Kirsty Tan is international dean of Shanghai International MBA (Simba), representing Ecole des Ponts (ENPC) Paris Tech in France and liaising with Tongji University in China. Prior to this, Prof Tan worked in management consulting in the US, including five years at KPMG. She has also founded her own management consulting firm, KST Consulting.
Prof Tan grew up in small towns amongst the Chinese, Malays and Indians in Malaysia before moving to Australia to study English, aged 16. She is a qualified chartered accountant and has completed an EMBA at Deakin University and a PhD at the International School of Management in Paris, Shanghai, New York and Tokyo.
In her spare time, Prof Tan enjoys surfing and martial arts; she was a black belt in TaeKwonDo when she was younger.
1. Who are your business heroes?
My first hero is my late father, who implanted an attitude of life-long learning and can-do in his children. Doing business was ingrained in me. I grew up sitting at the cashier desk at my father’s family-run business every day after school, reading martial art novels.
Throughout my life, I have tried my best to practise some of Mahatma Gandhi’s profoundly simple rules: Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. Be the change you want to see in the world. The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result.
2. What do you enjoy most about your job?
Helping shape a sustainable environment for our future generations is a true measure of personal and entrepreneurial achievements for any person. This job allows me to nurture future business leaders of integrity, who contribute to the society in which they live and reduce the human ecology footprint while creating value for a better world.
3. What is the average day of a dean like?
When in Paris, I start my day with conference calls with Simba staff in Shanghai before they head home. Topics range from academic matters, to addressing any questions from faculty, to dealing with students’ needs. I attend onsite meetings with ENPC MBA staff and faculty in the afternoon and usually schedule meetings with students after 6pm to discuss career development and networking opportunities. Office lights are out after I clear as many daily emails as I can.
When in Shanghai, I check my emails at the hotel in the morning. As soon as I arrive the Simba office, I am mostly on my feet walking around the campus speaking to students and potential students. I will try to catch up with faculty over lunch to cover any issues they encountered that day and the evening is full of scheduled events with various chambers of commerce, alumni, or dinner with international faculty or guest speakers, who are key Chinese business leaders.
4. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?
A Qantas executive once told me about his experience with the board of directors while he was heading the most expensive project the company had ever undertaken. At the end of his presentation on the gloomy status of the project, a female executive director pulled him aside and said, “Don’t just give us the problems; give us the solutions”.
5. What academic achievement are you most proud of?
Spending three months in Bhutan completing my PhD field research. My grounded theory of “Happy Entrepreneurship” or “4E” or “Quad-Bottom-Line” was based upon the gross national happiness principles in Bhutan and the Royal University of Bhutan has made an honorary request to turn my dissertation topic into a textbook for all of their students in entrepreneurial studies.
6. What is your biggest lesson learnt?
Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “The only thing to fear is fear itself”. That holds true for me. Being fearful prevented me from making timely decisions. Now, whenever I am fearful, I confront it.
7. What advice would you give to women in business?
The tagline for my consulting firm is “Dream. Believe. Achieve.” My advice to women in business is - Dare to dream, Believe in yourself, Achieve the impossible.
8. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?
I grew up wanting to be a boy because boys could always do whatever they wanted to do and get away with it. But today, I am happy to be a woman. Women nowadays have an edge. Our society is craving for a more balanced “ying and yang” business environment.
Being an ethnic minority throughout my life, I learnt to adapt to a variety of environments, be that an immigrant Chinese girl who grew up in a Muslim country or an Asian woman working in a Caucasian male-dominated business environment. One thing that is unmistakably me – I am true to who I am and know what I have to offer; if that is not good enough for you, then you are not good enough for me! Don’t forget, we are the ultimate commander of our own destiny.
9. What is your favourite business book?
The 8th Habit – From Effectiveness to Greatness by Stephen R. Covey
10. What is your life philosophy?
As my Bhutanese friends would say, “to live happy is to live simply”. My decision making process is also rather simple – it boils down to one question: “If I was to die tomorrow, which decision would I regret not taking?”
Compiled by Charlotte Clarke