Poised to Pivot

The Asian Institute of Management stakes new ground to remain competitive.
Poised to Pivot

The lobby of the Asian Institute of Management. (Photo courtesy of the Asian Institute of Management)

 

At 51 years old, the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) is only a few years younger than ESAN in Peru (profiled in "Established and Evolving"). Thus it straddles the line between being a new school and a mature one, enjoying the advantages that come with both ends of the spectrum. But while it’s comfortably established, AIM is one of the newer schools in its market in the Philippines—it still maintains a youthful attitude and an agile mindset.

“About four years ago, we realized we needed to stake new ground in order to stay competitive,” says Jikyeong Kang, president and dean of the school. “We began a period of transition in which we expanded our academic portfolio, strengthened our partnerships, recruited faculty with international experience, and streamlined and digitized our operational processes. At the same time, we established a new school, revitalized our consulting arm, launched an incubator and a data science laboratory, and created three new degree programs.”

All of this activity was possible because of the school’s small size, independent status, and commitment to relevance. “We do not have the onus of a large bureaucracy, nor do we have to overcome numerous obstacles to designing programs,” says Kang. “Our stakeholders understand that if we want to stand out and make a big dent in the market, we need to seize every opportunity that comes our way. That means we have to work fast and work smart.”

BRINGING IN THE NEW

With its revamped programs and new initiatives, AIM is investing heavily in the related fields of entrepreneurship, innovation, and data science. “Part of our strategy was to create an ecosystem that saw entrepreneurs as vital to value creation, inclusive growth, and sustainable development—not only in the Philippines, but across Asia,” says Kang.

In 2016, the school relaunched a master of entrepreneurship that it had not offered for eight years. It also partnered with Filipino venture capitalist Dado Banatao to establish the AIM-Dado Banatao Incubator. The following year it added a master of science in innovation and business (MSIB) to appeal to graduates from the fields of science, technology, engineering, agriculture, math, and medicine.

“Our research showed that graduates of highly technical disciplines have the potential to become successful innovators who can create products and services that will generate profit as well as benefit people and the planet,” says Kang. “The MSIB trains these graduates in the fundamentals of business, design, and leadership.”

Next came a master’s degree in data science, which debuted in 2018. “Most business schools offer business analytics, not a hardcore, technical course like data science,” says Kang. “We knew we could train data scientists who can work with the C-suite. We not only develop their technical skill set, but also give them business and management fundamentals so that they can ask the right questions, produce actionable insights, and effectively communicate data-driven solutions across any organization.”

To support the three new programs and act as a catalyst of innovation in the region, the school launched the Analytics, Computing, and Complex Systems laboratory, known as ACCeSs@ AIM. The lab houses a 500 teraflop supercomputer— a GPU farm optimized for AI computing—that Kang believes is the fastest one in the country.

“We then realized we needed a new school to anchor the ecosystem we were creating,” Kang says. At that point, AIM established the School of Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship, which soon attracted a US$10 million donation from the Aboitiz Foundation. Kang hopes the renamed Aboitiz School of Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship will spark change in the region by training tech-driven innovators who also possess management skills.

Kang notes that some local universities recently had looked into offering data science programs, but cumbersome approval processes made it difficult for them to act quickly. “We surprised the market by being the least expected first mover,” she says.

Despite its recent establishment, the Aboitiz School is growing rapidly. In 2017, it admitted 75 students to its programs for entrepreneurship and innovation; by 2019, it was admitting 167 students in all three new programs. Furthermore, 88 percent of the students who graduated from the MSIB program in 2017 were employed three months before graduation, while the average graduate enjoys a 245 percent increase in salary.

She says, “We hope we’re making our mark and gaining an edge by creating this new ecosystem, by using data science, and by tapping entrepreneurship to generate dynamic growth.”

RETHINKING THE OLD

In addition to focusing so much attention on the rising field of data science, AIM is adapting quickly in other areas. The school is launching new programs on other critical topics, revamping existing programs, tending to crucial relationships, and frequently tweaking its administrative approach.

New programs. One of the ways AIM stays relevant is by addressing pressing issues with global implications. For instance, this summer, AIM’s Zuellig School of Development Management will launch a part-time executive master’s in disaster risk and crisis management to tackle the challenge of climate change and the havoc caused by natural disasters. The goal is to help create safe, resilient organizations by teaching professionals to move efficiently through the cycle of preparation, prevention, mitigation, response, recovery, and rehabilitation. The new risk management program aligns with several initiatives developed by the United Nations, including the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, the Sustainable Development Goals, the Agenda for Humanity, and the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Revamped programs. To meet the needs of today’s learners, AIM has redesigned several of its longstanding offerings. For instance, this fall it will debut a 12-month MBA program that will include specializations in areas such as business analytics and digital marketing. The institute also is going after new markets for its executive education offerings and designing lifelong learning programs for workers who need to upgrade their skills.

Critical partnerships. AIM provides executive education to major corporations, such as Nestlé and Unilever; maintains partnerships with financial organizations such as the Asian Development Bank, USAID, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation; and builds relationships with governmental agencies both in the Philippines and nearby countries in Asia. These relationships influence what is taught in the classroom and pursued in research.

“Given that this part of the world has experienced dynamic changes in the past ten years, our active engagement with multi-sectoral stakeholders informs our instruction and thought leadership,” says Kang. “Our school culture values research that creates impact and is directly beneficial to business, government, and society. The output of our faculty is intended for a wide range of audiences and purposes, and it includes case studies as well as research papers for business practice improvement and government policy reform.”

Administrative functions. AIM maintains a core of 35 academic and clinical faculty, complemented by 80 part-time adjuncts and a handful of visiting professors. While the school currently uses a tenure-track system, it experimented with other options to make sure that such a system was the right one to pursue. Says Kang, “Going back to a tenure system—but with a shorter probationary period of three years—has been instrumental in allowing us to recruit international faculty who are hesitant to move to the Philippines without being able to obtain tenure or long-term job security.”

The school also encourages cross-disciplinary teaching and research across its six academic programs and four schools by doing away with silo-based departments and treating its teaching staff as a single faculty. Kang says, “This setup allows for greater dynamism, flexibility, and adaptability.”

BEING DIFFERENT

By striving to stay dynamic in all phases of operation—from the way it deploys faculty to the way it adapts to the market—AIM ensures that it remains nimble. Kang believes that other young schools, and small schools, should take the opportunity to react quickly to trends, becoming “first movers” who thrive even during market disruptions.

“They should take advantage of the fact that they don’t have big engines to turn around, so they can experiment with new ideas and engage people with new perspectives,” she says. “That’s how small schools can establish their competitive edge quickly—possibly before the ‘big guys’ have a chance to pivot.”

She also believes such schools should find their own market niches, whether they pour their energies into teaching, research, or a particular sector. “They should not feel that they have to do everything that well-established large schools are doing,” Kang says. “Being different has worked for us so far.”

Finally, they should stick to their own particular missions. “Our founders had this lofty vision of going beyond business in order to make a meaningful and sustainable difference in Asian business and society,” says Kang. “That is still what we are about. The work that we want to do makes it necessary for us to keep striving for relevance, and this desire to stay relevant makes us focus on being innovative. There is so much more room for us to grow. We just have to keep reinventing our present and inventing our future.”

This article originally appeared in BizEd's July/August 2019 issue. Please send questions, comments, or letters to the editor to bized.editors@aacsb.edu.




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