Deciphering broader aspirations: DBA to the forefront

Monday, 27 March 2023 01:09 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Dr. Ravi Fernando, the keynote speaker at the DBA inauguration of PIM addressing the gathering. DBA Coordinator Prof. Ajantha Dharmasiri, PIM Director Dr. Senaka Kelum Gamage, PIM Centre for Quality Assurance and Accreditation (CQAA) Head Prof. Jayantha Wijayaratne, and PIM Head of Research Dr. A.K.L. Jayewardana are also seen  

Amidst a socio-economic crisis that has engulfed our nation, the need for better quality thought-leaders with action orientation is on the rise. Having a fitting program on offer for the business leaders to sharpen themselves in seeking depth and breadth is of high significance. The long-awaited Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) from the Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM) is now on offer. Today’s column is a reflection of the DBA in Sri Lankan context with the needed rigour and relevance. 


For socio-economic wellbeing of a nation, the intellectual prowess of the corporate world is of utmost importance. With MBA increasingly becoming a threshold, many future-focused professionals tend to ask the question, “What’s next?” We at the PIM, in continuing the rich tradition of providing authentic products, are proud to present the freshly designed DBA with local reality and global reach in mind. In fact, it had to go through the rigorous quality assurance process of the University Grants Commission (UGC) resulting in completely fulfilling the Sri Lankan Quality Assurance Framework (SLQAF) standards. 

The PIM’s prestigious DBA program will provide participants with the competencies needed to conduct rigorous research with the aim of applying findings to real-world decision-making in industry and government. It will orient the participants to applied business management research design and develop original, impactful research on the practice of management in Sri Lanka. It will also cater to the market-gap for high-quality, rigorous, relevant, and applied research that bridges theory and practice, and contribute to the advancement of the Sri Lankan economy.

I being a blended product of private and public sectors, turning over as a mid-career academic, know the value of the practical application of knowledge. As Aldous Huxley said, “At the end of the day, what matters more is not how much you know but how much you have done.” There is no other profound path than a DBA to ensure such a creation and application nexus of knowledge. It is in fact an invitation to “Decipher Broader Aspirations” through a DBA experience.

Fulfilling aspirations of professionals 

Dr. Senaka Kelum Gamage, the Director of PIM in his message to the DBA Handbook invites the professionals who seek furthering of their knowledge creation endeavours to join PIM’s freshly-designed DBA program. It involves relevant research catering to industry requirements. In fact, quality research of an institute is the capstone or the culminating experience that institute would provide by way of research programs, finetuned by long years of adjusting and re-adjusting, a faculty well-versed in all the aspects of research, linkages provided for the students to widen their horizons of knowledge inputs, and the possession of a library-system, capable of providing the necessary sources of knowledge.

He further states that “as the Director of the Institute I am dutybound not only to oversee the conduct of its new DBA program, but also to ensure that all possible ways and means are provided for the knowledge-seeking professionals to carry through their commitments in a more facilitative environment.” With the involvement of qualified industry veterans, the journey of aspiring DBAs will be made meaningful and enriching, observes he. 

DBA as a 21st century leader 

Dr. Ravi Fernando, equipped with a DBA from the European Business School, who was the keynote speaker of the PIM’s DBA inauguration recently, shared intellectually insightful thoughts as to how a DBA should think and act as a 21st century leader. Being an Alumni of the University of Cambridge having completed a Master of Studies in Sustainability Leadership in 2014, Dr. Fernando obtained his DBA in 2016. He has also completed the Advanced Management Program at the INSEAD Business School (France) and is an Executive in Residence since 2010. In April 2020, he created the ‘21st Century Board Leadership Model-MasterClass’© for the Institute of Directors of Luxembourg which is currently run in Luxembourg, Ireland and Sri Lanka. He is the Chairman/CEO of Global Strategic Corporate Sustainability Ltd., which operates in Luxembourg, Ireland, United Kingdom, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka. 

It is interesting to note that Dr. Ravi Fernando’s career with multinationals spanned 1981-2007 with Unilever, Reckitt Benckiser, Smithkline Beecham International covering Africa, Middle East and Asia. He was the first CEO of the Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology 2008-2011 and Operations Director of the Malaysia Blue Ocean Strategy Institute 2011-2016. He was the first UN Global Compact Focal point 2007 and set up the UNGC Sri Lanka Network. He serves on the Boards of Dilmah Ceylon Tea Company, Aitken Spence Plantations Ltd., UN Global Compact, Habitat for Humanity, LOLC Holdings, Ceylon Graphene Technologies Ltd., Ceylon Asset Management and Global Strategic Corporate Sustainability Ltd. In 2007 he won “Global Strategy Leadership award”, presented to him by Professor Renee Mauborgne of INSEAD at the World Strategy summit. 

