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Steve DeKrey is not a man to shy away from a challenge. He proved that 18 years ago when he left the safe haven of the Kellogg school at Northwestern University to pioneer the MBA at the fledgling Hong Kong University of Science and Technology business school. There he developed the Kellogg-HKUST Executive MBA programme that has been ranked number one in the world by the FT for the past four years.
Now he is hoping to pull off a similar trick in the Philippines as the newly appointed president of the Asian Institute of Management in Manila – he moved there from Hong Kong less than a year ago. In Manila he plans to bring his experience of working in top business schools in the US and Asia to put Aim back on the map.
The pertinent expression is “put back”, as the self-styled “Asian-American” is the first to acknowledge. His task, he says, is to “bring the school back to its former glory . . . It has fallen on hard times.”
The hard times have their roots in both external factors, such as the economic conditions in the Philippines and internal ones. Aim was established in 1968 by Harvard Business School and the first two presidents of the school were Harvard professors. When Harvard pulled out there followed nearly 40 years in which the school increasingly focused on the domestic market and recruited only local faculty.
On top of that there has been a complex and debilitating law suit between some of the professors and the school over salaries.
Prof DeKrey believes that all those things are now changing. The law suit is finally settled, he says, which will pave the way for fundraising. And his own appointment is a signal that there will be an increase in international professors and teaching staff. Prof DeKrey intends to increase the proportion of international professors to about one-third of the total.
But most importantly, the Philippines is part of Asean, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the 10-nation economic alliance that has a population of around 600m and that plans to introduce its own economic community in 2015. Prof DeKrey plans to be at the heart of that, brashly announcing: “I want to own that territory before 2015 and then we’ll be the go-to place . . . We’re going to become the business school of southeast Asia.”
This may seem like wishful thinking, particularly as Singapore is also part of the Asean group. But like Singapore, the Philippines is English-speaking and Aim is located in Makati, the heart of Manila’s business district. It also has a school dedicated to economic development, an increasingly fashionable attribute in management education, but which also makes it popular with students from government and NGOs.
Prof DeKrey acknowledge that he has a long way to go to achieve his ambitions for the school, but has already made a start by trying to reignite the Harvard connection. “[Alumni] love that I am reconnecting with Harvard as that was our brand,” he says. “In Manila the three big alumni groups are Harvard, Wharton and Kellogg.”
Already a case-writing institution Prof DeKrey believes the school must do more. “If we need to be like Harvard, we need to behave like them.”
One of the big issues will be fundraising, something Prof DeKrey says will be new for him as well as the school. “At UST most of our income came from programmes. We earned our money. At Aim we can earn more long-term. But in the short term we need fundraising . . . I want to name the development school and the executive education school.”
The money will be for scholarships and a new building, but it will also be used to support the quality drive that Prof DeKrey intends to enforce. In particular this will relate to increasing diversity in the MBA programme.
In previous MBA classes some 90 per cent of the 140 students were from just two countries – 70 per cent from India and 20 per cent from the Philippines. Prof DeKrey’s plan is to cut student numbers – “I don’t know of a better way to increase the quality and address diversity”– but with a resulting shortfall in tuition fees. Now the school is busy recruiting its next class, of which 40 per cent of the class will be from India, 25 per cent from the Philippines and 35 per cent from elsewhere.
“I walked into a balanced budget,” he says, “but a balanced budget for a school that had been standing still.”
And he has further plans. As well as developing executive education for Asia's top dogs, he has plans to set up an executive (part-time) DBA programme, with a view to bringing applied research and more local case studies into the classroom. “An executive DBA in Asia would be huge,” he believes and the graduates would be “qualified to be clinical academics and super leaders”.
Prof DeKrey believes Aim’s board is behind him, as are “most of the faculty”.
“It’s fun at this stage of my career to take on something like this. I’ve got the chance to make a huge impact.” So, what are his chances of success? “It’s 50/50.”