Month: May 2017

Things they don’t teach at business school – Part 1

‘You’re taking the Dubai elective, why?’ My colleagues, professors, and friends repeatedly asked when I mentioned my February plans. Cass Business School was offering its MBA students electives around the globe, starting with one that explores cultural diversity in the UAE.

Coming from Saudi Arabia, it may sound like cheating to take the course, as the Arabian culture is very similar, and I kind of should be familiar with it already… I also visited Dubai multiple times where my extended family reside. But, like many visitors, I knew the malls and the cafes, but not much about the history of the city, or why, like in Saudi, nationals wore white and black garments for men and women, respectively.


From the outside, the Middle East may appear to have its own caveat of culture and lifestyle almost non-relatable to everywhere else, and many go by the notion of ‘it is what it is’. Although I speak Arabic fluently, I myself wasn’t aware why the city was called Dubai in the first place, and on a personal level, I didn’t know that my last name, like many Arabic names, is an adjective with a very cool meaning also. All of that illiteracy was about to change, as we packed our sunglasses and made our way to Dubai for the late winter elective.

Perhaps I should start by explaining why I chose the elective first – going a little beyond the ‘…. I need the sun!’ statement. Because, you can imagine how an analytical MBA student normally approaches their networking prospectuses; they would systematically expand some spread-sheet of contacts by exploring new places with different people. In my case, I guess I intrinsically adopted a different strategy of business networking altogether; one that lends itself to something we learnt during the last elective we had in medical school. At the time, we travelled to New York and had visited Columbia University whilst sightseeing. I met their MBA administration team, one of whom casually laid down some resonating advice:

‘I’ll tell you something they don’t teach at business school… for free.’  he began to say…. and, after pausing for impact, he then continuedYour network? it isn’t about who you know and how many, it’s the people who care about you… the old lady down the road? The one you help out with her groceries? She can have better intentions for you, and really help you, more than all the CEOs whose business cards you keep on file… why? because she cares… and has you at the forefront of her mind when opportunities come by’.

As years passed, I found myself doing an MBA in my city of London, a metropolitan place where everyone is truly culturally unique, and where I have grown up and studied university. But the experience of leading a busy life teaches the importance of family, and valuing the incredible people who have always been kind, giving , thinking of you despite the distance and always seem to want the best for you i.e. ‘family’ (in my case just don’t ask me how we’re all actually related, it gets complicated when you’re from the middle east!). However, being a student again is a great opportunity to reconnect and invest in our ‘networks’, and following the advice from Columbia University, we can do so beginning with our roots, as well as then exploring the organisations and institutions that expand our horizons. Furthermore, understanding what makes us all ‘culturally unique’ helps us bring in a different prospective to the global world we live in and makes us better global citizens able to share our heritage. So, in my case, that’s the full story of why I wanted to go to the Middle East, despite what they normally teach at business school! Now I present to you the story of what was learnt from the journey through our – eventful – elective in Dubai and the Emirates.

When you travel to Dubai, you expect to see people from all over the globe who somehow gravitated to it following its economic boom in the last couple of decades. However, the city has actually been a natural port and meeting point of travelers for thousands of years. ‘Trade’ and foreign exchange is in the DNA of the local Emirati people, previously known for pearl diving – a precious commodity back in the day. Thus with the economic prosperity, they were well poised to be a global trading ground, with a sense of luxury. From our elective, we have come to know how much the city has developed. Perhaps if you were to say two decades ago that Dubai will be hosting the World Expo, no one would believe it! But in less than 3 years from now, that is exactly what is on the agenda. Still, many would say that Dubai ambitions are unrealistic. Yet, I find it fascinating how in the meeting points of diverse travelers, whether it is Dubai or other global ports such as New York, group thinking is bravely overcome, and assumptions are routinely overturned. This special and forward looking mind-set of ‘nothing is impossible’ is in the air, and as I got to know, highly contagious.

On landing in Dubai airport on this occasion, I found myself catching the bug, and somehow went from the girl who is most in her element in the ultra-hygienic environment of labs, reading books or drinking gluten-free-hot-chocolate-made-with-soya-milk, to the girl who would be riding camels, getting a henna tattoo and booking Skydive Dubai. Little did I know, collecting my luggage at DXB – that I have optimistically filled with summer clothes in the middle of February – I would have all of that to look forward to, never the less, that I would also explore another side of the pristine city, get caught in a sand-rain-mud storm of some kind, then deeply understand the culture – my culture – and how it’s actually very much connected to the world; so much so, that the garments we traditionally wear are in fact one of the gifts of our international friendships. Finally, I would also find out what my last name actually means, and how it became my guide in choosing my career. But, I’ll tell you more about all that in part 2 of this blog 🙂

 

Mashael Anizi
Full-time MBA (2017)

Getting Disruptive post MBA

Mahmood Jessa started his own business, NgageU whilst studying for his Executive MBA Programme at Cass Business School, Dubai in January 2015. He graduated from the programme with Distinction in May 2016.

