Making Quick Work

Jikyeong Kang does not waste time. The management savant wants things done now, or, as the running joke of her colleagues goes, she wants it accomplished yesterday.

“Sometimes, I feel that things move a bit too slow for me,” Jikyeong said in an hour-long sit-down with the BUSINESSMIRROR. “I’m like this,” she quipped, before snapping her fingers thrice, fast. It has always been about efficiency and results for Jikyeong, and her body of work reflects the chase in each pursuit.

She graduated summa cum laude from Hanyang University in Seoul, obtained a Master’s degree from Colorado State University and earned her PhD from the University of Minnesota. Professionally, Jikyeong served as Academic Director of the Manchester Business School (MBS) Doctor of Business Administration from 2010 to 2014. During most of her tenure, the Doctoral Programs of MBS topped the Financial Times rankings, a renowned list of the world’s best business schools.

Prior to that, she helmed MBS’s Master of Business Administration Programs, including its Full-time MBA Programme. Jikyeong led the MBS’s MBA jump from a Financial Times ranking of 47th globally in 2002 to 22nd in 2007. It was the highest ranking the MBA program of MBS has ever achieved.

Success, as Jikyeong has proved and continues to prove, is universal. She spares no second in striving for it wherever and in whatever capacity, from Korea to the United States, from a two-year sabbatical in Spain to the United Kingdom, and everywhere else in between.

Around two years ago, she brought the streak to the Philippines.

Jikyeong joined the Asian Institution of Management (AIM) as Dean in January 2015. Just nine months later, the Institute’s Board of Trustees unanimously appointed her as President and CEO. She became AIM’s 10th president, and the first female in that line.

Since taking over, Jikyeong has introduced two new programs, with three more in the pipeline. Financials are also much stronger, student number continues to increase, infrastructure projects are lined up and a new, dynamic logo called the Nexus is in place. She has pushed for all this while AIM prepares for its 50th anniversary next year.

It’s not hard to draw the impression of a toxic drill sergeant out of a leader as driven and accomplished as Jikyeong. However, she broke that notion at the onset of our meeting at the AIM campus in Makati City.

Jikyeong wasn’t waiting inside her current office (the same one she used as a Dean, refusing to move to the bigger corner space despite being promoted to President and CEO). She wasn’t alone with papers in a boardroom, either.

Clad in a crisp white blazer paired with an accented scarf, Jikyeong was standing beside her staff’s work station, with an elbow rested on the office divider, chatting. The amiable executive paused to greet us with a warm smile, before agreeing to proceed to the photo shoot.

It was noticeable that her staff and colleagues were at ease with her presence. They watched Jikyeong pose for the camera. After a few shots, she quipped that pictorials were “not part of the job,” but did it anyway since “photo-ops are very Filipino.”

At one point of the shoot, when one of the low ceiling lights needed to be adjusted, Jikyeong took the job herself. She stepped on a sofa to reach the bulb, while her staff froze in concern. Jikyeong was unfazed throughout. She adjusted the light, calmly descended and smiled again for the next click.

Jikyeong maintains accessibility is a key part of her leadership style. She instructs her faculty and staff to refrain from calling her “Dean Kang” or “Professor Kang” or “President Kang,” and insists to be addressed as simply “Jikyeong.” Anyone who breaks the rule faces a P100 fine, she said.

“If my staff and faculty calls me Dean Kang or Professor Kang or President Kang, that to me is drawing a soft line of hierarchy,” she said. “I don’t want to be surrounded by people who always agree with me. I want people to challenge me. It doesn’t mean I will follow whatever you ask me to do but I want to hear you, I want to make sense of what’s going on, of what people think and of what people say.”

“I think that there is politeness in this culture that sometimes can be counter-productive. I’m trying to give people license to disagree, have a constructive discussion.” Jikyeong added that she always tells people to not just complain, but to present her with a solution.

Revealed in each of Jikyeong’s answers during the interview were her experience and intellect. She also discussed her past and her plans without restraint.

Jikyeong has been to more than 60 countries. When people ask her why she came to the Philippines, she pulls out an imaginary map and jests, “do you think I should come here next?” The real reason, she said, was her family. Jikyeong wanted to move closer to her sickly parents and her siblings. “I wanted to see them a little bit more often, because when I was in England, I saw them only once a year.”

