Pull Yourself out of the Bubble

The Canadian Finance Professor Arshad Ahmad, Ph.D., has been teaching in the Global Executive MBA program from the first batch onwards. In addition to his financial expertise, Ahmad has a Ph.D. in educational psychology and has focused on online and blended learning, curriculum design and teaching strategies. He was recognized with a lifetime 3M National Teaching Fellowship and has won several teaching excellence awards locally and overseas. In an interview, Ahmad talks about his role as a Professor in the Global Executive MBA program and gives finance hints for executives.

Thinking about the GEMBA program, what is the challenge for you as a professor?

The GEMBA is like a mini United Nations program. Normally, you get international perspectives in the MBA and other programs at HHL, but even more so, I feel, in the GEMBA. The perspectives are not only characterized by different economic aspects but also by various cultures. The challenge is to bring all the perspectives together so that people can learn from each other.

What is your approach as a professor to achieve the goal of intercultural learning?

There are several things. Firstly, you should put yourself in the shoes of the learners, meaning the focus should be on them and not on yourself. For that, just reading their profile would not be enough. Thus you must build a relationship because if you present yourself in inviting their perspective, they will feel that you are genuinely interested. Secondly, most teachers look for the best things that students can offer but I want them to reveal their ignorance and to tell me what they don’t know. The participation marks are high and a lot of them are trying to impress everybody else. In this way, if you can create a safe environment where they are humbler about themselves then the learning takes place. This will only happen if you are confident to trust your instructor and don’t feel humiliated and small.

How do you teach the field of finance in an interesting way to your students, who are often not from this field?

The truth is that the numerical skills are usually very low in nearly every population, even if they are sophisticated people. If people cannot visualize numbers and just do the simple math, then they fear numbers and they do not have any practice. In finance, it is not all about numbers but it is important to connect different disciplines together, which is fairly simple. When you open the newspaper, you see that everything is connected to everything else and it is the job of us, the teachers, to show these connections.

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a CFO?

Above all, it is simplicity: I would ask him or her what are the connections in the company which are important for the people to understand how you think? Finance people, like me, look at the world in a certain way and if we reveal that thinking to others, they are ready to talk to us. Hiding behind mathematics, frameworks and Nobel Prize-winning theories does not translate a complex phenomenon into something simple. If you cannot do this, you should rethink your role as a CFO. Secondly, make connections through other departments, divisions or even your competitors to understand which macro forces and bigger issues and trends are guiding us. Thirdly, pull yourself out of the bubble and have a look at the big picture. Finance is about people at the end of the day and people make the big decisions where behavior comes into play. So this is an opportunity for everyone to contribute.