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PIM MBA in Qatar: A source of Sri Lankan pride

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Monday, 9 May 2016 00:00



It was indeed memorable to organise an inauguration of a brand new MBA batch at the Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM) in Doha, Qatar. It was encouraging to see the spirit of Sri Lankans in Qatar who actively supported our endavour in bringing management learning to Doha with what we call ‘global reach with local roots’. Today’s article is all about this topic. 


The obvious reason for Sri Lankans to go to the Middle East, including Dubai and Qatar, is to earn. We had to shift that paradigm. It is not only to earn but to learn. I in fact suggested to them that it should be earn, learn and return. That’s where the PIM MBA will be handy.

It was last Thursday that we had the MBA inauguration in Doha. The PIM alumni (PIMA) chapter of Qatar played a commendable role in organising the event. Kumudu Fonseka, who was instrumental in bringing Sri Lankan study programs to Qatar, shared his memories. He commended the team effort of the Sri Lankan managers in Qatar for opting to embark on a study program offered by a Sri Lankan higher education institute. Srikanth Chelliah, the Secretary of the PIMA Qatar Chapter, and Dushyanthan Kirupakaran, a committee member of the PIMA Qatar chapter, are two names worth mentioning for their commendable effort. 

MBAs as Prosumers 

I am reminded of what Dr. Travis Perera, Senior Consultant, PIM, has been saying about MBAs. They are, in a way, consumers of PIM, receiving education from us. At the same time they are co-producers of knowledge and skills. Hence the term borrowed from the marketing echelons, Prosumer, aptly demonstrates their nature. Thus, we have a batch of 42 prosumers in Doha, Qatar.

From the process point of view, outcomes and outputs are good only when the inputs are good. That’s why I am happy that I sat, together with Jayantha Ranapura, our Senior Assistant Registrar, to conduct interviews of candidates who passed the admission test to get selected for PIM’s MBA. 

The practice of enrolling anyone who walks in is for ‘study shops’ and definitely not for us. Being the pioneering institute to offer MBAs in Sri Lanka and hailed as the best consistently, PIM has a challenge to continuously improve. 

With rapid technological advancements, the need to have blended learning with the use of ICT tools is on the rise. Also, greater flexibility from the students and the high standards of the institutions need to be maintained through a proper balance. We have realised the need to ensure quality and relevance at all times.

The increasingly competitive challenge is to enhance our prosumers. As it was clearly seen through the responses of our MBA aspirants, the need for cutting-edge knowledge with a global presence and local pulse is what needs to be fulfilled. Having the monthly presence of a Sri Lankan resource person who physically conducts lectures, supported by video conferencing and other e-learning tools will be the way forward. 

MBA as a transformational experience

The PIM’s MBA inauguration in Qatar last Thursday prompted me to go back down memory lane. I indeed went through that transformational experience. As I started off as an engineer and then switched over to management, I realised that an MBA would train the learner with a holistic view of a situation. In brief the learner will be able to enhance functional knowledge through a cylindrical view to broad business knowledge through a conical view. 

This interconnectedness transforms the learner to appreciate other functions with a broader prospective or holistic view of the business. 

A good MBA curriculum should consist of business realities, challenges, new ways of looking at issues and produce out-of-the-box solutions. From my own experience at PIM in talking to the alumni of MBA-holders, their single biggest factor in what makes them stand out among fellow peers is the self confidence they have gained in experimenting, creating and innovating new pathways and questioning the traditional way of doing things. As a result the MBA ingrains them with a mindset to tackle issues in an innovative and integrated manner. 

Simultaneously, being an MBA holder will enhance the market value of a person. As for the entrepreneurs, they will have professionals producing value for their organisations in a sustainable manner at the end of the day. The ultimate outcome is the birth of a powerful social network leading to dynamic forces within organisations and of course pursuing higher benchmarks of professionalism. 