Things fell into place when Jikyeong received an interview invite from AIM. Getting to know its history, legacy and potential sealed the deal. “I never imagined myself working in the Philippines, to be honest. But there’s so much potential in this region and with this institute. I thought that with my experience and background, perhaps I could make some contribution. So that’s why I’m here.”

One of the biggest accomplishments Jikyeong credits in her young stint at AIM is the diversification of program offerings. She said that the MBA program is, and will always be, AIM’s flagship course. But at the same time, they’re also trying to meet the current needs of the market, the country and the region.

“We have to think about where the world is heading, and we need to prepare for it,” she said. “There’s also a reason why we are called ‘Institute of Management,’ rather than ‘Institute of Business’ because we are more than a business school.”

Last year, AIM re-launched its Master in Entrepreneurship program and introduced the Master of Science in Innovation and Business for Science, Technology, Engineering, Architecture and Mathmetics or STEAM.

Next year, AIM will be offering another set of programs that include Master of Science in Data Science and Master in Disaster and Risk Management. Jikyeong said Filipino-American entrepreneur Dado Banatao, a pioneer in the semi-conductor industry who has partnered with AIM for a startup incubator, told her that data scientists coming out of engineering and computer science schools usually have the technical know-how, but don’t always know what questions to ask.

Lacking from these data scientists, according to Jikyeong, are the business-savvy, the understanding of the market and the understanding of the customers. “If we don’t have those, it doesn’t matter how fancy the analytics are.”

This is even more pressing in this country today, she said, pointing to the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry. Jikyeong said the BPO segment is still heavily invested on the front-end, while industry experts believe the future would be the back office, data and analytics. “We want to prepare our programs and students not just to meet the needs of today. We want to prepare them for the future,” Jikyeong said.

The executive also referenced a McKinsey Global Institute study that states more than 20% of Chief Executive functions could be automated away via artificial intelligence and other technologies. She added that while a lot of jobs will be lost, new ones would be created. “We need to be prepared for that transition. We really need to think forward.”

Getting the cream of the crop for these new programs is another focus of Jikyeong, which is why she lauds the addition of data scientist Erika Legara to AIM as the Academic Director of its Data Science program.

Legara has worked for the Agency for Science, Technology and Research of the Singaporean government. Jikyeong considers her one of the top five Filipino data scientists. She said in recruiting Legara, her pitch was simple: “It’s not just about helping AIM, but also helping the country.”

It’s a typical recruitment line for Jikyeong, who believes every country needs a leading business school that can provide thought-leadership and industry practices in partnership with governments and multi-national organizations.

Another new program coming next year is on disaster, risk and crisis management. There have been similar offerings from other universities, but Jikyeong said there isn’t one with an integrated approach.

AIM’s version will have just that, plus the synergy with its Data Science program. Jikyeong said Legara has already conducted research that show disasters can be much more accurately predicted, if not prevented, if trends are properly analyzed. The executive added that with the country being prone to disasters, each corporation needs a risk officer.

“One of the differentiations we’re going to bring to Disaster Management is to have a scientific way of controlling the risk,” she said. “If you can predict disasters, that’s better than wonderfully dealing with it once it strikes.”

Aside from meeting today’s needs in terms of programs, Jikyeong also pushes for AIM to meet today’s standards in terms of facilities.

She said the landscape of business schools is extremely competitive. “Everything else being equal, people are drawn to something shiny.” To keep up, expansion plans have been laid out to the 800-square meter premises of AIM, which hasn’t undergone any major renovation in its almost 50 years of existence.

The idea is to preserve the institution’s heritage, and improve on what it currently has. Jikyeong said they are fund raising for the project. In addition, her dream scenario is for AIM to have the first green building as an educational institution.

These plans come at a time when AIM prepares for its golden anniversary next year. Jikyeong said between this August and a gala dinner in November 2018, there will be 50 events here and abroad to celebrate AIM’s anniversary. All of which are geared toward celebrating, re-energizing and refreshing the AIM brand.

“I want the world to know that with our golden anniversary, we’re not just looking back and feeling good about what we have been able to accomplish. We also want to introduce where we want to go, where we want to be and the plans on how we will get there,” Jikyeong said. “I want the friends and family of AIM to feel excited about all our plans so they can join in and support us.”

Jikyeong added that as a management school of international standing and reputation, AIM is not just national treasure, but a regional pride.  She hopes for AIM to provide its students with something unique, such as to inculcate in them what it means to be in Asia. More so, something that is uniquely different about being not just in a mere top business school, but specifically in the Asian Institute of Management.