Creating Leaders of Tomorrow

As originally published in Synergyzer Issue 3 – 2018

Dr. Zeeshan Ahmed, Dean – KSBL

Question: What is the KSBL (Karachi School of Business & Leadership) vision based around?
Dr. Zeeshan Ahmed: Firstly, KSBL’s vision revolves around leadership.
We believe that leadership is about building personal character – about understanding one’s strengths and striving to build on them; about consistency and a strong resolve towards values and ideals; about understanding and valuing humility and not being ego-driven.
This is what we hope to inculcate in our students during their studies at this institution. Thus, alongside regular education, a certain amount of emotional intelligence becomes vital in the nurturing of future leaders. We make use of the Myer Briggs personality assessments to help us in this regard, because it allows our mentors to focus on individual strengths, and help hone them. Also, our low student-faculty ratio, i.e. 10:1, becomes important because it enables teachers to be more attuned to the performance and problems of their students.
Such a relationship is essential in the making of leaders because the training which these teachers impart to their students is crucial for developing a sense of ownership and passion towards goals and dreams.
And it is this drive and awareness of goals that prompts a final aspect of leadership: Persistence and hard work in order to achieve personal excellence.

The second key notion in KSBL’s vision is the development of business acumen and a certain prowess in business decision-making. The selection of our faculty is done in line with this. Many of the professors currently teaching here have been trained in case-based methods of study at top universities abroad, which they have then brought to Pakistan – such methodology forms the basis of KSBL’s training.
This methodology is fashioned around Bloom’s Taxonomy – a classification of educational learning that begins with conceptual learning, and works through application, analysis, and synthesis, with the last stage being a critical evaluation of ideas. Through the application of this model, our aim is to develop critical thinking among our students, which forces them to challenge convention and always be on the look-out for new perspectives on existing topics.

The third and final aspect of KSBL’s vision is convergence. We seek to bring aspects of leadership together with highly developed business acumen, in a manner that enables us to train business leaders who will remain relevant in the long-term. To this end, reports by the World Economic Forum and World Bank guide our course building process.

In making the curriculum, we take inspiration from a variety of sources. A lot of our input has come from individuals who have had international exposure and understand trends in education and the business world. For instance, we have a course on design thinking – an idea suggested by Mr. Imran Syed, who is on the Engro board – taught by an MIT trained professor based on how it is taught at the Stanford D. School. And currently, building upon the advice of Dr. Zubair Anwar, we are working on introducing courses on data analytics, big data, data science, and automated intelligence in business. These are cutting-edge courses that have great scope moving forward.

Furthermore, there is a need to develop skills that will keep human beings relevant in a world that is becoming increasingly technologized. According to Mehmood Khan, Vice President of PepsiCo., complex decision-making, leadership, and strong quantitative skills are those aforementioned abilities. To this end, we are looking to incorporate computer programming alongside business acumen and statistical analyses, so that our students are trained to incorporate cutting-edge technology during the problem-solving processes. At the moment, we don’t have many people here who are highly skilled in all three of these fields.

The process of convergence also involves giving students exposure via participation in competitions and networking exercises. Our MBA is for tomorrow, not today. Thus, our vision involves not just the nurturing of a leader-worthy character and strong business acumen, but also a dynamic synthesis of the two.

Question: KSBL was affiliated with Cambridge University’s Judge Business School. Is the affiliation still functional?
Dr. Zeeshan: Just as the UPenn’s Wharton School had a hand in the establishment of IBA, Cambridge University provided strategic support for KSBL. The initial staff was from Judge Business School, and their input was involved in campus design and curriculum development. The local teaching staff was interviewed, evaluated and hired by Cambridge professors. Of course, there was some disconnect because the international staff was unfamiliar with the Pakistani system of education, so while the affiliation is still there, through which we get their consult, the aim was always to make KSBL stands out on its own in business leadership education.


