October 18, 2011 5:00 pm

Ten Questions - Celia de Anca

Celia de Anca is a professor of Islamic finance at IE Business School in Spain. She is also the director of the school’s Center for Diversity, focusing on the development of female talent in the corporate world through training programmes for women directors and entrepreneurs in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

The Spanish-born professor, fluent in Arabic and English, has a PhD in philosophy and two masters degrees. Prior to joining IE in 2006, Prof de Anca taught banking and finance at the Euro-Arab Management School, an online academic institution developed by the European Union and the Arab League.

In her spare time, Prof de Anca enjoys traveling, reading and playing basketball. She has also written a book on diversity: Managing Diversity in the Global Organization: Creating New Business Values.

Prof de Anca will be available to answer your questions in our live web chat on Thursday, 20th October between 13.00 and 14.00 BST. Post your questions now to ask@ft.com and they will be answered on the day on our web chat page.

1. Who are your business heroes?

I am not very fond of heroes – something related to the Spanish culture, I think, because we do not have a tradition of role models. However, if I must suggest one, it is Nelson Mandela. He had the capacity to endure the most traumatic conditions and overcome them with a serenity that enabled him to transform his country. I admire his enduring conviction of what needs to be done and his patience to wait to act until the right time for change. I believe managers can learn enormously from these qualities.

2. What do you enjoy most about your job?

Learning is the best part of my job: learning while I am preparing for class, learning while I am developing new areas of research, and learning from my students. There are certain amounts of theories and data that can be found in books, but the magic comes in a classroom when the knowledge of many is shared and becomes something new and great.

3. What would you do if you were dean for the day?

My first reaction? Cry. I really believe it is the most difficult job to have in education. The boring, routine, bureaucratic tasks increase exponentially, as do the number of meetings each day. On the plus side, the opportunity to design courses of interest to new generations grows too and a dean is able to interact with a large number of prominent people. Still, I think I would have a good cry first, if I were to be dean for the day, and then get down to work.

4. What academic achievement are you most proud of?

The achievement I am currently most proud of is the book I just finished writing. I started writing a year ago and took the last six months off to visit the Middle East, just before the Arab spring started. As a result, I unexpectedly witnessed a major change in the region, which was an amazing source of inspiration for my book.

5. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

That everyone is worthy! Sometimes teaching tricks you into feeling some intellectual superiority. In part this can be true, since a teacher should be more knowledgeable than the students, if only because of the time spent thinking and exploring a particular area. However, early in my career, a student challenged my vision of the subject and made me realise that new angles were there.

6. What advice would you give to women in business?

My advice for women today is that you can be whatever they want to be, but beware - an increase of choice also increases the difficulty of decision. Every choice is a trade off.

7. How do you deal with male dominated environments?

Badly, particularly when a male dominated environment leads to chauvinist attitudes. There is the traditional type of male chauvinism which I am better able to deal with since it is predictable. It is easy to either confront that environment openly, since those attitudes are not socially accepted, or to confront it through feminine behavior, using their chauvinism to your advantage.

However, male dominance has evolved into new forms which are difficult to combat because they are subtle and unpredictable i.e a patronising way of including you in a project. Fortunately, even these subtle ways are increasingly an exception.

8. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?

Woody Allen said in one of his movies that if he was born again he would do it all exactly the same, apart from reading Beowulf, an Old English heroic epic poem. I feel the same – not Beowulf in particular, of course, but I would probably only change small things: that boring holiday, that book I forced myself to read, that horrible haircut. But, I do not think I would change any big decisions I made in life because if I changed just one of them, I would have to change them all. Each decision led to the next and made me who I am today.

9. What is the last book you read?

The Life of the Mind by Hannah Arendt is not only the last book I read, but one of the books I have enjoyed most in my life. Lately I have been reading many of the well known classics. And, at this point in my life, I think I am better prepared, thanks to experience, to truly understand these books.

10. What is your life philosophy?

My grandfather used to say: “whatever happens in my life, please do not congratulate me, or feel sorry for me. Wait for 40 years and I will be able to tell you if it was a good or bad thing.” This is what I would like to make my own life philosophy, to accept life as it comes since something that happens that is perceived as a negative thing could very well turn out to be a wonderful opportunity, and vice versa.

Compiled by Charlotte Clarke

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