I led the organising team for the graduation of 449 extraordinary managers at PIM’s largest convocation ever. That was a celebration of human imagination. We picked the theme as ‘Celebrating Richness of Human Imagination’.
Convocation marks the end of one era and the beginning of another era of learning and application. Today’s column is a reflection of that transition.
The annual Convocation of the Postgraduate Institute of Management
As Aristotle said, the roots of education are bitter but the fruits are sweet. The convocation day was a time of tasting that sweetness. A good Master’s program should have high quality and relevance. That’s what we at PIM are continuously striving for.
In the changing era that we are going through, human imagination is the cutting-edge factor for growth and prosperity. Every product that we use or every service that we experience was someone’s imagination sometime ago. Imagination leads to innovation which in turn leads to implementation. All those who graduated should be imagining a better future. All of us need to dream and deliver with dedication.
We produce thought leaders to the nation. PIM has been at the forefront in breeding such leaders with character and competence. They are equipped with cutting-edge knowledge and complementary skills needed to perform in both the private and public sectors alike.
In producing them with clarity and commitment, PIM has always been a centre of excellence in management education with its wings spreading beyond Sri Lanka. Excellence is all about being exceptionally good. When applied to enterprises, it involves exceptional achievements in a consistent manner. That’s what PIM is proud of being: a self-financed, semi-autonomous public entity.
Holcim South Asia Corporate Functional Manager Aidan Lynam was the keynote speaker. He spoke on the theme ‘Innovation in Sustainability Initiatives’. Having joined the Holcim Group Support Ltd. in 1986, he has been working on assignments in Egypt and Switzerland.
After spending some years with Krupp Polysius in Germany, he returned to the Group in 1996, and was assigned to the Morning Star project of Holcim Vietnam where he was appointed Terminal Manager In 1999.
In 2002, he was appointed Vice President Manufacturing at Holcim Lanka and returned to Holcim Vietnam as CEO in 2006. In January 2010 he was promoted to Area Manager and Member of the Senior Management of Holcim Ltd. with country responsibility for Bangladesh, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Vietnam until 31 December 2013, before moving to his current position.
Highlights of the Keynote address
I felt Aidan’s speech was brief but brilliant. His main focus was to highlight how innovation could assist in sustainability initiatives. I thought of sharing some extracts from his speech:
“I would like to congratulate you as future leaders of your country and the world as well as those who supported you, namely your academic staff and family and friends. You are all proudly sitting here today waiting to graduate and embark, fully charged up, on the next chapter of your lives.
“I am sure your recent studies have sparked your imaginations and kindled your spirits and I thought I could share with you some thoughts and ideas for you to carry with you as you apply all the knowledge gained. It is after all, fundamentally important that the investment in your education gets returned upon via practical application and usage of what you have learned.
“From this angle, I can perhaps share with you what a company like mine at Holcim expects, from a freshly minted business graduate, who is motivated to go out into the world and carve a mark for himself or herself. My thoughts are based on some decades of experience in the real world with heavy doses of real learning and more than a few twists and turns and lots of valuable lessons garnished in what some refer to as the ‘school of hard knocks’.”
Moving Beyond being managers
All of you, newly qualified with your degree, may compete very well in the job market for a management role, stated Aidan. However, some of you may go further and develop into a leader. The ‘leader’ is different than the ‘manager’. The manager follows and manages the agenda. The leader seeks to change, shape, and develop the agenda. The manager gives orders and follows process. The leader engages and inspires others to deliver results.
The manager finds safety in the existing process and in the safe beaten path. The leader finds new ways to improve processes and to innovate for new solutions. The manager is the ‘boss’ of people, the leader is the inspiration for a team of achievers. The manager checks that his staff is doing their job, the leader creates the atmosphere and environment for his/her team members to excel, without being continuously supervised. Managers tell and solve, leaders listen and explore.
“My advice to those of you who want to be a leader is to be prepared to step off the beaten path. Search within yourself for the courage to be different. The courage to challenge the status quo, the courage to step up and take the decisions needed to move ahead. The courage to hire and develop people who may even be better than you,” he said.
And therewith move ahead in a sustainable manner. The leader amongst you takes care to avoid the ‘one-hit-wonder’, or the short-term fix. He/she takes the longer-term view and makes enduring decisions which sustain progress and keep continuous improvement, evolution and upward momentum. Sustainability reflects building things that last, developing people who can take the baton over when you move on, and embedding durable principles of ethics and fairness.
The sustainability-minded leader is acutely aware of the three-way balance between economic advancement (PROFIT), environmental performance (PLANET) and Social Equity (PEOPLE).
I can tell you that, at Holcim, our leaders are developed to juggle these three ‘P’s’ constantly, Aidan confessed. There can be no true long-term sustainable success by focusing purely on one of these elements only. Leaders set themselves up to fail if they seek only economic advantage without due regard to internal and external stakeholders who guard environmental outcomes or social impacts.
A company like Holcim, which takes precious raw materials from the earth, which consumes large amounts of energy to convert it into cement and other building products, which employs hundreds of people, and which impinges on the communities around it, cannot and will not drive only the economic objective in isolation. All three aspects must be blended into a sustainable balance.
We are living in challenging times, observed Aidan. The planet’s population growth is inevitable, with 1.4 billion more people expected by 2030, higher urbanisation and a squeeze on vital resources such as clean drinking water and food.
There are fabulous growth opportunities but these trends do also bring major challenges for all of us, challenges such as climate change, unsustainable resource consumption and how to include all equitably. This requires leaders and companies to re-evaluate their solutions portfolio and to continuously question their business models.
“These challenges pose many dilemmas for us all. In reconciling these dilemmas, we at Holcim aspire to go beyond ‘business as usual’. We want to become part of the solution to the challenges of our time. Holcim has and will continue to employ bright and motivated PIM graduates just like you, to actively seek solutions and work with a wide range of sustainability experts and interested stakeholders to develop a sustainable strategy with stretched, yet attainable goals which will contribute meaningfully to addressing the sustainability challenges we all face. “
It is now up to all of you to go out from here, apply your acquired knowledge, step up and lead the agenda, courageously, and sustainably push your world onwards, remarked Aiden. I like the way he ended the address with a difference.
“I offer you my heartfelt congratulations and I leave you with a small prayer from my native country, Ireland, calledzGo n-éiríanbótharleat(Gaelic) and for which I give you the shortened English version :
“May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until you all meet again,
May the hand of a friend be always near.”
Convocation for any graduate is the commencement of a new journey. The time to focus on applications in delivering results has come. I earnestly hope that the 449 private sector managers and the public sector administrators who graduated will contribute their utmost towards the betterment of themselves, their respective organisations and the nation at large.