Question: How is KSBL’s teaching methodology different?
Dr. Zeeshan: Let me start off by saying that our MBA program spans across 2 years, and it is open to everyone regardless of their educational background at the Bachelors level. And since our classes heavily incorporate real-world business context and problem orientation, they provide a strong learning experience for students who may be new to business education, while adding new layers of context for students who are already familiar with business concepts.

The specialty of case schools, like KSBL, is that subjects, for example, accounting, are taught in a manner aimed at establishing students’ business acumen and to improve their business judgment. For instance, typical introductory discussions in accounting classes cover any business model’s profitability and investment potential. For example, we may take the cement industry into perspective – bring the discussion into a business context; assessment of margins, turnover, growth etc.; comparison with competitors and so on. This way, accounting is not dry anymore because from the start, the discussions are about a business problem.

Also, we introduce the students to financial statements from the very first day, since these are required to make decisions about business needs, where to invest etc. And all concepts are explained in a very intuitive manner through examples that students can relate to and easily understand, while they remain engaged with the content, and understand the business context.

To ensure this, one of the criteria in our evaluations is how well the instructor integrated different business areas into his own field.

Question: What other methods do you have to strengthen students’ knowledge
Dr. Zeeshan: We get top research analysts to do industry analyses which let the students’ knowledge go from level to level. This I insist on being done on an individual basis instead of the more customary group-work; I want every student to know everything. A result of this was when a team from Fatima Fertilizers visited, I asked their opinion about our students to which they replied that given the kinds of questions the students asked, it was almost as if they were industry insiders. It transpired that the students were able to ask pertinent questions because of the industry analyses which allowed them to come up with insights and because they learned a lot from discussions with the CEO of Engro Fertilizers, who is part of our CEO Mentorship program. Now, both of these things would not have been possible if the faculty did not take a personal interest. If the professors were wondering only how they could appear good to the board, or how they could keep their job, or get a promotion, then the students would not have been so informed.

Question: A problem here is that Pakistani case studies are not easily available. Does KSBL teach using local case studies? How?
Dr. Zeeshan: This is the biggest impediment. Companies operating in Pakistan want to be praised to the skies and have a veritable Akbarnama written about them, but that is not how a case is made. A case is made when a problem is identified and nobody, no corporation, wants their problems or weaknesses made public. The ones we have made are mostly of companies we collaborate with on executive education.

Case studies are an opportunity for scholarship and learning so they can be used to teach; it is not necessary to publish them. However, in Pakistan things usually become public knowledge through word of mouth. Therefore, we want our students to have enough street smarts to be able to connect with what is out there in order to derive data. For instance, financial accounting and annual reports are public knowledge. There are reports from brokerage houses and other researches. One can extrapolate a lot of information from these. This is how we find our way through this dilemma.

Question: What kind of research are you carrying out at KSBL?
Dr. Zeeshan: Our focus is on research that is relevant to Pakistan. Many Pakistani researchers are being included in top American and European journals, but the problems they are solving are of concern mainly to the USA and Europe. Nobody in Pakistan knows of those issues, because they are not relevant to Pakistan. We are not discouraging research or doing less of it; we just want the research to be relevant to Pakistan and its unique problems. This includes case research, case methods, and Pakistan-centric articles.


Question: What about studying the relationship between Pakistan and China?
Dr. Zeeshan: Dr. Jawaid Ghani wrote a paper that was quoted in the Wall Street Journal, on Pakistan’s middle-class consumption patterns. He told me that the people reading his citation the most were Chinese professors. This means when the Chinese come to the negotiating table, they are prepared; they have all the information at their fingertips. Meanwhile, when our side sends government officials we don’t include the academia or our businessmen.

KSBL has set up a CPEC Centre of Excellence which is intended to be a nexus between the academia, the business sector, and the government so that we can move ahead with a research-based approach.

Question: What do you look for when selecting students for the mainstream MBA program?
Dr. Zeeshan: We take K-Mat and G-Mat style scores into consideration — scores below the acceptable level mean the applicant will drag the class down. We have students who come from universities both within and outside Pakistan from undergrad backgrounds of business, engineering, medical etc. There are representatives of American, British, and Malaysian universities, for example, in our student body.

