INSEAD Alumni Leaders’ Forum (special edition) UAE

Celebrating the spirit of Global INSEAD day

I recently had the pleasure of attending the first INSEAD Alumni Leaders Forum in Dubai. The day was a celebration of the spirit of Global INSEAD Day, the annual event where alumni and friends around the globe come together for a day of celebration of the INSEAD community. Held on 21 September at the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, the event saw over 250 attendees from across various industries and functions, as well as top business school alumni. The diverse audience was an excellent representation of the collaborative environment that INSEAD represents and that the school and its alumni strive to grow and nurture.

The topic of the forum, Digitization and Disruptive Innovation, proved to be not only extremely relevant but also led to a number of exciting and insightful discussions.

Simran Kaur MBA’11D, President of the INSEAD National Alumni Association (NAA) UAE, opened the conference with an address that set the tone for the day. She stressed that it is the NAA-UAE’s mission to inspire, by providing an engagement platform to drive thought leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship which impacts not only business but society as a whole. In the current time of unprecedented change, technology and innovation are transforming the way we live. Simran stressed that occasions like this forum are so important, as they bring together business leaders and influencers, thus promoting engagement and knowledge sharing.


H.E. Majid Saif Al Ghurair, Chairman of Dubai Chamber UAE — with Simran Kaur

Next, H.E. Majid Saif Al Ghurair, Chairman of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry, shared his appreciation for Dubai’s role as a hub for start-ups that are furthering local innovation and entrepreneurship. “Dubai has made considerable headway in its vision to become the smartest city in the world and a knowledge-based economy, as outlined in the Dubai Plan 2021. As Expo 2020 approaches, we can look forward to the various initiatives that the Government is implementing through its pro-active and entrepreneurial approach that has created a culture of openness, transparency and collaboration, encouraging engagement from the community. To complement this, Dubai Chamber has adopted a comprehensive strategy to stimulate innovation within the organisation and the business sector as well,” he said.

Following this, there was a thought provoking session reminiscent of a Monday morning INSEAD class with Professor Declan Fitzsimons, Adjunct Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD. Prof Fitzsimons spoke of how Digitization and Disruptive Innovation represent both threats and opportunities. It is important to understand human response to threats and the anxieties that change creates in order to be able to seize opportunities. Prof Fitzsimons quoted an interesting McKinsey study which found that for major cultural change projects, the failure rate was a staggering 76%. What is even more remarkable is that these numbers have not changed much in the last 30 years, bringing home the point of how difficult change can be and that one needs to be prepared in order for Digitization and Disruptive Innovation to succeed.

The forum then turned to multiple sessions with regional heads, to get their perspectives on how digitisation has been transforming their organisations and impacting the way they lead. The sessions included prominent leaders from IBM, MBC, UNHCR, McKinsey & Company, Philips and MundiPharma. One of the key highlights of the day was the discussion with Fadi Ghandour, one of the most well-known entrepreneurs in the region. In an inspirational leaders-forumand animated talk, Fadi provided insights into his Aramex journey, his inspiration for starting and what fills his time since leaving. When quizzed on the challenges of the developing MENA (Middle East North Africa) ecosystem, Fadi highlighted that scalability of start-ups across the region is a major impediment to the success of many, and that he would advocate for a pan-MENA trade agreement to foster innovation. Fadi encouraged all budding entrepreneurs to give it a go and highlighted the value of learning from failure.
The afternoon brought along its fair share of inspiring talks from more entrepreneurs and included sessions on Fintech from INSEAD alumni. Promoth Manghat, CEO UAE Exchange, provided an insight in to the disruption witnessed across different segments of the financial services industry in a session titled ‘CEO Talks: Digital Disruption in Financial Services’.He emphasised the importance of collaboration between traditional players and Fintech entities to foster innovation.

I was particularly looking forward to The INSEAD Entrepreneurs panel, and I have to say it did not disappoint. It consisted of four alumni in different stages of their entrepreneurial journey – from an accelerator to a series-B funded start-up, to a $200m fundied company and finally a start-up at the proof of concept stage. As a fellow entrepreneur, I always love to hear from my fellow INSEAD journeymen about their triumphs and tribulations. The discussion was about the influence of INSEAD in their start-up journey and their day-to-day running of the business. It was an almost unanimous view that the classmates and fellow alumni of the panel members played a huge role in either shaping their ideas or in writing the first cheque that helped them start the business. The discussion also brought out some interesting insights on the common pain points that companies face in the UAE, namely finding the right talent in the region.

The day ended at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel with a gala dinner, with guest of honour Majid Jafar, Chief Executive of Crescent and the Founding Chair of the Centre for Economic Growth at INSEAD’s Abu Dhabi campus. Majid talked about the fact that while the Middle East holds almost half of the world’s proven oil reserves, it produces only about one third of global supply, implying much greater potential and the need for widespread adoption of new technologies to maximise recovery rates.

Finally, it was time to loosen our ties and catch up with fellow alumni and to drink, eat and be merry.

As the long day came to an end, I was reminded of a recent editorial by Dean Ilian Mihov, where he says that “Strengthening the INSEAD brand is a joint effort that depends on active participation from our entire community.” As evidenced by the spectacular success of the day, The INSEAD Alumni Association of UAE is playing its part in no small way! The team, led by Simran Kaur, worked tirelessly for this event and was rightfully lauded by everyone present for their efforts. I went home a euphoric man, having met up with old friends and made new ones. I had some very exciting discussions – oh how I miss those long chats that I had with fellow INSEADers and faculty!  Indeed, the INSEAD year was life changing, and each alumni event since adds to it!

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