by Javed Ansari
After a long career in finance, how have you adapted to an academic institution like the IBA?

Dr. Ishrat Husain: My jobs at the State Bank and with the Government of Pakistan were ones which I had to carry out b

ut I am passionate about academia and education. As Dean and Director of the IBA, I am not here to do a job but to carry out a mission. We all talk about education but we don’t do anything about it. I believe in the improvement of higher education and I thought I should make my humble contribution to it. It is with this motivation that I decided to come here. It’s a continuous learning process for me; it is also a source of great satisfaction and joy to see the growth of bright young men and women of this country, to interact with them, to instill some values in them and to help them become better citizens and good professionals. 

 

Was there a problem in the transition?

IH: No, not at all. Once you are in a leadership position, whether it is an academic institution, a private sector institution or a non-profit organisation, the principles of management are the same.  You practice those very principles everywhere. Every institution or organisation has its own peculiarities but that is only ten percent or twenty percent. Otherwise it is about how to attract and retain and motivate human resources, how to bring in new technology, how to specify your objectives, mission and vision and build ownership for it with everybody in the community - and then how to execute the strategy in order to achieve your mission. These are common elements of any organisation. I did this at the State Bank of Pakistan and I have followed the same process of strategy formulation and execution at the IBA.

Describe the challenge you were up against at the IBA?

IH: IBA was one of the best institutions in Pakistan and when the Board and the Governor approached me and offered me this job, I said I am puzzled as to why this institution has been left behind though it was established in 1955, well before the Indian institutes of management, the Hong Kong University and the National University of Singapore? All other institutions which came later have now become world-class institutions. I told them I was not interested in the status quo – to just carry on the business - but if you are asking me, then you have to accept the transformation which I would like to bring about in the IBA to make it a world-class institution. And you have to give me a completely free hand in order to do it. So it was when they agreed that I came here.

The physical infrastructure of the IBA was developed in 1965 but not a single brick was added after that. There were only 200 students in 1965 when I took over the number was 1800. There were no facilities for faculty members to sit - they just had one lounge. How can you carry out research, make case studies and do your preparation for class in these conditions? We had only 19 PhD faculty members then and no community outreach. We were working in this community but we were not making any contribution to it. So my strategic plan was to address all these challenges. I focused on enhancement of quality and development of faculty. As we speak today, we have 50 PhDs on our faculty, 20 are abroad doing PhDs and they will come back. By 2020, we should have almost 90 percent of our faculty as PhD, which is a world-class benchmark. 

 

What about the IBA’s physical infrastructure?

IH: Yes, we have re-modeled, modernised and renovated ten existing buildings and facilities here and brought them up to the benchmark of other international institutions. We have also added ten new buildings in terms of a sports complex, hostels, a multi-storeyed building and auditorium – all the paraphernalia which makes a vibrant and world class educational institution. There was no community outreach. Now we bring in boys and girls from the backward districts of Pakistan, from the poor families who have never seen Karachi. We bring them at our expense, they live in our boys and girls hostels and we give them coaching, tutorials, training and prepare them for our entrance exams. And, if they are selected and are admitted, we take care of all their expenses for the next four years. We enable them to complete their education. We even give them pocket money so that they don’t have a feeling that their friends coming from other strata are spending money on tuck-shop and on cold drinks and tea while they don’t have the money. 

 

Does this give you satisfaction?

IH: Yes, this is the most satisfying part of my job, that I see a chaprasi’s daughter or a police constable’s son or a machera’s son getting higher education at the IBA. Their lives and their families’ lives are changed. Not only that – in their own little communities, the other families say “Paroh gey tau dekho iss ki tarah tum kitney barey aadmi ban jao gey.” So the demonstration effect of this national talent hunt programme is great. I have seen them getting jobs and moving up the social ladder. At Karachi Electric, there was this guy who came from the NTHP and now he is in the international market. From Karachi Electric he rose to a high position.