Dr. Ravi Fernando comprehensively shared the 21st century leadership strategy model. As he explained, the model consists of six elements. There are three emergencies. The climate emergency, the health and social emergency and economic dislocation. As he further explains: “I then realised that business is not just disrupted by emergencies. There are three disruptors: the first is technology, because if a company or nation doesn’t embrace technology, they will become out of touch. The second, geopolitics, disrupts everything and has an impact on business strategy. Companies have to ask themselves if there are geopolitical trends that might impact their business in some way and, if so, what opportunities and risks exist. Last, I came across massive compromises of governance. As board directors, we are taught to look at risks, but we only focus on financial risks. So, I took all these emergencies, the risks of those emergencies, and the risks of disruption from technology and geopolitics, and concentrated them all under governance.”

Increasing global recognition for DBAs 

In line with our discussion, it is pertinent to link a recent article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) which highlighted the increasing significance of DBAs. It elaborates the shift from MBA to DBA around the globe. 

“At the turn of the 20th century, the world was industrializing at a rapid pace. Businesses were growing larger and more complex, with more employees working in more diversified divisions spread across more geographical boundaries. As a result, demand grew for people who had special training in managing the general operations of a business, which led to the creation and proliferation of the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree.”

“More than 100 years later, MBAs have become a commodity that no longer serve organizations’ core needs. In today’s age of data and information, knowledge has become the most valuable resource. Companies don’t necessarily need more general managers who can assess broad patterns across multiple industries—they need people with deep expertise in specific domains who can analyze data and generate unique insights that lead to better business decisions. That’s why Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) holders are becoming increasingly valuable in the modern workplace. DBA is a professional degree representing the highest level of qualification in management. In contrast to an MBA, it takes students on a different path toward acquiring and using business knowledge.”

“For an MBA, students spend two years taking a broad range of practical courses to learn about several pillars of business—such as accounting, finance, marketing, leadership, operations, strategy, and ethics—to help them become effective leaders across many industries. By contrast, DBAs spend up to two years studying academic literature across several domains and up to two additional years designing and executing an original research project: a dissertation focused on one domain. The primary goal of a DBA is to produce scholarly individuals who have deep expertise in a field of management.”

“When seeking executive-level positions, DBAs’ “Dr.” titles are likely to help them stand out from their peers”, the HBR article further elaborates. “DBAs can also pursue high-level positions in areas such as consulting by becoming subject-matter experts—or maintain ties with academia as full-time or adjunct professors. DBAs’ training gives them diverse career options. The academic literature they read gives them expertise in understanding management theories that can help them analyze real-world situations and differentiate the signal from the noise. A DBA specializing in innovation can assess whether newcomers to a market pose a credible threat as a disruptive innovation to an existing company.”

“Students then learn advanced scientific techniques in quantitative and/or qualitative methodologies, which trains them in analyzing data to generate valid inferences that their organizations can use for decision-making purposes. Rather than relying on gut feel and graphs, DBAs can use powerful techniques such as sampling data to reduce bias, using statistical regressions to identify the strongest factors that influence an outcome, or designing an experiment to gain 100% certainty over the causal relationship between variables. Finally, DBAs combine their business knowledge with analytical skills to design and execute original research studies, making them the world’s leading experts in particular domains.”

The HBR article goes on to emphasise why DBAs also stand out because they represent only 2% of all people who hold higher degrees in business. “In 2021, more than 250,000 students graduated with MBAs or specialist degrees in business; only 5,000 graduated with doctorates. While a DBA may represent an attractive option that can be highly valuable to organizations today, they are not necessarily recommended for everyone. It needs serious commitment which has to be linked to one’s overall purpose.” 

Way forward 

“There’s no shortage of remarkable ideas, what’s missing is the will to execute them,” so said Seth Godin, an entrepreneur, management thinker and a popular author. In the MBA world, we have the catchy phrase, “Do not just do an MBA, be brilliant as a MBA”. We can logically extend the same for a well-designed and well-delivered DBA as well. May the country benefit with properly educated leaders who take evidence-based and data-driven decisions, rather than being naively emotive.

(The writer, a faculty member of the Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM), can be reached through [email protected], [email protected] or

Recent columns