My MBA Journey into Global Businesses
By Mohammad Ali Khawaja (OneMBA 2017)
Standing in the Westin Alexandria Hotel lobby in Washington DC on 20th September 2015, I had a strange and an uneasy feeling. I was standing there watching people from different parts of the world. At that time in 2015, I had just started settling in Netherlands after moving there from Pakistan in 2013. However, I decided to embark on OneMBA journey which was going to be challenging regarding work, family, and finances. Since then it had been a roller coaster ride for 21 months. In this blog past I am sharing some of the important aspects of my OneMBA experience.
While drafting the group values with my first global team in the US, the tensions were high. Everyone on the team was motivated and full of energy however it seemed that the team members were on a different page. The common understanding of simple things was missing among the members of our team who were from Netherlands, Mexico, China, India and Pakistan. It was déjà vu for me as I had gone through a lot of those issues at my workplace when I first moved to Netherlands. However, going through the stages of forming, storming, and norming we finally reached performing in around two months. Then amazing things started happening. Our team discussions became much more enriching and pleasant. The work which we were doing as a group became more than the sum of its parts. In the end, our team performed extraordinarily well both in “Global Operations Management” and “Leading and Managing in Global Organizations” courses. Even after the team was dismantled, the team members remained in close contact. Besides, the learnings in team dynamics there was a much stronger lesson on how diversity adds to creative ideas and innovation. When people from different cultures and perspectives come together, they generate ideas and create solutions in ways unfathomable for an individual.
During the European residency in March 2016 in Rotterdam, Dr Jan Pieter Balkenende (ex-Prime Minister of Netherlands) talked about the upcoming Brexit referendum in UK. He mentioned that it would be a close vote as many people across the western world see globalization as a root cause of many current issues. He was of the opinion that the main reason of public discontent was the political elite’s lack of touch with the ground realities rather globalization itself. Later on, Britain voted in favour of Brexit. In my view that lecture and then Brexit result was a very critical lesson. The business (as well as politics) is balancing act on many dimensions. There is no right formula for success as the right approach depends on the context and circumstances. The political elite, who only sing praises about globalization, alienated a significant number of people who lost their jobs in the rapidly changing marketplace. The companies which just stick to the single successful formula regarding financial structure (debt vs equity), marketing strategy (global vs local), organization structure (centralized vs decentralized), and logistics and operations (insourced vs outsourced) also soon lose touch with real business drivers. The central element to be successful in the business world is to balance the organization on these dimensions according to the market forces.
I was with my global MBA cohorts on the night of 7th November 2016, and we were preparing to board the flight from Sao Paulo to Mexico City. It was an important night since US election results were to be announced later that night. Everyone was interested in the results however we were all boarding a 10-hour flight which did not have Wi-Fi connectivity. Most people were confident that Americans had made a logical choice for Hillary Clinton (as the polls were showing). However next morning in Mexico City there was a surprise waiting for us. One businessman, who according to many experts has no political skills, had turned the US political landscape upside down. Trump was considered a joke in political world until he gathered enough hard-core supporters to tip the whole environment in his favour. The results were baffling for many people like me who are gradualists, who believe in steady change with respect to time. However, most systems and organizations are not linear, and results do not come out as a proportion to the effort applied. As Malcom Gladwell mentioned in his book “Tipping Point”, trivial actions at the right time, in the right environment, and with the right people can create a tipping point. In many change management initiatives in organizations, we need to achieve the tipping point with core supporters of that idea before it starts being adopted automatically.
Moving to the Netherlands in 2013 was not an easy decision to make as the prospect of moving to an entirely new place, with no friends or family. It was like resetting my life and learning many basic things all over again; greetings, meal timings and deciphering road signs to name a few. However it furthered my desire to explore the unknown and to challenge the comfort zone, and I went to my next adventure in Global OneMBA program. In my exciting MBA journey, I travelled across the globe, understood the complexity of global business, learned comparative management and made magnificent friends. But the most important thing which I realized is that world is full of amazing variations, opportunities and avenues, and how little I have explored. According to Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” and I just took that first step.