On April 17th 2017, his company launched their third digital platform, Name Your Rent; a disruptive digital service which Mahmood describes as “A revolutionary way for renters to find their new home and a powerful platform for Real Estate Agents to serve their clients, smarter.”

The Dubai based business is a story teller & concept builder in the digital and mobile app space with a primary focus on creating customer convenience solutions as well as developing propriety and client commissioned B2B & B2B2C platforms. Mahmood and his co-founder established the business after collaborating on various projects where they realised they held a shared vision of building digital solutions.

Mahmood credits his family’s deep roots in trading, his extensive commercial experience both in the UK & UAE along with the Cass Business School, Dubai’s Executive MBA as a factor in successful launch of Name Your Rent.

 

How would you describe your overall experience of the Cass Executive MBA?

Many people have asked me about the Cass Executive MBA saying that they really want to sign up but don’t have the time. The old adage of we have to make time is so true when you are trying to juggle full time work, a young family, a ‘side hustle’ and an EMBA. The EMBA not only makes you appreciate that time management is a crucial life skill but it also moulds you into a sharper individual and motivates you to achieve your goals. Nothing is more challenging than waking up at 5am to get some background reading done to only have your toddler waddle over, 30 minutes later, to give you a hug and want to play with your laptop!

 

What made the Cass Executive MBA the right choice for you?

Like for many people currently contemplating the Cass Executive MBA there were mixed feelings at the beginning, however, I felt that going back to university, after such a long gap, though daunting would be an exciting & bold challenge. When I originally signed up for the EMBA I had just finished a role as Operations Director and had started new role as Chief Intelligence Officer in the Digital Media business of Dubai Duty Free. It was during my MBA interview that I received my first piece of sterling MBA advice. Having built up a professional network from 12 years of working to suddenly drop off the radar would not be a sensible move and hence I signed up for the executive programme. A decision I certainly don’t regret!

Are there any life lessons you have taken from the experience?

I was in the fortunate position of undertaking 6 electives after completing 12 compulsory core modules and it was a journey which took me across the world, from Dubai to China to London to Chile. The hunger to learn as much as possible brought me in contact with so many different people and ways of doing business, that the EMBA experience is something I recommend on a weekly basis to anyone wanting to achieve anything they have their mind set on. However gruelling it may seem today, taking the bold steps in life pays off handsomely in the future.

Do you still keep in contact with members of your class and what do you think is the value in maintaining those relationships?

I never look at my cohort as a network, they are more than friends, they are my extended family. Many of whom I meet with on a regular basis and am continually doing business with. During the launch of Name Your Rent many of my cohort attended and were my most ardent cheerleaders, a deeply emotionally charged feeling, which I will always cherish.

 

 

 What was the most rewarding aspect of the Cass Executive MBA for you?

Though my original goal had been to pivot my career into the Management Consultancy field given that I had worked in myriad of industries believing that the programme would enable to fill some of the gaps in my business knowledge, the Executive MBA ended up rewarding me in three significant ways:

Firstly; when you’re self-funded you may doubt your ability, however, after being awarded the Entrepreneurship scholarship, that thought was squashed instantly.

Secondly; being given the opportunity to adopt and implement what you have been taught during a class the very next day was an extremely motivating experience. The satisfaction of knowing that you were instantly benefiting from the programme gave me the drive to work harder and see the truly practical side of this education programme.  Learning before was about just passing the exam, whilst the EMBA really helped to shape me.

Thirdly; after all the hard work over the 2 years, attaining a distinction gave me the gusto to believe I can achieve anything if I set my mind to it.

What advice would you give to someone considering to do an Executive MBA at Cass Business School?

When we are at school it is all about our personal results.  When we decide to enter into further education as a mature student and embark on a qualification as challenging and practical the results are not the be all and end all, as the journey is as important if not more so then merely finishing it.

Here are my 3 tips:

Enjoy it – some children today believe that school is boring and they don’t learn anything. Definitely none of us would have reached the places we have if we hadn’t learnt anything.  You’ll meet some amazing people who you are always bouncing ideas off or are able to give you some insight you never thought you would get access to.  You will hear great stories and build a new family. Don’t think of the MBA programme as a networking exercise because then you’ll be bored and tired of the programme by the second weekend!

Share it – the most satisfying aspect of being part of the EMBA programme is your ability to share what you’ve observed and learnt from the Professors, immediately. My kids always say sharing is caring and it’s something I believe whole heartedly especially in respect of education or attained knowledge. Without sharing the knowledge, it is purely information; it is through the sharing that we grow and help others to do so too.

Live it – to really enjoy anything in life you need to have a passion for it and the EMBA is definitely something you must develop a passion for. Don’t read the text book because the Professors said you needed to, read snippets and see how you can empower yourself to better your performance. The EMBA is not just about improving your work life but all aspects of your life. Once you realise that, then you’ll be drawn back into reading the whole text as it will hold deeper meaning for you.

