Leading Concepts champions learning for life

Aman Merchant didn't think much of the executive education programmes on offer in the region, so he did something about it. He created Leading Concepts to bring programmes from top international business schools to the Middle East.

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By  David Ingham Published  December 5, 2000

Trying a different approach|~||~||~|Ever since graduating from Oxford University in the UK and beginning full time work in the UAE, Aman Merchant has been a great believer in the idea of learning for life. Over the years, Merchant has sat through numerous seminars here in the Middle East and would take time out to attend programmes in the UK and America. He says he was struck by the differences in approach to executive education.

“I liked investing in myself, and experimented with a lot of training programmes here and some in the US,” Merchant explains. “I figured there was a big difference between the way it’s done over here and in the Western World. I realised people over are here very commercial, they just want people on seats.”

So what did he go and do? He started Leading Concepts because he thought he could offer a different approach to executive education.

There’s a certainly a need for what Merchat is offering. In the post millennium workplace of the New Economy, one of the few certainties left is rapid and constant change. Take a marketing manager for example, who now has to add the brand new field of online marketing to his or her responsibilities. Or a procurement manager, who increasingly has to begin negotiating for supplies online with an unseen trading partner. Understanding these new ways of doing business requires ‘reskilling’ and the need to go back to school.

Leading Concepts aims to provide executives with these necessary skills, but in a way different from what normally goes on in the region. The vast majority of what passes for executive education here involves a presenter lecturing to a passive audience. If you think of your university lectures, how much of those did you actually take in and how much went straight through your head and out of the other ear?

Leading Concepts’ approach is to focus on small, tightly knit groups and encourage interaction between programme participants. It’s this that Merchant says is key to executive education, because it keeps the participants interested and allows them to learn from each other.
“With a good executive education programme, the key benefit is from the interaction,” argues Merchant. “If I’m a senior manager and I’m sitting next to another senior manager, we can share ideas and challenge each other’s thinking. Half the learning, I believe, takes place not only between the faculty and the participants, but between the participants.”

||**||High profile tieups|~||~||~|So far, so good, but what about the education on offer? Well, Leading Concepts has so far announced some fairly heavyweight tieups with three major US business schools: Stanford, Michigan and Colombia. Not only are the curricula designed by the universities, but academics from those schools come to the region to present the courses themselves.

Two programmes, one with Stanford and one with Michigan, have so far been completed. Merchant says he intends to do no more than six to eight programmes per year in order to ensure focus and quality.
Stanford will be back in February with an advanced negotiation course that will focus particularly on the area of ‘cyber negotiation.’ A course on global business strategies is planned with Michigan for April. In May, the relationship with Columbia Business School will be formally launched with a programme called Marketing Management in the New Economy.

Courses last around three days, which Merchant thinks is the maximum amount of time senior regional executives will spend away from their desks. Learning is thorough a number of devices, including formal lectures, exercises, case studies and role plays.

Some courses, such as those on negotiation, are more interactive and hands on than others. Programme numbers are kept to a maximum of about 50 people. The programmes certainly aren’t cheap at around US $3000, but these are pretty heavyweight institutions presenting them. And besides, this is your future that you’re talking about.||**||

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