The contents and the conduct

The curriculum of an MBA is critical in producing professionals. Thus the success of an MBA program depends on aspects such as the knowledge factor, the skills factor, attitude transformation and the time dimension. 

To elaborate on the knowledge factor, an MBA curriculum should be up to date with cutting-edge knowledge and the seminal or the essential body of knowledge. Secondly, under the skills factor, an MBA must inculcate or enhance skills in analysis, application, documentation, presentation, problem-solving, relationship building, negotiation and leading which are few of the essential skills in bringing professionalism to work. Thirdly, the most critical aspect for me is the attitudinal dimension. 

Speaking from my own experience, becoming an MBA holder is about changing a person’s own attitude to fundamentally challenge and stretch one’s self. In other words enhancing one’s capacity to cope with many fronts and priorities and thus maintain work-life balance. 

This aspect reiterates or complements the aspect of enhanced self-confidence in an MBA holder. Finally the time dimension is important and must cater to strategic and operational aspects of the business for sustainability in the long term. 

Equally, as educational thresholds are constantly expanding, the accreditation system and quality assurance are of paramount importance in offering a standard MBA.  I tend to think that the success of an MBA program is reflected primarily by the quality of its alumni. It gives me great pride in stating that PIM, being the pioneering MBA-offering institution in Sri Lanka, has so far produced around 100 CEOs, and 1000 directors. It highlights the value of an MBA with its quality and relevance, locally as well as globally. 

Criticisms of MBAs 

There is a wave of criticism of MBAs around the world. Especially after the global credit crunch and the collapse of giants led by MBA holders, this negativity has gathered momentum. I myself have heard from CEOs lamenting that some of their MBA-holders know a lot of theory but sadly lack practical knowledge. 

Taking this issue into a broader perspective, an ongoing debate in the US has even reached a point to say that MBA-awarding business schools have an identity crisis. I am confident that we will not allow that to happen to us. Yet, it is better to be proactive than reactive.

According to Forbes magazine, Business schools have always juggled two missions: educating practitioners and creating knowledge through research. 50 years ago, as explained in the 2005 HBR article How Business Schools Lost Their Way, business schools shifted their focus from the former to the latter. Management became a science rather than a profession.This shift had profound implications. Business schools rewarded professors for publishing their research in academic journals, and their curriculum began to reflect the narrow focus of the faculty. Business school professors became increasingly disconnected from practicing managers and leaders. By the mid 2000s, it became clear that business schools had swung too far in one direction.

Being aware of these developments has prompted us to strengthen our practical approach with necessary frameworks. It is not only “know what” but “know why” and “know how”. For example, with every piece of research our students do, it is mandatory to elaborate on managerial implications and practical applications. 

From knowing to doing

I would like to quote the famous author Aldous Huxley here: “At the end of the day what matters is not how much you know but how much you have done.”  Simply, the MBA should not be limited to a paper qualification. The purpose of the MBA is to produce professionals not theoreticians. This is exactly where “having an MBA” differs to “being an MBA”. 

Being an MBA will bring out professionals who will possess a holistic view of a situation and hence will innovate new ways of thinking through the ability to think on their feet and apply knowledge more systematically. An MBA-holder will always bring new ways of doing things to the table and deliver results for the long-term sustainability of an organisation. Thus, an MBA is essentially about employability and professionalism.

Way forward

MBA-holders should never be Mentally Below Average. They should always be Mind Before Action. It reminds me of what Asian wisdom has taught us, the Seeing-Doing nexus. ‘Samma Ditti’ (Right seeing) should lead to ‘Samma Vayama’ (Right action). Being brilliant as an MBA-holder helps the learner to see things clearly and do things cleverly. That’s what we require in a turbulent world with competition all over.

(Prof. Ajantha Dharmasiri, Professor in Management,  is the director and chairman of the board of management of the Postgraduate Institute of Management. He also serves as an adjunct professor in the Division of Management and Entrepreneurship, Price College of Business, University of Oklahoma, USA. He can be reached through director@pim.lk.)


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