At a time when businesses require powerful ideas, bold leadership and innovative solutions, agile and industry-ready talents are more in demand than ever. Business schools, which bridge academia with industries, are set to play a bigger role as partners to the corporate sector by nurturing collaborations in the areas of management and human resources. With a vision to become a global knowledge and learning centre, the Asia School of Business (ASB) aims to develop transformative leaders for the Asian market, and by doing so, help organisations thrive in the next global growth hub.
ASB was formed as part of an ambitious desire to develop the highest quality talents in Asia, for the region. Unlike other start-up schools, ASB has the unique advantage of having Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM – the Central Bank of Malaysia) and the world-renowned MIT Sloan School of Management (MIT Sloan) as its founders. By adapting an American b-school model into the Asian context, this ground-breaking collaboration set out to reshape the Asian business education landscape.
In the first of a 3-part series on ASB, International Business Review explores how a symbiotic relationship between business and business schools can benefit the business landscape of Malaysia and the region, and the role ASB is set to play in that ecosystem.
The History: Two Powerful Forces
In April 2015, BNM and MIT Sloan announced a collaboration to establish a world-class business school in Southeast Asia. The idea was first mooted by then BNM Governor Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz who highlighted the need for highly skilled and adept talent to strengthen economic foundations in Malaysia and the region.
Business schools have long been an important component of the business ecosystem in other countries. For Tan Sri Zeti, it was telling that every world-class city has a world-class business school – MIT Sloan in Boston and NYU Stern in New York, for instance. Therefore, the formation of ASB would contribute to the aspiration of making Kuala Lumpur a global city.
Tan Sri Zeti’s vision, as she shared during the announcement of the collaboration, was for ASB “to advance the frontiers of business innovation and entrepreneurship in Asia and to develop future leaders”. And to make this happen, BNM required a strategic partner with a tried and tested approach to business education.
Based in Massachusetts, MIT Sloan is listed as one of the top business schools in the world, known for its expertise and leadership in Action Learning that applies theoretical concepts to real-life settings. This action-driven curriculum makes MIT Sloan an ideal partner in the endeavour to create a truly world-class management school that can meet market needs.
Therefore, despite being one of the newest business schools in the scene, ASB has a clear competitive advantage as it is able to leverage on the traditions and rigour of MIT Sloan’s curriculum, combined with localised expertise in the business, politics, culture and economy of the Asian region.
ASB welcomed its first batch of MBA students in 2016. Since then the School has garnered several achievements, such as being recognised by the leading business education publication, Poets & Quants, as having the most innovative MBA degree programme and ranked as the top economic research institution in Malaysia by the largest bibliographic database for economics, IDEAS.
Fast forward to 2021, the School has relocated to its new 65,000 square metre, state-of-the-art campus situated at Bukit Perdana, Kuala Lumpur.
The Premier Business School in Malaysia
There are over 13,000 business schools in the world, and most top global business schools offer both degree education and executive education (Exec Ed). Business schools today face immense competition not only from their counterparts but even from training providers.
Data collected by Statista revealed that the market size for global workplace training is
worth US$370 million in 2020. Meanwhile, according to research conducted by Unicon, the global Exec Ed market is worth close to US$2 billion in 2019, having grown by 20 percent over the last five years.
So, the question is, what sets ASB apart in a highly saturated market?
In the global b-school landscape, ASB has the leverage of the MIT Sloan curriculum, DNA and the frameworks that are proprietary to them. Whereas locally, ASB offers something unique and different in the Malaysian landscape – an action-driven curriculum offered by a bona fide business school.
“We have a diverse and international faculty. We teach MBA and executive education that continuously evolves,” Associate Dean and Head of Executive Education at ASB, Dr Lawrence Abeln highlights. “Compared to a training provider, we as a school are more of a full service provider of education – because of our innovative curriculum and Action Learning, alongside the research that we conduct,” he adds.
A Comprehensive Curriculum
ASB offers a wide range of programmes for working professionals, executives and even senior management. Their degreed programmes consist of MBA and MBA for Working Professionals (MBA-WP). These are modelled on MIT Sloan’s rigorous curriculum and taught by both ASB’s and MIT Sloan’s faculty.
This gives students the best of two worlds, as ASB’s faculty are based in Asia with extensive research experience in the region while the experience and expertise of MIT Sloan’s faculty are among the best in the world.
The degreed programmes are inclusive of a 4-week stint at the MIT Sloan campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, thus providing students with an opportunity to take some of the most sought-after courses there. In addition, true to the MIT Sloan DNA, ASB has integrated a significant degree of Action Learning into its curriculum, which involves immersion with ASB’s list of corporate partners such as Samsung, Volvo, CitiBank, AirAsia, Esquel and Boeing.
ASB and MIT Sloan has also just launched in June 2020, the Master of Central Banking Programme (MCB), designed to enrich and refine the capabilities of central banking leaders, especially in navigating the evolving financial systems landscape.
Meanwhile, the non-degreed programmes consist of open-enrolment and customised programmes as part of its Exec Ed offerings. Unlike MBAs, these are short-term courses that do not result in a degree but are designed to enhance the professional development of executives and managers.
ASB also offers mandatory corporate governance training for directors of banks and insurance companies, as well as C-suites in listed and non-listed companies in Malaysia.
The Exec Ed arm at ASB draws on the legacy of Iclif (the International Centre for Leadership and Governance) which was established by BNM in 2005 to provide leadership and governance training to financial institutions. In 2020, Iclif merged with ASB to extend its set of offerings in Exec Ed.
