Author: Oliver Yogananthan

UAE Study Tour : A Gleaming Exposition of the Emirati Model

“An easy life does not make men, nor does it build nations. Challenges make men, and it is these men who build nations.” Such words, stated by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, could not more succinctly encapsulate the ambitious spirit of Dubai. As a city, in the Sheikh’s words that was “founded on trade, not oil,” Dubai has joined the ranks of other premium global destinations like Singapore in becoming highly competitive and deeply globalised – boasting high living standards within a relatively short time span. Such was certainly witnessed by myself and my fellow MBA classmates who embarked on the Cass UAE Study Tour in February 2019. The impressive Emirati Capitalism was plain for all of us to witness and appreciate over the duration of this tour. Whether it was admiring the scope and the grandeur of the Burj Khalifa, or enjoying the sumptuous buffets at various hotels – it was clear that this city had burgeoned into an economic behemoth in the Middle East. This growth came to be through its citizens leveraging the myriad of strengths and expertise of a large and ever-growing expatriate population. The boom of highly-skilled expatriate communities is predicated on a state-driven investment strategy that is focused on trade and export in sectors such as logistics, healthcare and financial services ultimately enabled by ambitious leaders.

Oliver and his MBA colleagues in Dubai

True to the Cass MBA’s motto of “Leading the Adventure,” the tour was nothing short of an amazing experience for all those involved. Over the span of five intense days, the tour treated my colleagues and me to countless interesting highlights – namely site visits to organisations which facilitate and sustain the success of the “Emirati Model” such as Expo 2020, Nakheel and Emirates Aviation College.

MBA students visit the Emirates Aviation College

Expo 2020 was one of the key facets of Dubai’s competitive growth that the cohort witnessed in the context of the tour. The theme of the Expo was “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future,” and focused on three distinct factors: opportunity, mobility and sustainability. This in turn will enable multilateral collaboration between Dubai and the world. This collaboration spans a gamut of areas of expertise, from logistics to communications to 5G networks. The building plans of the Expo were breath-taking – both in the layout and in the proposed architecture of various structures. The building plans symbolized an homage to the heritage of the UAE and Dubai as well as an image of a bright future for Dubai.

MBA students visit Expo 2020

The next facet of the tour that struck me as interesting was the site visit to Nakheel, which is single-handedly responsible for extending the coastline of Dubai from 70 km to more than 300 km. Nakheel is the state-owned development company which famously constructed the Palm Jumeirah. My colleagues and I witnessed how the company is making headway with other large-scale real estate projects such as Deira Islands, the Palm Jebel Ali and the famous “The World” island development. More impressive still was the emphasis Nakheel placed on its developments being sustainable and eco-friendly – especially in the way the foundation of the Palm Jumeirah was turned into an artificial coral reef.

The final part of the tour that stood out was how it showcased the significant role tourism plays in Dubai’s economic development. This was especially evident during the visit to Emirates Aviation College – Crew Training. Emirates places great emphasis on developing a cabin crew that is dynamic, multilingual and always prepared to go above and beyond to offer excellent in-flight customer service. Through rigorous training, the cabin crew plays a pivotal role at Emirates in attracting, retaining and subsequently growing its network of customers.  The lengths through which the airline made customer loyalty a cornerstone of its brand image gave me a clearer understanding of how Dubai will continually be made into a viable destination for tourism. Through this attention to detail, Dubai is able to consistently transcend cultural boundaries in order to optimally cater to a customer’s need.

Students take on the desert with a safari tour

Besides the company visits, the cultural activities further enriched the experience of the tour. Specifically, the UAE Tour culminated in a desert safari which entailed the conquest of desert dunes in 4X4 SUVs, along with an evening of shisha and belly dancing. Although Dubai has grown exponentially, the city’s and its people’s deep connection to the desert and traditional Arabian values cannot be understated. The enriching and exhilarating nature of the tour could not have been made possible without the support of the students and the staff members of Cass in Dubai.

 

Oliver Yogananthan, Full-time MBA (2019)
Contributions from Lynal Low, Full-time MBA (2019)
Zafar Hassan, Full-time MBA (2019)

From Wardroom to Boardroom – Lessons in Leadership

“CEOs exist to LEAD, not MANAGE Companies”. Such words couldn’t have rung truer during the recent Cass Business School MBA strategy lecture with guest speaker Mr. Federico Minoli.

