2021 is the perfect year in which to invest in your own development – because we are poised on the cusp of the post-COVID era of business
One of the highlights of the SSE Riga Executive MBA programme is the international immersion study trip to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Students meet face-to-face with executives and entrepreneurs in the region to exchange ideas, network and get inspired by insights of different industries varying from big manufacturers to fintechs to innovative startups. In this interview, Dr. Sapna Masih Advani, Managing Director of the SSE Riga partner institution MasihWhite Pte Ltd in Singapore, talks about the long-term partnership with SSE Riga.
How is Singapore dealing with pandemics? How are businesses rearranging operations and adapting to the situation?
Since a surprise outbreak and full lockdown last summer, Singapore has done very well with controlling and managing the pandemic. Schools have stayed open; businesses like malls, bars, and restaurants are all open – there are some restrictions around density (tables have to be spaced apart), group size (up to 8 people allowed), closing times, and a universal mask mandate.
As an example of adaptation, buffet restaurants have had to change their model a fair bit, but they have adjusted by putting up a plexiglass and having servers portion out food to customers from behind it. As a customer, if you enter a mall, restaurant, bar, or any business at all, you need to electronically ‘check in’ and have your temperature taken. Even so, if you walk into a mall on a weekend here in Singapore, you’ll find it buzzing with shoppers. Offices had gone into full work-from-home mode mid-2020 – some have stayed that way out of choice, some have gone back with density restrictions. Most large organisations have now split their staff into two teams that work from the office alternate weeks.
Overall, life in Singapore right now is as close to normal as can be in COVID times!
Do you think the pandemics will change the overall business landscape in any significant way?
Globally, the pandemic will have a lasting impact on the way business is done. Lockdowns around the world and the work-from-home (WFH) environment have caused a fundamental shift in the way we operate. Consumer behaviour has undergone a rapid change, and businesses have had to adapt at speed. In terms of the business environment, global supply chains have been tested and challenged like never before – this has triggered a reset that will have deep implications for trade and geopolitics going forward.
Additionally, the pandemic has accelerated both emergence and obsolescence in all areas from technology to jobs to entire business models. Businesses and jobs that would have taken years to fade disappeared overnight, or had to undergo radical changes. The impact of all of these trends will become more obvious over the next decade or more.
In Singapore, we’re seeing several trends that signify the changing business landscape. Co-working spaces, F&B, delivery services, and e-commerce are booming; while office spaces, large entertainment/amusement facilities, and the arts are under pressure.
Since I work with senior leaders and organisational culture, the most interesting aspect for me is to watch (and coach!) how we all respond to this dramatic change in terms of our own unlearning and learning.
Could you tell us more about Executive MBA international trips to South East Asia? How long is the cooperation between SSE Riga and your company?
MasihWhite’s partnership with SSE Riga goes back a long way – to 2014! That was when we first began discussing the idea of creating an International Study Visit to South East Asia for the School’s Executive MBA cohort. A year of intense discussions and planning followed. I remember the innumerable hours we invested in getting it right the first time. We wanted to keep the big-picture learning objectives in focus, of course, but I was also laser-focused on getting the culture of the visit right.
We went through a rigorous design and development process – MasihWhite has a certain design philosophy and we worked with that. The team from SSE Riga, led by Rector Anders Paalzow, was wonderful to work with – there was so much energy in the process! All of this hard work paid off, and MasihWhite hosted the first visit in 2016 to great participant reviews. Every visit since then has been an opportunity to build on that success, and we have continued to evolve to become a fuller experience each time.
How do you design the content of the International Immersion module – from choosing the industries to put emphasis on to which companies to visit and business people to network with?
Executive MBA participants are senior executives and their time has a high opportunity cost. MasihWhite’s operating philosophy is that every waking hour the participants spend in Asia has to count for learning. Furthermore, it’s a diverse group – participants come from a wide range of industries, different functional areas, and have varied interests. Each participant is different. So, the idea is to focus the contents on the range of industries and specific interests in that cohort.
Of course, the International Study Visit has a robust structure that has proven to be extremely reliable over the years. Everything else – from the food to the factory visits – is fully customised every single time. No detail is too small for us, as long as it helps to meet the individual learning needs of each participant and contributes to the quality of their lived experience of the Visit. We always keep our eyes on the ball – creating lasting value for each participant.
From your perspective, what are the main takeaways from the international trip for the Executive MBA students?
The objective of the International Study Visit is threefold: to give the cohort full immersion into a wide swathe of Asian cultures, to give them a first-hand feel for the Asian business environment, and to bring them face-to-face with executives in the Region to exchange ideas. Participants’ takeaways from the Module include a deep understanding of Asia/South East Asia, its diversity of cultures, ways of doing business, and economic and entrepreneurial environment.
I’d go a step further and say the exposure participants get is so personalised that their biggest takeaways are the conversations they have and the relationships they develop. These have been known to result in business collaboration!
Over those years, have you seen some business deals being made or new projects developed in the Asia region by students as a result of the study trip?
The entire Module is built around experiential principles to give participants a real, relevant, and ‘actionable’ view of Asia. Participants are able to have a range of conversations around business ideas they already have or develop during the visit. Some enterprising individuals even go into the local environment and start market research around their idea during the Visit!
Several participants have returned to the region after the Visit to follow up on these ideas. Over the years, some have resulted in businesses being expanded to Asia, new sales/distribution channels being set up in Asian markets, and even new ideas being launched and tested.
It has been a joy to watch this happen!
What do you think are the defining factors of SSE Riga Executive MBA compared to other similar programmes; are there any traits that differ executives from the Baltic region from others?
In my view, the SSE Riga Executive MBA stands out for having academic rigour paired with an equally intense immersive experience in a range of locations, such as the Study Visit to South East Asia. It is a Programme densely packed with value and the focus is on equipping participants with the skills needed to dynamically handle the evolving business landscape.
At MasihWhite, we work with business leaders from around the world through our coaching and consulting work. Over the past 7 years, we have gained a deep understanding of executives from the Baltics, their priorities and expectations. If I think of what sets them apart, it is that they are very internationally-minded and understand the value of diving deep and investing effort in getting the nuances. They have natural curiosity and confidence – two drivers of leadership success.
To your mind, why should business leaders choose to obtain business education in 2021?
I think 2021 is the perfect year in which to invest in your own development – because we are poised on the cusp of the post-COVID era of business. In fact, business school intakes are at an all-time high here in Singapore.
I urge those considering their next steps to focus on programs that are grounded in the real world, and give them the skills that will be most required in this new world: knowing how to learn, resilience, adaptability, agility, resourcefulness, and creating innovation at speed. The SSE Riga Executive MBA offers this balance, in my view.
For the 2021 intake, SSE Riga offers up to five merit-based scholarships worth EUR 16,500 each (covering 50% of the tuition fee) to outstanding international candidates (from any country outside Latvia).