From first Pakistani alumna to IAA President: Meet Sadia Khan MBA’95D

InSadia Profilevestment banker, development banker, financial sector regulator, family business leader and now entrepreneur. This is the career of Sadia Khan MBA’95D: first Pakistani woman to graduate from INSEAD and new president of the world’s most international alumni organisation. She explains how being an INSEAD volunteer has played a role in her own achievements – and how the IAA is working for the benefit of all alumni.

Salamander Magazine: Do you have a secret formula for success?
Sadia Khan: Initiative. Networking. Savoir-faire. Empowerment. Attitude. Diligence… Or, for short, INSEAD! And the best way to keep that formula fresh after graduating is to join the INSEAD Alumni Association. That’s why I’ve always been so involved at a national and international level. And the network feels more vibrant today than ever before.

SM: When you returned to work in Pakistan after many years abroad, there was no National Alumni Association… So you founded one! Why?
SK: Back in 1994, I had to fly to Dubai for my INSEAD interview, because there were no graduates to interview me in Pakistan. So I realised there was a need to galvanize the small but growing number of alumni there – and to provide a much needed networking platform for the younger generation. We started with 30 members in 2007, but managed to organise high-profile events for up to 300 people. The NAA has definitely helped to build the INSEAD brand within the country.

SM: You were an INSEAD volunteer before that, though. Had you already felt the benefits?
SK: I’d been actively involved with INSEAD since graduating. While I was based in the Philippines, I started interviewing MBA candidates and discovered that it not only kept me in touch with the school’s development but also gave me the chance to interact with the next generation of business leaders.

SM: How did you get involved at an international level?
SK: I was invited to become a member of the IAA Executive Committee as VP for Asia and communications in 2012. The highlight was probably heading up the implementation of the first Global INSEAD Day in 2013. The IAA model is based on teamwork and volunteerism and it was in that spirit that I took up my current role.

SM: How did you become the global IAA President?
SK: I have to admit I was taken by surprise when the search committee approached me earlier this year! It wasn’t a role I was vying for or even contemplating at this stage of my professional life. However, I knew there was work to be done right now in enhancing the value proposition of the IAA for our alumni, and there was a great team ready to support me in this role, within the volunteer community and within the school.

SM: Why do you believe the IAA is so valuable to alumni and to the school?
SK: An active alumni association not only helps to keep the alumni energised and engaged but also contributes tremendously to the positive branding of INSEAD. Through our activities, we not only get a chance to showcase the achievements of our members but also demonstrate our deep bonding with the institution. And nothing succeeds like success. The success of the alumni boosts the reputation of the school, while in turn the success of the school enables the alumni to bask in its reflected glory. Having a strong and active alumni network is a win-win for all.

SM: What is your role as President in preserving the IAA win-win?
SK: My primary role is to keep our group of volunteers around the world motivated and inspired, so that we keep alive the spirit of selfless service and loyalty to the school that binds us together. Apart from the daily communication on pending issues, there are formal Executive Committee conference calls once a month, quarterly Partnership Board meetings with representatives of the school and bi-annual volunteers’ meetings, which bring together NAA Presidents and volunteers from around the world. These are great opportunities for alumni to vote on important decisions, as well as to learn from each other by sharing best practices.

SM: Which of the IAA’s own best practices are you most proud of?
SK: The IAA’s main strength has been as a catalyst for many new initiatives, including the Salamander magazine, produced by the school, which you’re reading right now. Global INSEAD Day, the Regional Alumni Forums and new IT tools have also enabled the alumni to stay connected with INSEAD and with each other. Other focal areas in the past few years have included career development services for alumni and lifelong learning programs. We remain actively involved in all these initiatives – and hope to introduce even more innovative ideas to keep our alumni community energised and engaged.

Sadia 2IAA Ex-co celebating Global INSEAD Day

SM: What’s the next big thing from the IAA? Can you give us a sneak preview?
SK: Only if you’re at the next Volunteers’ meeting in November, where we’re going to share our draft Strategic Plan! It’s the first time we’ve conducted a detailed strategic planning exercise involving all our stakeholders to create a sense of ownership. The process has focussed on enhancing the value proposition of the IAA model as well as ensuring its long-term relevance and sustainability. Corporate governance is a subject close to my heart and I want to make sure that, as graduates of INSEAD, we put into place the best management practices for the running of our volunteer organisation.

SM: Which other issues are particularly close to your heart – whether at INSEAD or in business?
SK: Challenges and constraints for working women in general and women on boards in particular. In 1995, around 20% of my class were women and today the figure isn’t much above 30%. Globally, women represent 40% of the workforce and, after countless initiatives, only 12% of board positions. It’s not enough. I volunteer a lot of time for mentoring and speaking on these subjects and, since I have two daughters, it feels even more important to champion women’s issues for future generations.

SM: As a woman from a developing economy in Asia what qualities and new perspectives do you feel you bring to the Presidency of the IAA?
SK: I have always maintained that INSEAD is not a place where you just blend in with the rest. It is a place where you stand out and are recognised for your own individual qualities. Perhaps some of these individual qualities played their part in my nomination earlier this year. For a leadership role, one needs to have an equal measure of passion and compassion. I have always been passionate about whatever cause I take up and growing up in a society where I had to fight for my rights from a young age may have helped to instil a work ethos that relied on hard work and determination rather than a sense of entitlement. I have also had the privilege of studying and working in five countries across three continents, so I hope the international perspective I bring truly embodies the INSEAD spirit and reinforces its position as the Business School for the World.

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