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June 13, 2011 12:10 am

Local talent, global expertise

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Saudi business men

Conversation corner: some teaching is delivered in an informal setting

Sitting in his office, explaining his organisation’s executive education strategy, Awadh Seghayer Al Ketbi could be a personnel specialist in any top US or European conglomerate. In reality, his office is in Dubai and he is chief executive of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Center for Leadership Development, part of the Dubai government human resources department.

His strategy is straightforward: to educate all levels of Emirati managers to enable them to step up into the top jobs. “The initiative is to develop local people to be leaders within the organisation, to be positive change leaders,” he says in the jargon of the corporate development world.

To do that, he has brought in expertise from four global academic institutions: Ashridge from the UK, Duke Corporate Education from the US, HEC from Paris, and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy from Singapore.

“We are doing this to have the expertise from all over the world,” says Mr Al Ketbi.

The schools are involved in programmes for three levels of managers: promising graduates with two or three years’ work experience, middle managers and government leaders, as well as its majlis programme (see right). Those at the lower levels of training are more involved in skills training; those more senior have coaching and mentoring.

The programmes started in 2003 and this year between 470 and 480 managers will attend either one of these three programmes, each of which lasts 18 months or more, or a programme designed for certain groups, such as women leaders, or organisations such as the local sports council.

As well as masterminding the academic input for the programmes, the business schools are involved in selecting candidates, who apply through their individual organisations or departments to participate. The schools do offer mentoring and coaching, although the Dubai government also uses local coaching agencies. Mentoring and coaching are an acknowledgement that a spell in the classroom will not provide a complete career package.

“We need to shape skills and we need career development,” says Mr Al Ketbi.

All of which bears an uncanny resemblance to the policies and training in many US or European companies. But there are substantial differences needed in teaching, says Paul Griffith, Ashridge programme director. “It’s not about shifting a western model,” he says. “There is a certain style that works with the institutions in the UAE. Some of the leading business schools aren’t the style they like – they tend to be a bit more lecturey with less connection to the participants and less customisation. There is a certain style at Ashridge and Duke that works well.”

. . .

Mr Al Ketbi says both delivery and content must address Emirati needs. “We push them [western business schools] to have local cases. We work with them on a daily basis so they don’t go off-track and base the whole thing on the European or American system.”

He is candid about their performance. “When we started with Duke they had their challenges but now they are the best. The thing is they [western schools] sometimes underestimate the cultural influence and they sometimes underestimate our people.”

It is a concern shared by Mr Griffith. “All the younger managers, men and women, are very well educated.”

Differences aside, Mr Al Ketbi’s aspirations are similar to those of personnel managers the world over. “We are looking at more networking events, benchmarking, overseas visits and mentoring.”

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