Then we have the Centre for Entrepreneurial Development. Nine-to-5 jobs are becoming very scarce and we have an explosion as far as our youth population is concerned. So we have to think in innovative ways. Instead of just preparing them for multinational companies like Nestle, Standard Chartered Bank and Unilever, we said why  don’t we prepare them to start their own businesses and give them all the tools and the training. We now offer a BBA in Entrepreneurship. We also bring in existing women entrepreneurs and youth entrepreneurs on weekends – Saturdays – and give them education in marketing, finance and accounting – things which will improve their performance. This is a very important initiative which we have taken and we are very happy about it. 

 

What other areas have you tapped?

IH: We have started studies in Family Business. As you know, in Pakistan the majority of businesses are run by the family but after the second generation, when the children grow up, you find that the family splits up and the business is destroyed - there is no continuity. In India there is the S.P. Jain Institute which has been carrying out a Family Business Program for the last 15 years. We have seen their remarkable results so we partnered with S.P. Jain Institute and introduced Family Business courses and are now even going for a post-graduate diploma. These people come over the weekend while they carry on their businesses during the week. They apply their learnings to their own businesses to improve efficiency and productivity. This is our community outreach.

 

Of course, teaching how to run family businesses is a new concept …

IH: Yes, it’s an absolutely new concept – in Pakistan we have never taught this and we are now concentrating on teaching how to manage such businesses.

 

What is your future vision for the IBA?

IH: My vision is that the IBA should be one of the top global business schools and we are working towards that. We now have accreditation from the South Asia Quality Assurance System but that is only for South Asia. It comprises six Indian business schools and two Pakistan schools; We are very happy that the IBA is one of them. Now we are working for the American Accreditation, which is the highest accreditation any business school can achieve. We have been accepted and our application is now being reviewed. Their team will come and look at our institution and, hopefully, in the next few years, we will be granted the accreditation. The problem is that the peer review team cannot come to Pakistan because of the law and order situation. The Peshawar incident, for example, is so unfortunate – we thought things were stabilising – but this incident has again created a very negative image of the country. That is our major obstacle. Even Pakistanis studying abroad don’t want to come to Karachi – they go to Lahore or Islamabad. Our biggest challenge right now is to attract qualified faculty members to come to Karachi. This vision can only be translated into reality if the image of Pakistan and the image of Karachi improve. Then we can bring in international faculty and students, have accreditation bodies visiting us and we can have more exchange programmes. That is the major constraint in becoming a global business school. 

 

Do have faculty accommodation at the main campus?

IH: Yes, but that is temporary accommodation. We can accommodate them for a few months but we don’t have permanent faculty accommodation.

 

Are you looking at the possibility?

IH: The problem is that people who are allotted bungalows or quarters don’t vacate them even after they retire. Going through the legal process and the courts is a very painful affair. We have bungalows which are in possession of faculty members who retired in 2005 and we can’t get them vacated. We have court verdicts in our favour but we can’t evict these people. This is our dilemma. 

 

You also have a city campus – where does that fit in?

IH: We have a campus in the city, which means that we can have some classes on that campus and some on the main campus, depending on what subjects we are offering. There are some teachers who are only part-time and they prefer, especially in the evenings and on weekends, to come to the city campus. But the majority of the classes are held at the main campus because we have all the facilities here. Once the multi-storeyed building at the city campus is completed, we will have more accommodation there. We are trying to have all the community outreach programs - like Executive Education, Family Business, Journalists’ Training and Customized Training for the Corporate Sector – at the city campus because it is closer to them and saves their time. But most of the academic programmes will be held at the main campus. Our faculty of Computer Science is at the city campus but we will be dividing their time between both the campuses. 

 

What about the Executive Programme?

IH: The Executive training Programme is for people who are already working in industry or the corporate sector – they come for two or three days of the week – and they get a certificate saying they have attended a particular course at the IBA. We offer customised courses tailor made for the corporate entities and open courses available to anyone interested in continuing education. 

 

In addition to Journalism, Family Business and Executive Programmes, are there any other new programmes that you offer?

