 Meghan Keedy, Associate Director of Marketing Communications