The only way to do it, is to do it

“Which problem do you solve?”

This was the first question posed to the Cass MBA group on the Leading Digital Transformations elective as we began a week in San Francisco and Paolo Alto at the Stanford Design School. Problem-solving was a recurring theme as we met tech giants, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and Cass alumni from the San Francisco area. If you could find a need, and were passionate about finding a solution, the ‘design thinking’ approach taught at Stanford was a fantastic way of achieving your goal. For someone with a pure business background, the most counter-intuitive part of this approach was that even in Silicon Valley, you didn’t need to be a software engineer to succeed – design thinking is a state of mind.

This realisation of being able to make a difference no matter where you came from was greatly helped by the flow of this elective, which allowed us to get under the skin of what innovation in Silicon Valley and San Francisco is all about. My classmates and I attended a pre-travel class in London, Leading Digital Transformation which covered the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of digital transformations. This gave us the foundations for what we were to see in California, where the all important ‘how’ was revealed through company visits and panel discussions.

We were extremely privileged to get access to such prestigious companies and to people who are leading digital transformations from the top of their fields. The business environment in Palo Alto and San Francisco was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, with people being extremely open, honest and direct about their projects and experiences, which maximised the learning experience.

As the week progressed we met with exceptionally successful companies that are leading digital transformations both within themselves and for their clients. The problems they’re solving range from doing a single thing well – such as Intel with microprocessors – to developing a platform and ecosystem of partners to address a problem more holistically – like SAP and its connected car programme – and offering the entire end-to-end value chain both for internal business units and clients, such as at GE Digital. It’s clear this latest digital revolution isn’t about a single technology but an infinite combination of technologies, and is the reason why the business knowledge you gain from the Cass MBA programme allows you understand how these component parts can be combined to innovate.

Cloud computing, telecommunications and the Internet of Things are the core enabling technologies, and they’re being combined with artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D printing and others to solve business problems. The ‘old’ way of doing things, by making something incrementally better, need not now apply as these technologies let business people rapidly experiment with new ways of improving products, processes and services by orders of magnitude.

We saw this in action with Autodesk’s design software and 3D printing and Quid’s neural network search engine – you no longer need a PhD or computer sciences degree to digitally create or run complex analytics, the technologies to innovate and experiment are available to all.

The Silicon Valley Way is About Much More Than Just Technology

Having personally chosen this elective to learn more about how digital technologies are changing the face of business transformation programmes, I feel that I got considerably more out of the experience than just learning about the latest technologies. Starting with the design thinking workshop at Stanford, it set the tone for the whole week. Having panel sessions with venture capitalists and entrepreneurs interspersed with the company visits also gave us the opportunity to really probe and better understand the stories behind the successes. The takeaway for me – and many of my peers – was that if you’re passionate about solving a problem, are willing to openly share your ideas, and be doggedly persistent in your pursuit of success, you will succeed. Which, as Founder and CEO of BootUP Ventures Mukul Agarwal very eloquently said, is a wonderful lesson for life, not just business.

There is no failure… unless you stop

Reflecting on our week in California, it was inspiring to see how people from many different backgrounds and walks of life are succeeding in this latest digital revolution, and that they all share one common trait: they never stopped. By using technology to address problems, quickly prototyping, testing, failing, learning and trying again, it personified the explorer ethos of the Cass MBA programme. When you have an end goal in sight, explore your ecosystem, recombine technologies and test a solution quickly. When you treat problems as learning experiences, you can never fail.

A few volcanic takeaways to the business world

It was an absolute joy to climb Snæfellsjökull, a 700,000-year-old stratovolcano with a glacier covering its summit. The mountain is one of the most famous sites of Iceland, primarily due to the novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864) by Jules Verne, in which the protagonists find the entrance to a passage leading to the centre of the earth on Snæfellsjökull.

I would like to share a few points with you that I learned in this leadership expedition, organised by the Full-Time MBA Programme team.

1.    Leadership and followership go hand in hand. On the glacier, we were tied together and had to move in a row. I trusted the teammate in front of me (leader) and followed his footsteps. However, I watched carefully and chose a slightly different path just in case he did not take the right step. I also led and warned the one behind me (follower) about the potential dangers.

2.    The rope that connected us together was sometimes pulled by the leader and sometimes by the follower. There is a virtual rope that connects the team members in the business environment as well. Therefore, either the whole team succeed or fail. This highlights the role of each individual’s teamwork. We reached the summit as the first team and our secret was that we neither went too fast nor too slowly but at a steady pace.

3.    The last few hundred meters to the summit were the most challenging ones. It resembled the end of a business project that looked so close, though in reality, needed patience, hard work and mental toughness.

4.    Finally, in each climb we forget the pain but the joy of reaching the summit stays in our minds. This is the true feeling of success!

Video of us at the top:

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