x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

UAE students at the heart of business

The Life: MBA students often pour over business case studies that others have written. But a few students have created their own based on companies with exemplary practises in the GCC.

MBA student Neil Gonsalvez, presents his findings at the Pearl Initiative dinner held at the Millenium Hotel. April 23. Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National)
MBA student Neil Gonsalvez, presents his findings at the Pearl Initiative dinner held at the Millenium Hotel. April 23. Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National)

In many business programmes, students spend hours poring over business case studies written by professors or consultants who have done all the legwork.

But a few students had the opportunity this week to present their own case studies based on meetings and interviews with executives at companies in the GCC.

They sought to pinpoint firms that have created, and follow, exemplary practices such as effective board processes, integrated reporting that combines data on profits and losses, and corporate socialresponsibility programmes.

"We're essentially providing an inventory of the different good practices we've found," says Neil Gonsalvez, an MBA student at the University of Cambridge's Judge Business School.

"There are a lot of good conversations that have come out from that … related to the implementation challenges, and [we] pulled some of the lessons learned out of that," he says.

The project is part of a four-week internship programme conducted in partnership with the Pearl Initiative, a non-profit group led by the private sector and based at the University of Sharjah. But it is also part of a broader push to increase transparency among companies in this region and boost the economic competitiveness of the Emirates in particular.

"This is a topic that is gaining a lot of attention," says Sarah Bahman, a business student at the American University of Sharjah.

Last week, Dubai SME held a two-day workshop for about 35 small and medium enterprises to create action plans for implementing better financial governance, corporate transparency and risk management.

"It's important for these companies to embrace principles of good governance to help them maximise performance, improve access to finance, and foster continued growth," said Mouayed Makhlouf, the director in the Middle East and North Africa for the World Bank-affiliated International Finance Corporation, which helped to provide the training.

Three reports being put together by MBA students linked to the Pearl Initiative could arguably help other businesses in the GCC gain insight into what to do - and avoid - in pursuit of change. "It's about generating research, and new insights," says Imelda Dunlop, the executive director of the Pearl Initiative.

But ask the students about what exactly companies are doing and who is doing it, and few details are yet allowed to be shared publicly. Moreover, no single company stands out overall in the different areas examined. "Different companies have different strengths," Mr Gonsalvez notes.

In one case, a company's board had previously concluded it would need more expertise in financing and raising capital to fund a future investment, so it sought to fill that need with the proper personnel, Mr Gonsalvez says.

Another business had some of its key managers and directors trained in corporate governance so that they could institute changes.

How do the students ensure that the details that companies share with them are actually accurate, or independently verified?

"That is a challenge, and we're aware of that," says Siân Nash, an MBA student at the University of Cambridge.

Ms Nash says she and her peers have addressed this issue, in part, by working with the Pearl Initiative and Hawkamah, an institute in the UAE that focuses on developing a code for corporate governance.

The students have also relied on publicly available documents, including corporate sustainability, governance and annual reports, Ms Dunlop says.

"What we're looking for are examples where companies have gone beyond tick-the-box mentality of writing those policies but demonstrating the success of how they've embedded those practices in their organisations," she says.


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