MIND AND HAND

Malaysia 2016 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Prof. Charles Fine, President & Dean of the Asia School of Business, on the school's origins, the challenges it faced, and the advantages of action learning.

Prof. Charles Fine
BIOGRAPHY
Prof. Charles Fine is the Founding President and Dean of the Asia School of Business (ASB) in Kuala Lumpur. He is the Chrysler Leaders for Global Operations Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. In addition to serving on the faculty at MIT Sloan for over 30 years, Professor Fine has taught as a visiting professor at the Stanford Business School, the Harvard Business School and the Indian School of Business. His research focuses mainly on supply chain strategy and operations for entrepreneurs. His work has supported the design and improvement of supply chain relationships for companies in the electronics, automotive, aerospace, communications, and consumer products industries. Fine holds an AB in mathematics and management science from Duke University as well as an MS in operations research and a PhD in Business Administration from Stanford University.

Sloan has other Schools in its network, but all of them with partners or preexisting schools. What are some of the challenges and advantages of starting from scratch?

The ability to be innovative in curriculum design can be enhanced when there is no preexisting legacy to contend with. MIT's motto “Mens et Manus” (mind and hand)communicates a commitment to integrating theory and practice, creating a deep connection between what goes on inside the classroom and what goes on outside of it, for example, in the “real world.” Over the past three decades, MIT Sloan School has refined the application of the mind-and-hand motto into its “action learning” curriculum. Consistent with a philosophy of innovation and entrepreneurship, dozens of action learning curriculum experiments have been run at MIT Sloan, and many have been wildly successful. As this approach has caught on, and as some MBA programs have been criticized for an overemphasis on theory, many business schools around the world have been retrofitting action learning into their curricula.

What are the advantages of action learning?

Action learning improves the learning experience, as well as the market value of the graduating students. Action learning projects enable students to learn how to apply theory and tools in complex, dynamic organizations while they are in school so they can add value in organizations much sooner once they get out of school. Perched near the geographic and cultural center of an Asian continent with 3 billion people, ASB students will have the opportunity to engage with multiple projects in multiple countries, in addition to having a term of study at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Thus, ASB MBA graduates will have a truly global action learning background when they finish our program. Our partnerships with corporations throughout the region, allowing students to have the opportunity to do projects in, for example, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Hong Kong, will give them a deep appreciation of the challenges and heterogeneity of Asia and South-East Asia. Employees who comprehend global markets, global competition, and local cultures will be much more valuable to their employers.

Does the ASEAN economic integration impact your outlook?

South-East Asia seems like a particularly ripe area in which to bring more quality business education. I have a colleague who summarizes business strategy theory as “Find a lonely place on the frontier and then innovate.” You want to be on the frontier, but you do not want to go where all the competition is. You want to go where there is less competition and where you can get a foothold and be successful, then innovate and continue to push the frontier. Relatively speaking, South-East Asia is a lonely place on the frontier. There are many good universities in this region, but it is not overly populated with them. I believe there is enough room for an institution such as MIT to come in and establish itself as a premier partnership school for the region. We very much want ASB to be Asian in orientation, and we want to appeal to people who want an Asian component to their education, as opposed to a copy of a Western school located in Asia.