We consider hardworking and resilient candidates as opposed to merely intelligent. Angela Duckworth, the author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance has some great advice. She says don’t praise intelligence, praise effort. Intelligent people become overconfident and consequently simply don’t bother because they feel, “I’m already a hero, I’m anyway a genius.” So we identify people by the kind of thought process they possess. Students must be able to think. They don’t have to be able to answer every question or recall every principle of marketing or every concept they studied at IBA; we can work with that as long as they are motivated and have their thinking framework in place.

Question: What is the public perception of KSBL at the moment?
Dr. Zeeshan: KSBL is not as widely known, nor does it have the brand name power of IBA or LUMS for obvious reasons: we’re only six years old as compared to IBA’s 70. Their alumni network would be 20,000, ours is 150. We don’t have an undergrad program and it is undergrad programs that make universities a household name because when a student fresh out of school is choosing a university, usually the entire family gets involved in the discussion. However, people who do know of KSBL know it as an elite brand. Those who have come to our campus as applicants, employers, or members of the academic community or whoever, and met the faculty, participated in the Eminent Speaker series or in competitions, they know that this is cutting edge.

Question: The Executive MBA or EMBA is becoming rapidly more popular. Why is that?
Dr. Zeeshan: Because earlier, BBA used to be mandatory for MBA. A lot of the essential work would be completed in the four years of BBA and students could get jobs paying anything between Rs. 70,000-150,000. This increased the opportunity cost of doing MBA and evening or executive classes rose in popularity. Now the person wanting an MBA degree is the engineer who has already spent four years at his company and wants to grow at a managerial level.

Question: Full-time MBA’s have the time to work through extensive case studies etc. What about EMBA’s, for whom time is already in short supply?
Dr. Zeeshan: At the time of scheduling EMBA classes, we were aware that students would have two bosses: One at work, one at home. With an exclusive weekend program, the spouses of the young men and women would say, “Choose either me or KSBL.” If the classes were held on weekdays and the student needed to leave work at 6 pm — and who leaves work at 6 pm? — the boss would say, “Choose either  your job or your EMBA.” So we have half-day classes on Sunday and a couple of two-hour weekday classes. This lets students complete their degree in three, three and a half years.

By mixing weekend and weekday classes we also learned that on Sundays, the students are fresh, well-prepared with their case studies and their classroom response is good too. Weekdays are best for quizzes; although class starts at 7 pm and despite having a full day at work and battling Karachi traffic, they always manage to be prepared for a quiz. Once I said to a student that I sympathized with him, what with the full workday and then class and he said, “We actually look forward to these classes because they stimulate us intellectually and groom our personality.”

Question: As an instructor, what is a differentiating factor for you between the MBA and the EMBA?
Dr. Zeeshan: In EMBA we have a flip-classroom concept, where we let the students speak and we are merely facilitators. This creates so much engagement that even if someone wanted to go to sleep because they were dead tired, they wouldn’t. For instance, we were doing a case study on how Delta Airlines depreciates their planes. One student used to be head of reporting at PIA; I let him speak for 10-15 minutes and he shared the inside story of how airlines manipulated the value of their airplanes depending on whether they needed external investment or were in the process of privatization. This was an interesting insight from within, and such things increase the knowledge of both students and instructors.

Question: What kind of qualities do you look for in people who want to teach at KSBL?
Dr. Zeeshan: We make it a point to bring in faculty from reputed universities abroad. But that is not to say that we don’t have locally trained teachers – we do, and they have performed exceptionally well.
When we recruit teachers, we are looking for a certain level of engagement between the teacher and the student; which often, even highly qualified individuals are not able to create. We focus on taking individuals who are still in the process of learning, but they must be willing to rise up to the standards we have set, which we never compromise on.

Hence, we tend to cherry-pick our teachers.

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