Asia School of Business

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The Job is Easy ~ The People are Not!

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“The job is easy, the people are not!”,  is a title of a class taught by Prof Loredana Padurean, the Associate Dean at the Asia School of Business (ASB) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She stresses that for most businesses, the actual job is not as difficult as managing the people doing the job. Loredana and her mentor Prof Charles Fine, now find themselves in Malaysia heading the “Start-Up” Business school which is founded by the Central Bank of Malaysia and established in collaboration with the MIT Sloan School of Management in 2015.

It is a first for Sloan; never has it co-established a school and given so much of its DNA, resources and insights to another entity. The Dean of ASB, Prof Charles Fine, he himself a highly regarded and tenured faculty member of MIT Sloan has spent the last 5 years in KL, transferring not only his ample knowledge and wisdom, but also the culture and DNA of MIT Sloan to ASB.

When MIT Sloan accepted Bank Negara’s proposal to collaborate, Charlie (as he is fondly known) was the MIT faculty member tasked to build this extraordinary and unconventional business school in Kuala Lumpur. Fast forward 5 years and ASB will see its’ third batch of Full time MBA students graduate in April 2020, at their sprawling new 350,000 sqft campus on top of Bukit Perdana in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. The Full time MBA is a 22 month, fully residential program that transforms mid-management executives and grooms them to become the corporate leaders of today and tomorrow, with a strong focus on Asia-centric culture and values.

Develop top talent into business-ready C-levels

Charlie however felt that while ASB was churning out quality MBA graduates who were quickly gobbled up by top companies throughout Asia, he felt that ASB should also offer a solution to companies who wanted to develop their internal talent without losing them to a 20-month full-time program.  Taking these corporate requests into account, Charlie was on a mission to develop an MBA program that could be done while working and yet, without compromising the ASB/MIT rigor and ‘hands-on’ approach to learning. After more than 1 year on the drawing board, ASB introduced the MBA for Working Professionals in 2019 and attracted a cohort of 18 students for its inaugural year.

The Working Professionals (WP) program, takes professionals out of their jobs for roughly 25% of their work time over a 22-month period. Students come into “Residency Weeks”, a 9 (nine) day stretch from Saturday to Sunday once every six weeks. On this 9 day stretch, students are placed in the ASB residence and peppered with classes taught by the MIT & ASB faculty. What is unique about this course is that students are not only encouraged but required to apply their learnings immediately into their working environments, supported by the faculty members and “business coaches”, who are industry practitioners and/or ex-consultants. ASB terms this as “Action Learning”.

While the WP program is definitely tougher and not for the faint-hearted, as balancing work, study and personal commitments is not easy, Charlie feels that those who come out of it have definitely gone through an intense stretch experience and the outcomes are truly transformative and tangible, with many evolving as principled leaders and next-generation management experts. Any company which is looking to promote and grow talent from within should look at what the WP program has to offer. The value proposition is quite unique, the sponsoring company gets to upskill and groom their highest potential talents, while keeping them productive whilst they study and then potentially locking down said talent for a few further years post-graduation.

On top of that, the candidates immediately contribute back to the company as soon as the MBA starts, due to ASB’s high emphasis on ‘Action Learning’ or taking what you learn and putting it straight into “Action!”. On the candidate’s side, they receive a globally recognised MBA which not only looks at technical skills but also professional development so that they not only know the job but can manage the people as well. Upon completion of the MBA, they would have been promoted to more prominent roles in their respective organisations and their market value and remuneration dramatically increase. Win-Win!

In delivering the WP program, ASB has developed a niche in transforming technical specialists into leaders in management. 70% of the inaugural cohort are technical specialists who have been sponsored by their companies to learn business, leadership, and management. This comes from the realisation that for technical-based businesses, hiring management talent unfamiliar to the technical operations of the company is not feasible. The only way to move forward is for the technical experts to rise into management roles where ultimately as Prof Loredana put it… “they know the job, and after completing the MBA, they know how to manage the people doing the job”.

The status of being a Start-Up Business School allows ASB to break away from traditional MBA methodology and delivery. Using the MIT curriculum and DNA as a guiding principle, ASB has in the past few years received accolades as being the most innovative MBA in the world (poets and quants) and recently was awarded the 2019 MBA Innovator Award winner for Early Stage Innovation category by the MBA roundtable, beating top global business schools in the process. So there you have it, a global business school right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur that not too many are aware of.

When asked why ASB has not been seen much on the local radar, Prof Fine says that the first few years since inception has been all about focusing on delivering a new, extraordinary and unconventional MBA of the highest standards. Now we have somewhat achieved this, Charlie says that ASB will be more prominent in the local and regional headlines as it ups it’s game and contributes more to the business fraternity in Malaysia, ASEAN and larger Asia.