Mohan Ponniah Mahadeva
Asia Business of School chief executive officer and president Professor Charles Fine (front row, far left) and Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz (front row, third from left) with the Class of 2018 MBA graduates at The Majestic Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. With them is Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh (front row, third from right). Picture by NSTP/ASYRAF HAMZAH

“IT WAS FUN!” These were the three words that captured the Master of Business Administration (MBA) journey for Mohan Ponniah Mahadeva, 32, in the past 20 months.

His key takeaway from his journey was “you never know what is going to be a learning experience as it could be just signing up for dinner, volunteering to run an event, having a drink with someone, or just hanging out in the student lounge”.

He added that the key was to keep an open mind and not let past disappointments stop him from future explorations.

Mohan was one of the 45 graduates of Asia School of Business (ASB), a collaboration between Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management (MIT Sloan), who received their scrolls in a convocation ceremony held at The Majestic Hotel in Kuala Lumpur recently.

ASB was established in 2015 by BNM in collaboration with MIT Sloan to be a premier global business school and learning hub infused with regional expertise, insights and perspectives of Asia economies.

The first batch came from the United States, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Mexico and Africa. They are highly-motivated professionals from various backgrounds, including banking, manufacturing, aviation, energy, education, technology and the sports sector.

Mohan said without each and every one of them, they wouldn’t have had the same diversity in experience, knowledge and backgrounds. And that diversity, he added, was what made their learning experience world class.

“I still remember going to Sasana Kijang for information sessions in 2015, where all the school had were marketing materials, a few dedicated staff, the MIT name, and the infrastructure of BNM backing them.

“And, I was amazed by the promise, the story and the chance to make history. My second visit was to make sure ASB was legit and that I was making the right choice in life.

“It is not easy quitting a well-paying job as a project manager at the oil and gas company to pursue an MBA at a brand new school (for 20 months). And, just imagine the leap of faith taken by my foreign classmates and their families - leaving their jobs and flying halfway around the world to bet on a startup business school,” he added.

Another graduate, Ashfaque Hamza Kachwala, 26, from India said he came to Kuala Lumpur and pursued his MBA at ASB to experience the uniqueness of having classmates from various ethnicity and cultures. Most importantly, he got the opportunity to work in a team with them to solve business-related issues.

“Most of my classmates have experiences in the industry and that would make them experts in their field of specialisation such as banking industry, marketing, engineering and many others.

“Besides learning from the lecturers, we also gained knowledge listening to real-world experiences from them. I have gained confidence and have a deeper understanding of doing business in Asian countries,” said Ashfaque.

ASB chief executive officer and president Professor Charles Fine, who is also the dean, said the institute had benefited tremendously from an incredible team of dedicated, innovative, extraordinary and unconventional faculty and staff members, as most of them come for the mission — to build the best business school in Asia and be competitive with the best in the world.

“ASB has great people because they are people who passionately want to ride on our rocket ship.

“We will do it together and we will do it well as we embrace the values of ASB — respect for people, continuous learning, excellence, wellbeing, and collaboration.

“I also want to thank economist Tan Sri Dr Zeti Aziz Akhtar, the founding co-chair of the ASB board of governors, who not only provides vision for the strategy and direction of the school but also lends her insights, wisdom and energy to the school’s benefit on a daily basis, or in our curriculum by giving lecture sessions to our students.

“As for MIT Sloan, we are grateful for their vision, wisdom and generous provision of mentorship, time and resources to help ASB emerge as a school and an institution,” said Fine.

ASB is unique as it emphasises an Asian perspective to prepare students for global leadership in their line of work. These graduates had gone through the rigorous and incredibly challenging programme in line with ASB’s aspiration and mission to create leaders who are industry-ready and can respond to the environment and shape it better.

MBA students in this institution spend their time on site, solving real-world business challenges in companies across Asia and beyond, ranging from start-ups to established multinational corporations on their Action Learning projects.

The programmes also include four weeks of immersion at MIT Sloan in Cambridge, United States (US), combined with a two-week US industry trek, featuring visits to companies within the technology, manufacturing, financial and policy-making sectors.

MIT Sloan and ASB resident faculty teach the same core curriculum at ASB that is delivered in Cambridge.

Students work on a broad range of real business challenges using tools and frameworks taught in the classroom with the support of mentors, faculty experts and industry leaders.

Mohan Ponniah Mahadeva

In her speech, Zeti said ASB came from the vision of bringing the best of global education to the Asian region.

“When we first ventured into having the conversation about establishing the business school, we wanted to draw from the best the world offered.

“MIT Sloan was a natural fit because of its emphasis of combining rigorous theory with applied practice. It is an exciting time to be doing business in Asia. Emerging economies are now also contributing more to global growth, resulting in greater cross-border connectivity and interdependence.

“But as opportunities abound, so do challenges. For companies across the world, this means a change in their operating environment and resources. Within Asia, this means that demand for the right talent continues to intensify as the region transitions towards a knowledge economy.

“Emerging economies across Asia recognise the need for higher caliber talent. Managers must not only be equipped with the right knowledge and skills but must also be systems thinkers, problem-solvers, and principled leaders.

“The ASB aspirations and mission is to create leaders who are industry-ready, who will not only respond to their environment but will also contribute towards shaping it for the better.

“To today’s graduates, you have great opportunity to contribute to and influence the future. Equally important in this drive will be the standards and values you uphold. This will be the key to ensuring that your endeavors will be sustainable,” she said.

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