The president and dean of the Asian Institute of Management tells Joyce Lau that being an introverted leader and a minority has taught her empathy
Posted on January 23, 2020
Jikyeong Kang is president and dean of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) in Manila, the Philippines, which was founded in 1968 by a consortium that included Harvard Business School. Before joining AIM in 2015, she was professor of marketing at the Alliance Manchester Business School, part of the University of Manchester. Next year, the South Korean is set to become the first Asian dean from an Asian business school to chair the board of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Last year AIM won the Technological Innovation of the Year award at the Times Higher Education Awards Asia.
When and where were you born?
I was born in 1961 and grew up in Seoul.
How did that shape you?
When I was growing up, I didn’t fit in anywhere. I was extremely introverted; I still am. People tell me I seem extroverted, but it is only when alone that I can rest and relax in splendid isolation. It was still very much the “old world” in Asia. Women’s roles were very clear; there was a more or less perceived notion was that certain universities were “prep schools” to find a good husband. But to me, the idea was very alien. I was individually minded. I graduated from Hanyang University and, just after turning 22, I went to America.
What was your first overseas student experience like?
Having international exposure as a minority is not the same as when an American or Australian goes to Britain. It’s different when you are an Asian woman in a Midwestern American city in the 1980s, who is from a different culture, who doesn’t speak the language fluently, and who doesn’t have a network. You do everything on your own. Sometimes you don’t feel like the world is fair, but you cope with it. My favourite phrase in college was: what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.
What was an unexpected thing you learned in the US?
Empathy. When I was growing up, I did not know the meaning of “empathy”. I saw people who did not succeed, and I thought it was because they did not go to school or were not hard-working. I was living in a small bubble. But it’s different when you’re the person who is different. Then you see inequity and think, “This isn’t right.” I’ve been a minority most of my adult life, and it’s given me a different perspective. The experience has given me the ability to listen.
You come from one of the world’s most technologically advanced countries. What are some management challenges of being in a developing country?
There are things you take for granted in the developed world. There were things that seem obvious to me, but aren’t obvious. I don’t want to be the person who always says, “Why don’t you do things this way?” So you need to win people over. People need to see the issues, debate them and make informed decisions themselves. The question is: how do you motivate and inspire?
You have been digitising operations in a higher education sector known for red tape. How are you doing that?
I don’t want to preach modern management when we’re not digitising operations ourselves. We must practise what we teach. If you don’t keep up with what’s happening in the world, you will fall behind. Of course, that’s easier said than done. We’re redoing our faculty management systems with software called Interfolio. It is applicable to human resources, policies, systems and workflows. Instead of making incremental changes, sometimes you just have to take a big breath and jump in. It’s not as simple as moving a legacy system to a new system. The shift gives us the opportunity to review how things are done. These things are not just technical. You need to change mindsets and how people organise their tasks.
What’s an emerging, important field in management education?
Data, and we do a lot of teaching in this area. AIM has the first graduate data science degree programme in the Philippines. There are huge implications in the use of analytics and automation. Data scientists can play a big role in nation-building, and in making a difference to corporations and policymakers.
Your school has one of the few supercomputers in the region. Why?
We were fortunate to have a board member who is a co-founder of Acer in Taiwan. I was very touched when Acer donated a supercomputer to us in 2018. At the time, it was the fastest in the country, and the second fastest in Southeast Asia, after Singapore. With that tool, we developed ACCeSs@AIM, the first corporate laboratory of its kind in the Philippines. It is envisioned to lead and promote the use of data science, artificial intelligence and computational models to help industries, government agencies and other sectors to innovate.
What challenges do you face as one of the few women to head an Asian business school?
I don’t always look at it as a disadvantage. It’s true that as women, if you go to certain meetings, you may not get the same attention as men. But this may be an advantage, as people are not as wary or competitive. I don’t like to say a lot, but if I do have something to say, I’ll say my piece. I can’t become a white, middle-aged man, so I look for a silver lining; I look for role models, and those role models do not necessarily have to be women. I just put my head down and get on with it.
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Steve Foxley is joining the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre as executive dean. He has previously held senior positions with Siemens in the UK, Europe and China.
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