The former Chief Executive Officer of the esteemed motorcycle brand, Ducati Motor Holding S.p.A – Mr. Minoli played a decisive role in steering the company from the brink of bankruptcy to setting the foundation for Ducati to enjoy sustained, superior growth in 2001.

Key facets of Mr. Minoli’s management doctrine include, but are not limited to, leading with passion, a strong focus on research and innovation, along with an indomitable spirit to continually challenge existing paradigms. However, the key message of this briefing was that an organisation’s external growth is predicated on the fostering of a strong, unique company culture first.

Introducing General Holland Smith 

True to the overall Cass  ‘Leading the Adventure’ slogan, Mr. Minoli’s message and his leadership style recalls me to the four year contract I recently served as an officer in the US Navy.

As a veteran making the transition from the ‘Wardroom to the Boardroom’, Mr. Minoli’s experience and his message to the Cass MBA class shares various aspects with the leadership lessons of General Holland Smith.

General Smith

General Smith is revered in the Marine Corps as the ‘Father of Amphibious Warfare’ – bringing the US Marine Corps its own unique identity in the face of change and uncertainty during the Second World War.

General Smith grew as a passionate and committed leader within the ranks of the Marine Corps, during a time when the US Armed Forces were dominated by the ‘flag ranks’ of both the US Navy and the US Army.

These in turn viewed the US Marine Corps as a secondary, subordinate branch. General Smith challenged this subordination of the Marine Corps through not only his relentless advocacy for marines to lead amphibious assaults on foreign shores – but also through his strong demeanour, wherein he fostered a culture of intensity, motivation and camaraderie among the marines he led.

Whilst this aggressive advocacy and ‘unconventional’ strategy ruffled many feathers within the senior ranks of the navy and the army, these traits won General Smith the blessing of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz to create an ‘Amphibious Corps’.

This in turn helped the Marine Corps grow into a military branch of its own – with its own distinct leadership and organisational culture that in turn is centred on an overall strategy of taking any fight to the shores of enemy nations.

Although marines in modern America come from all backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures – they distinguish themselves every day through a commitment to the mission of the Marine Corps and a fierce loyalty to their brothers and sisters in arms.

Ducati’s ‘turnaround’ artist 

Similarly, Mr. Federico Minoli turned Ducati from a brand on the brink of bankruptcy within the motorcycle industry into a key player, with approximately ten per cent of the global market share at the time he left Ducati.

Whilst Ducati as a company was never lacking a strong product, the company in the past did not properly develop the brand image. Mr. Minoli decisively changed this for the better through the introduction of his ‘tribal’ company culture. Mr. Minoli envisioned the product of his company – the Ducati motorbikes as a ‘totem’, which would unite all the company’s customers through their loyalty to the Ducati motorbike.

Similar to the culture fostered in the US Marine Corps through General Smith – members of the Ducati ‘tribe’ come from all cultures and backgrounds, but are united in their passion for Ducati’s unique motorcycles.

These ‘tribal’ changes extended to the management ranks of Ducati – wherein motivation and a passionate commitment to the Ducati brand became traits that were screened in the hiring of potential managers.

This change in the management culture not only created a fierce loyalty to the company, but also empowered managers to serve as catalysts for positive change within Ducati. This in turn empowered employees of all ranks to work to become a part of something bigger than themselves.

Mr. Minoli’s strategy enabled Ducati to maintain its brand identity after it was acquired by Volkswagen Group in 2012. Despite being considered as an ‘underperforming’ brand by the company and talks of sale following Volkswagen’s diesel emissions scandal in 2015, Ducati has successfully proved its resilience to forced external changes through the strength of the ‘Tribal’ culture developed by Mr. Minoli.

This overall message of building a strong internal culture in order to grow an organisation is not a novel, nor a groundbreaking concept in the context of an MBA education.

However, as MBA students at Cass Business School, the examples and the legacies of both these outstanding leaders will continue to inspire my classmates and me to be catalysts of positive change as we enter the business world as leaders.

Written By: Oliver Yogananthan
Edited By: Bilal Ahmad, Nathan Griffiths, Cai Ling Soh and Tom Wooltorton.

Submitted on behalf of the Cass Full-time MBA class of 2018

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