IH: We have introduced many new programmes like the undergraduate programme in Social Sciences and Liberal Arts, which is only two years old. In the third year, students can choose one subject as their major. Right now we offer majors in Journalism and Media Studies, Political Science and International Relations and Psychology. But the emphasis is on the inter-disciplinary nature of Social Sciences. Social problems in Pakistan are not compartmentalised into political problems, social problems and economic problems - they are all interlinked. These programmes have to look at history, sociology, political science, anthropology, economics – everything together – in an integrated, multi-disciplinary manner and students can major in these subjects.

We also offer a BS in Accounting and Finance. We have made arrangements with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Pakistan that their courses would be taught at the IBA and 8 modules of ICAP examination will be exempted for those who have done their degree from the IBA. Then only three more modules will be done and students will get a professional degree of Chartered Accountant. At the same time, they will also get a degree in Accounting and Finance. This will have two advantages - the pass rate for ICAP will improve because there will be a better quality of students appearing in the ICAP exams. So, if their pass percentage today is 14 percent, that will go up and accountants from Pakistan are in heavy demand in the Middle East and everywhere, so we will be producing accountants for the world market. Secondly, the parents are so happy that their children will get a degree as well as a professional qualification, which will get them employment right away. This is a very innovative programme. But we did not keep it restricted only to the IBA. I convinced the ICAP that they should select institutions which fulfill their accreditation criteria and then they should approve them to offer this programme. Instead of 250 students from the IBA, there will be a thousand qualified people coming from LUMS, IBA Sukkur, NUST and other business schools. I am very happy that this will revive the quality of the accountancy profession in Pakistan. In Africa and the Middle East people say that Pakistani accountants are the best. We are actually helping increase the supply of professionally qualified accountants to the market. 

 

What about other subjects?

IH: We offer an Undergraduate Programme in Economics and Maths. Most Pakistani students applying to the best universities in the US are rejected by economics departments because they don’t have a background in mathematics.  We decided that we will offer a double major – half courses in mathematics and half in economics. When our students apply to the best universities in the US, they will say, oh, he has done mathematics also. That way,  the chances of Pakistani students getting admission in the US will improve. We always design courses which have practical relevance and market acceptability – and that is why we come up with one programme after another because we have tested the waters.

 

The IBA was established by the Wharton School, USA. Have you entered into any other foreign affiliations?

IH: What happens is that at the beginning, when an institution is starting afresh, it must be affiliated with an institution which is well-established. But, after 60 years, we don’t have to have an affiliation with just one institution. Now we can have alliances and networking with many institutions. For example, in Entrepreneurship, we have a partnership with Babson College in Boston, which is the world’s number one institution teaching Entrepreneurship. Similarly, for Executive Education we have a partnership with the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad which is one of the top business schools in the world. For Family Businesses, we are affiliated with India’s S.P. Jain Institute and for Journalism with the North Western University in the US. We choose the best for each specialisation or special courses and try to link with them. The old concept of having a single institution with which you work is gone. There are some fifteen or twenty institutions with which we have partnerships.

 

Do you also pass on these affiliations to local institutions?

IH: We have a consortium for Entrepreneurship Development. What our faculty learns at Babson – is passed on at workshops for the faculty of our consortium members. The IBA, Sukkur, UET, Lahore, GIFT, Gujranwala, NUST, Islamabad, IMS, Peshawar, Buitems, Quetta – they are part of our consortium. We bring their teachers over and give them the training we have acquired at Babson College. We also hold an All Pakistan Business Plan Competition. Recently, we had some 400 boys and girls and 150 teams from universities all over Pakistan who competed in the Business Plan Competition which was held at the IBA, Karachi. 

What we try to do is to disseminate whatever we learn among the larger community in Entrepreneurship. We don’t want to keep it to ourselves and share it because Pakistan has this tendency of turfs. Some people don’t realise that this is a very myopic and stupid view. I don’t lose the leadership of the IBA if the programmes are now being replicated in many universities in Pakistan. If the Karachi IBA started something, it will still get the credit for it but the whole country will benefit. I don’t think we have to be very narrow-minded and very turf-conscious. We should be broad-minded about education.

 

The IBA is developing an impressive new face. How big of a contribution have the alumni and the private sector made?

