x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Masdar leader listens to students

Q&A with Fred Moavenzadeh, the president of the Masdar Institute.

"You cannot compromise the quality and then try to establish a reputable institution," says Dr Fred Moavenzadeh, the President of the Masdar Institute. Ryan Carter / The National

Dr Fred Moavenzadeh, the president of the Masdar Institute, has steered the university from its early days. Building an academic powerhouse is no easy task, he tells The National.

How do you create an institution in such a short time that in other parts of the world requires a century or centuries?

I did not say here that it does not take centuries. [Laughs.] You have to be careful. It's not something that you can do overnight. But there are ways that you can expedite it and one way to expedite it is to learn the lessons of those that have succeeded. That's why we joint-ventured with MIT. OK, tell us the mistakes to avoid - not necessarily avoid all the mistakes, but most of the mistakes.

So what are they?

The number one lesson that we have learnt is that quality counts. You cannot compromise the quality and then try to establish a reputable institution. The second thing that we have learnt is that in an academic institution you cannot establish a top-down management or administration system. It has to be bottom-up. The faculty, the student has to be convinced, otherwise they won't want to do it. I cannot tell any faculty what to do. They can tell me.

That's not very surprising in the academic world.

That's right. [Laughs.] So this whole notion of developing a management style that is based on incentive recognition rather than punitive measures and fear is extremely important.

What is incentive recognition?

If you're doing a good job, you get recognised. I have to recognise them, I have to congratulate them, I have to recognise them so that then they get motivated.

That sounds like manipulation.

Well, you may call it manipulation, but there's a lot of organisational psychology behind it. You have to recognise the difference between an academic institution and a business enterprise.

What's the key difference?

The key difference is that a business enterprise is top-down. The CEO [chief executive] decides, the rest will follow. Even right now that is changing. Even a good CEO knows that he has to build consensus. But academic institutions are notorious. They say that the administration in an academic institution is just like a person who tries to herd a bunch of cats. The dogs they follow, the sheep they follow, the cats they … [laughs].