Honorary Dean of the Suleman Dawood School of Business, Dr. Alnoor Bhimani, talks about his leadership philosophy, SDSB, the COVID-19 pandemic, his research, and the music he likes!
Q. You’ve held several leadership positions in your teaching career. What drew you to take on the role of the Dean of SDSB?
LUMS is a place where good ethics and good education are interwoven. This is all that is needed to create a better world. The country’s large population, most of whom are young, bright-minded and respectful of others is to be admired. LUMS’s challenge is to further shape that population. At SDSB, opportunities present themselves daily to witness integrity, intelligence and confidence, and to observe how people come together to forge a better tomorrow. Such places in the world are rare. LUMS must be among the most prized of spaces where people’s lives improved so they can in turn, impact the environment, the economy and the wider society. Ultimately, this is the business of business education. I think I am pretty lucky to be part of this grand project.
Q. How would you describe your leadership philosophy? And has it changed in light of the current pandemic crisis?
I lead by learning from others. In fact, I don’t think I’ll ever graduate. I have a fervent sense that we can continuously take steps toward betterment and that the collective always achieves much more than the individual. Getting there means listening to others, acting with humility and empathy, giving autonomy to and trusting people, and nurturing in others a sense that the greatest call in life is to open paths for others to tread on so they can flourish. I try to do all of that with a dose of good humour!
Q. What makes you optimistic about the post-COVID-19 future of higher education?
A sentiment voiced by all Pakistanis is that every difficulty also brings relief and opportunity. Covid-19 has certainly overwhelmed the planet. What lay unimagined in February 2020 came about a few weeks later. The world has had to cope as have LUMS students, staff, and faculty. And whilst difficulties have been endured, the scale at which solutions were developed and actioned by all has been astonishing. Those who have never had to learn or teach online took up the challenge and succeeded. The LUMS community did not just cope—it led. In the longer term, we’ll build on the lessons that Covid-19 has brought us. We now know that technology allows us to re-configure learning parameters, and we can harness this. Deep blended learning approaches, for instance, have long been in the planning at SDSB. Now we can accelerate this. Covid-19 has laid bare concerns tied to technology access, governance, and regulatory structures, healthcare provision, security issues, commercial advances, supply chain exchanges, and many others. It has pointed us towards novel educational programmes that we must develop to address emerging problems and situations. The pandemic has also made evident the need to make accessible a LUMS education to a larger population of students. We now know we should develop systems of online learning to bring this about. Investments into educational advances can, going forward, be built faster because Covid-19 has taught us we can. The crisis in fact has demonstrated that we have an extreme capacity to adapt to change and that our ability to move forward is constrained only by the thought that we cannot.
Q. What are your thoughts on balancing innovation with the traditional pedagogy of the School?
The business school was founded over thirty years ago on the premise that case-based teaching exposes students to issues and challenges relating to business contexts. The idea is that case studies bring into the classroom realities faced by managers and enterprise decision-makers. SDSB has invested extensively in this model, especially within its MBA and EMBA programmes. The school presides over one of the largest base of business cases in Asia and oversees the key journal publishing Asian business cases. Case-based teaching has over the years at SDSB been complemented with experiential learning, start-up projects, internships as well as more traditional lecture and seminar teaching formats. The launch of our new Master of Science programmes turns a further leaf in our evolving portfolio of pedagogical approaches to business education. We are investing in blended learning platforms and relying further on digital technologies to expose students to the new realities of the business world.
Q. We have heard you talk a lot about business and society contemporaneously. Can you tell me about that?
Much of business education finds its roots in Western and largely economistic conceptions of what a commercial enterprise should be about. We imported this model, and it is increasingly clear that it is a flawed model for the region we seek to serve. There exists a belief in South Asia that professional thinking should not isolate itself from personal and social outlook and responsibilities. Economic growth should be nurtured with an intent to also positively impact the environment, people, culture, and wider society. For a long time, Western business education lost sight of the necessity to think of business in such wider terms. Elephants can take time to move. The world’s best business schools have now started to make the turn. SDSB has always been light on its feet and is populated by faculty and students who exhibit a wider breadth of understanding as to the role of business. Our goal remains to develop people and ideas to better serve business and society.
Q. Your most recent book Management and Cost Accounting was published this year. As dean how do you make time for writing and publishing?
I like reading and writing! Sometimes this gets pushed aside as I become busy, but then I have the urge to write, and I do that for a few days non-stop. At present, I am working on a book on finance in the new digital era, and another on entrepreneurship in Asia, and a third on why academia today has to change. I collect a lot of ideas from speaking with people, which I make notes about until my next writing spurt.
Q. How do you relax and recharge?
Pakistan offers opportunities for live music and visiting places of natural beauty and cultural heritage. I listen to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Atif Aslam, Mehdi Hassan as well as Sean Paul and Elvis. Late at night – you’ll catch me eating gulab jamuns and watching Netflix!
Q. What person or experience has had the biggest impact on your life?
One thinker who has greatly impacted me is Michel Foucault. His works made me see how things we believe in are relativistic. Truth always has a biography. Delving into it can tell us why we experience things the way we do and what drives our sentiments. Opening ourselves to this makes us want to observe, listen, and understand that we need to look at life in different ways rather than through simply one lens.
Q. What advice do you have for students (current and future) grappling with uncertainty about their future?
For 80% of the time, do all the responsible things you have been taught and for the other 20%—take risks, experiment, be daring, surprise yourself, walk on the wild side. Because it is those things that destabilise a little, which bring a better balance and more confidence.
Q. And finally, what’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
When you encounter a difficult moment—don’t worry, your life has prepared you for that moment. Hold your head up high, and you’ll ride through it fine.