IH: If you take the entire expenditure on physical infrastructure and technological upgradation and the endowment fund, which will yield income over time, the credit goes to the private sector, to individual philanthropists, to foundations and corporations. They have helped us a great deal. The alumni help us not that much in financing but when we have interviews for new students, we have panels in which the alumni take part. Because they are working, they can actually help us identify potential candidates who will be successful in real life. They also come and help us in mentoring and coaching our students for job interviews, for resume writing and give them tips as to how they can be successful in their careers. They also come and deliver guest lectures and hold many other events. 

Our alumni are active in non-financial activities, as only some of them reach higher pinnacles as far as financing is concerned. I hope that, like other universities, they will also make contributions to the endowment fund because most of the universities in the world are run by endowment funds and not through government grants or tuition fees. My hope is that our alumni who are about 10,000 in Pakistan – and outside – will be a very good source in helping us. 

 

Where do you see the IBA by 2020?

IH: We have formed a group of faculty members who are designing the strategy 2020 for the IBA. I am not influencing their thinking but it will come to us and to our Board of Governors which is the final approving authority. I don’t want to preempt what their recommendations would be but if you ask me as to what my priority would be, it will be to consolidate all the programmes which we have started in recent years and make them as well-known in the market and in society as our BBA and MBA. Our MBAs and BBAs represent a stamp of quality. Anybody who says they have done their BBA or MBA from the IBA draws admiration. Our other programmes are quite recent and I want that, by 2020, parents should send their children to the IBA to study social sciences or accounting and finance. There should be acceptability of the new programmes by the parents, the society and the market.  That’s number one. Number two is that we have to make all efforts, that despite the image of Pakistan, we become accredited to the American Accreditation Board – that is my ambition. If one of my students goes to the Silicon Valley for an interview, and he says he is from IBA Karachi, which is accredited by the American Accreditation Board, the ball game will change. But if we are not accredited, then the chances are that our students will not get in. The American Accreditation Board is a common acceptable benchmark for quality education. It's a stamp of approval. I hope that by that time, we will be perhaps the first Pakistani business school to be accredited – that’s my ambition.

 

There was a time when having a degree from the IBA meant that you had a very good job even before you graduated. What is the situation now?

IH: The same. Three years ago, we decided to revamp our MBA programme to make it comparable to other world class institutions. There you have two year’s mandatory work experience before you are admitted. We introduced that and our student enrollment went down from 250 to 25. It was a big hit for us. Our faculty was up in arms that they had no classes to teach, our finance people were in revolt that they were losing money but we continued with that. At the same time, we said that our BBA degree would now be a terminal degree. We had to prepare our BBAs to take the place of the old MBAs as management entry level trainees and we had to work on this. Imagine that we had 260 BBAs entering the market for the first time and I had sleepless nights – can they be accommodated by the market – such a large number of BBAs, not MBAs. Thank God, ninety percent of them got their job offers even before the Convocation. At the last Convocation, I presented in my speech the statistics – 88 percent of our BBAs had already got offers – others had offers but they had not accepted them because they were negotiating or they wanted a better job. So, job offers for IBA students is not a problem. And MBAs are being given higher level jobs now – more salary and higher positions – and they are promoted quickly. Our real test will come after two years when our Social Sciences, Accounting and Finance and Economics/Mathematics students enter the market. This is what our consolidation will be – that the market should be able to give the same element of credence and acceptability to our other programmes as it is giving to BBA and MBA. That’s our challenge.

 

Once a person does his BBA, he/she enters the job market. Then he/she wants to do an MBA. Can they come back and be readily accepted?

IH: No he has to go through the interview but he doesn’t have to appear for our entrance exams because he has already cleared those. They are more mature. Maan-Baap ke paison se tau aap aish kartey hain aur teacher ko kehtain hain do number barha dain – hamara grade barh jaey ga, maan-baap khush ho jaen ge. But when you go and work and you get 65,000 rupees per month and you have to give up your job and you come here – it is a very different ball game. Now you value the money and value time. They are not interested in the grades – I get a complaint that this teacher is no good, we need a better teacher. They want to learn, they want to improve themselves. Their approach is different.