From Employee number one to CEO, Nick Cheung has applied the knowledge he gained at the Faculty of Information to build Morningstar Asia from the ground up
When Nick Cheung first interviewed for a role at Morningstar Asia back in 2000, he had several other job offers. What distinguished the investment research company, Morningstar, from the rest was that Cheung saw more opportunity to grow into a role that wasn’t purely technical.
While Cheung was initially hired as a database analyst, he wanted to use both his Bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of British Columbia and his Master’s degree from the Faculty of Information. Meeting Morningstar’s COO, who had come to Hong Kong to set up the Asia team, convinced Cheung that Chicago-based Morningstar would be the best fit for him.
“The interview that I had with the COO back then was very interesting. He was discussing his vision of the company, and how they deal with information,” said Cheung in a recent video interview from his home in Hong Kong. “I thought it was a good match to what I learned at University of Toronto from the master’s degree program. And I think I was right.”
As Morningstar’s first employee in Asia, Cheung’s first assignment was to build an Asian database. He put to use knowledge and skills acquired at the Faculty of Information including database design, data analytics and information classification.
“I feel quite lucky to have been part of the startup because when Morningstar came to Asia 22 years ago we started from scratch,” Cheung said. “I’ve seen how the business developed and grew over time. It was quite amazing to see.”
Cheung is currently in charge of Morningstar’s operations in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the southeast Asia region. In his role as CEO, Cheung makes sure that Morningstar Asia provides investors in the region with the high-quality research and tools they need to make choices that are right for them. The company also helps partners who work with advisors and institutions through their investment management services.
Cheung says his education has served him well along the way. While he never imagined himself in general management, when he decided to pursue graduate studies at the Faculty of Information his goal was to acquire skills in less technical areas than computer science. “My undergraduate education was pretty much all technical, I spent a lot of time in a computer lab writing programs,” he says.
Concepts such as equity of access to information, which Cheung was first exposed to at UofT, were far less discussed at the time as were the social aspects of information in general. “Now we talk about the ethical use of the information, the ownership of information, data, privacy, and so on. But those topics were not a focus” in the working world, 20 years ago, he says, noting that his education put him ahead of the trend.
Cheung believes his career trajectory is more common than it used to be, but, at the same time, he advises graduates that their first jobs might not necessarily have a huge correlation to what they studied. “I never thought one day I’d be in general management,” he says when asked what advice he would give today’s grads. “Never shut yourself off from the opportunities that come up.”