Tribute to thought leaders

Monday, 1 August 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The best treasure a teacher can have is a talented and committed student community. Saturday 23 July was a memorable day with the convocation of the Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM), the largest-ever so far with 438 graduates. Today’s column will focus on the finesse of this fresh breed of thought leaders.

Convocation as a commencement

The term used in USA for convocation is commencement. As the term aptly demonstrates, it signifies a new beginning, a journey of knowledge application in achieving organisational results. It is an end of the beginning in the sense that the formal programme of studies has come to an end. It is also a beginning of an end in the sense that the lifelong application of learning has just commenced.

It was encouraging to see two large batches of MBA graduates receiving their degrees with the first batch of Master of Customs Administration (MCA) graduates. According to custom sources, it is the first time in the world that 58 custom officers have received the MCA qualification in one occasion.

In addition, there was the MBA in Human Resource Management batch as well. Such a range of courses being on offer indicates the rising demand for master’s programmes with high quality and high relevance.

Threshold for thought leaders

Masters courses at PIM, particularly the MBA, has earned a name for producing thought leaders to the nation. In brief, leaders who can think and act without just acting. We harp on the need to ‘be a MBA’ than to ‘have a MBA’. This is of high relevance in the context of current environment.

With the ever-changing demands in the business world today enterprises need more professionals to drive businesses ahead. A professional is a person who approaches a problematic or a situation with a particular structured approach by using the body of knowledge by applying specific skills for the situation.

An MBA essentially caters for developing such professionalism. Hence the ultimate goal of the MBA is to develop professionals who can produce results in a more systematic, consistent and sustainable manner.

In other words professionals who will possess a holistic view of a situation and who will innovate new ways of thinking through the ability to think on feet and thus will solve the problematic with an appropriate, systematic and a structured manner. Therefore the MBA should produce professionals for the business world.

The striking difference between MBA and other Masters programmes is that the MBA is all about ‘applying’. Professor Liyanage calls it the MMR factor. It means the MBA learnings should have ‘Monday morning relevance’.

The application orientation trains a person to appropriately apply a particular concept or an idea in to a specific situation. Hence the twin aspect of understanding of the concept and application defines the MBA as opposed to technical specialisations such as MSc or MA.

As a result, the MBA in a broader definition is application oriented, practical, results oriented in training people to produce results. In other words, it is about making business managers more professional.

Diamonds and coal

I listened with great pleasure to the valedictory by Jithendra Gunatilake, a newly passed out MBA graduate at the convocation. He made an interesting comparison between diamonds and coal.

Do you think that diamonds and coal are equal in value and composition? Both comprise carbon, but the values are far apart. What makes this difference in values is the high pressure transformational process that converts coal to more valuable and adorable diamonds. MBA is in fact such a transformation of a routine practitioner to a rising professional.

Jithendra went ahead in quoting the Dhamapada in its Appamada Wagga:

Uttanawato Sathimatho – Suchikammassa nissamakarino

Sanna thassa cha Dhamma Jeevino – Appamathassa Yasobiwaddathi

The fame of the one who is persevering, steadfast and mindful, would always increase, without delay.

Even though this stanza is 2600 years old, there is proof of validity of its meaning and content today. Jithendra pointed to the jubilant 438 graduates of PIM are a living proof of achieving fame through perseverance, steadfastness and mindfulness. According to him, how they achieved glory was not by cramming loads of theory or spending bags of money, but by transforming ourselves to be extraordinary managers.

ABC of an MBA

The quintessence of MBA knowledge, which is firmly etched and is echoing in the mind of the graduates can come in the simplest form of ABC. As Jithendra elaborated, it has great value for today, tomorrow and beyond. He defined ABC as:

A – Attention to Detail

B – Brilliant on Basics

C – Conceptual Clarity

The above ABC is relevant to any professional manager, and particularly to thought leaders in shaping future. This is very much In line with the motto of PIM, ‘vijja uppatatan settha’ which means “among all that rise knowledge is the greatest”. In the era of knowledge where creativity is the cutting edge factor, ABC of an MBA is becoming increasingly important.

MBA as a transformational experience

The most recent convocation of PIM prompted me to move 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 MBA would train the learner with a holistic view of a situation.

In brief the learner will be able to enhance the 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, innovating new pathways and questioning the traditional way of doing things. As a result MBA inculcates a mindset to tackle issues in an innovative and integrated manner.

Simultaneously, being an MBA 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 sharing calibre and leading to dynamic forces within organisations and of course pursuing higher benchmarks in professionalism.

The contents and the conduct

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

To elaborate under the knowledge factor, an MBA curriculum should be up to date with the 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, relations building, negotiation and leading which are few of the essential skills in bringing professionalism to work. Thirdly, the most critical aspect as for me is the ‘attitudinal dimension’.

Speaking from my own experience becoming an MBA is changing a person’s own attitude to fundamentally challenge and stretch oneself. 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 as important and must cater for strategic and operational aspects of the business for sustainability in the long term.

Equally as the educational thresholds are ever going up, 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 programme reflects essentially on its alumni.

It gives me pride in stating that PIM, being the pioneering MBA offering institution in Sri Lanka, has so far produced over 40 CEOs. It highlights the value of MBA with its quality and relevance, locally as well as globally.

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 from ‘being a MBA’. Being a 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 feet and apply knowledge more systematically.

An MBA will always bring new ways of doing things to the table and deliver results for long-term sustainability of an organisation. Thus, an MBA is essentially employability and what is best, professionalism.

Way forward

It reminds me what Prof. Uditha Liyanage told us at a recent conference: the seeing-doing nexus. ‘Samma Ditti’ (right seeing) should lead to ‘Samma Vayama’ (right action). A good MBA helps the learner to see thing clearly and do things cleverly. That’s what we require in a turbulent world with chaotic competition all over.

May the newly-emerged thought leaders add value to their respective organisations in specific and to the national development in general.

(Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri is a learner, teacher, trainer, researcher, writer and a thinker in the areas of human resource management and organisational behaviour. He can be reached on

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