Over the last four years, ASB and ICLIF delivered more than 100 open and custom programmes to over 50 organisations and 10,000 participants and is continually looking for ways to help more companies in the region to develop their skills and talent pool.
Democratising Business Education
While some business schools may be selective in their enrolment, limiting it to high-level executives and large corporations, that is not the case for ASB.
Dr Lawrence highlighted that there is a strong desire among companies in the ASEAN region to drive growth. ASEAN is one of the most dynamic markets and a fast-growing region. With over 600 million population and a combined GDP of US$3 trillion in 2018, it is the fifth-largest economy in the world, according to ASEANstats.
Business schools play a major role in elevating the management capacity and talent pool of economies. He argues that “The fundamental need of HR to drive organisational performance through talent is the same everywhere. Companies look to find quick learners, those who can adapt and bring value to organisations and are eager to learn new skills and apply them.”
A major component of ASB’s value proposition is its mission to nurture transformative leaders that can meet the demands and the exponential growth of the emerging world. Therefore, identifying the needs of HR managers and companies in these markets is essential to ASB.
98 percent of companies in Malaysia consist of SMEs. There are also a significant number of family-owned businesses in the region, and ASB wishes to cater to these companies as well. For instance, its open-enrolment executive programmes, which are conducted over one to five days, are priced reasonably.
Dr Lawrence explains this is part of ASB’s aim to democratise business education and make ASB’s courses and academic content more accessible to a wider audience, inclusive of entry-level managers to senior executives, as well as organisations of any size.
“This is a fundamental responsibility of business schools – to ensure that their expertise and content is shared with a larger scale of the market to have more impact on society, both the private sector and the public sector,” he explains.
A Partner to the Business Community
The world’s first business school, the Wharton School in Pennsylvania was established in 1881, while the Master in Business Administration (MBA) was first introduced by the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration in 1908.
It is no surprise that the US has been a leader in management education. In 2012, a study by U.S. News & World Report revealed that 40 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs have an MBA degree while others have an undergraduate degree in business.
“In the US, business education has had a strong impact on the leadership of companies, Board governance and management approaches,” Dr Lawrence explains. “Business schools help companies consider new ways to think, manage and structure their organisation, reach customers, understand markets and grow their business,” he highlights.
Aside from being important vehicles for talent recruitment and development, business schools often work collaboratively with various corporations to sponsor projects and research, which can result in the successful commercialisation of products or even the creation of new innovative companies.
Although business schools are not as entrenched in the business culture in Malaysia as it is in the US, this is the kind of synergy that ASB hopes to build with the corporations and institutions in Asia. ASB seeks to be a partner with the business community to achieve their leadership and talent development goals.
Collaborations between academia and business can play a major role in advancing economies. For example, the alumni of MIT Sloan have founded numerous companies and start-ups like Gartner, PillPack and Beepi. There are over 30,200 MIT alumni-founded companies in the market today.
Therefore, greater collaboration with companies in the region is integral to ASB’s mission. “We want ASB as a business school to be relevant to the market, listen to the needs of organisations for developing leaders and to be a partner with the business community,” Dr Lawrence concludes.
Progressive Learning in the New Normal
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on the education sector. Be it in primary schools or higher learning, institutions find themselves having to adapt and internalise new approaches to delivery which brings with it a new set of challenges.
“ASB has had to move very fast by changing our approach from teaching in-person to fully online. The true challenge was to capture the experience, intensity and energy that one usually gets from in-person learning,” Sayf Ismail, Associate Director of Corporate Development at ASB highlights.
An example would be the ‘Emerging Leaders’ course held online by ASB in May. Sayf reveals that ASB invested a lot of time and effort to translate the offline experience into a virtual setting. Thanks to this, the event was successful with a lot of positive feedback.
ASB and its faculty are also committed to delivering live teachings to ensure an interactive and proactive learning environment for students and corporate clients.
Dr Lawrence believes that the pandemic and its consequences will forever transform the way people work and live. “So, things like work from home, online shopping and virtual learning will be trends that will remain post-COVID,” he emphasises.
Well aware that this might be the way forward, ASB has pivoted to develop new strategies and approaches to teaching that still give the maximum experience and quality deliverables to learners.
Asia’s Top Leadership Summit Returns
ASB Iclif Education Centre is set to host the Leadership for Enterprise Sustainability in Asia (LESA) virtually on 15 – 18 November 2021. Held annually, LESA is a conference that gathers speakers and participants from various sectors across the globe to share insights on leadership strategies.
Previously, LESA managed to attract prominent figures the likes of Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak, 2019 Nobel Prize Laureate Esther Duflo, Indonesian Politician and Philanthropist Gita Wirjawan and Squash World Champion Datuk Nicol David.
Last year, the conference attracted over 8,500 delegates, making it the first virtual summit to achieve this feat. And ASB is looking to draw upon the success this year as well.
The theme of LESA 2021 is Enterprise Sustainability.
Sustainability has become an important aspect of business and as such, business education. Companies are constantly looking for ways to ensure long-term value for their shareholders and to meet the expectations of supply chain partners, regulators and customers, especially in the areas of environmental, social and governance.
“We hope the conference will provide insights into how best to navigate through these challenges to create more sustainable enterprises, and respond to the demands from key stakeholders,” Dr Lawrence explains.
With a strong and international faculty, diverse student body, its unique strengths in Action Learning and research, ASB is committed to producing leaders and game-changers capable of tackling opportunities and challenges in emerging markets. And as a top business school in the region, ASB is ready to help public and private sector organisations thrive in a new post-pandemic environment, navigate uncertainties and explore innovative ideas for a new world.