Saturday, May 16, 2015

Wisdom from the President - Prof. Tan Sri Dr. Ghauth Jasmon

Prof. Ghauth was the founding president of Multimedia University, the first private university in Malaysia, where I earn my engineering degree. With his leadership the university grew dramatically and ranked at top 200 universities in Asia in less than 10 years of it's establishment. 

Me with Prof. Ghauth and Prof. Rasat

Today I have a chance to meet him at our MMU Alumni Homecoming celebration. My intention is to meet some old folks during the university time, but very less from my batch were turned up for the event. However, from the short speech of Prof. Ghauth sharing his thought and wisdom makes me feel that the event was very fruitful to me at least.

Prof. Ghauth was the vice-chancellor of the University Malaya after building MMU from scratch for 11 years. He said that he was blessed because he was able to be at the top position of both public and private universities in Malaysia. He shared some of his view including the different challenge that he has to face running both universities.
Working Culture
As he runs Multimedia University, he don't feel the stress of managing people because he is the founding president of MMU. All the staffs were fresh without any preconceived thoughts. But in UM, the challenge is the people already have their way of doing things and it is difficult to change the culture. What I learn in organization, changing culture is the most difficult thing, as what Peter Drucker said, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." However, in MMU, he can focus on the direction, because of the culture was not yet mould into a certain type of culture. He can focus more on the strategies.

Funding for the Private Universities
He also did mentioned the challenge of private universities are always the funding. He said that in order for us to be the best, we need to have money. We need to pay for the best lecturers to join the team. We need to built the first class infrastructure. We need to have the best brain to run the university. Everything requires money. But based on his opinion, raising the fee is not the way of getting more money. Students will get angry if we raised the fee. How about commercialization? Most universities put some burden on commercialization to gain some funding for the university. He said that most universities tried this but most of them were unsuccessful. Even in the developed country like the US failed to get the money from the commercialization activities because it requires a lot of budget and the return of investment is so small. Even selling tudung can make more money in terms of margin if we compare with commercialization. But we need to have the research activities, because that is the nature of universities to have some new research and findings. Then what? Organizing seminars? Organizing seminars will bring in only small amount of money which is not significant as compared to the university budget and operational cost.

So, how do we do this? He said that we need to have more new ideas of getting revenue. Not only running it the traditional way like most universities and colleges done before. It never successful in bringing in money and why should we use the same strategies that don't work? He suggested that universities should buy assets, because it will be the long term strategy to sustain the university. The other revenue making activities can be short term, but in order to make it self-sustaining, buying assets is the best way of doing it.

The Board of Directors
He is now no longer running any universities. But at his position now, he preferred to do things on part-time basis. Not on the full-time running a universities like he used to do. He jokingly said that he might died soon if he did so. Now he was appointed as board members of two private universities, which are Sunway University and International University of Malaya-Wales (IUMW). He did really enjoyed being the board member of Sunway University. Part of the reason was the board members are those who really aggressively wanting to raise up the university. He did compared it with the board members of the UM, where people are playing handphones during the meeting and they are totally opposite as compared to Sunway University. Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah did a really good job in selecting the right people to become the board of directors of Sunway University. They prefer to discuss on new ideas. I remembered Eleanor Roosevelt famous quotation, "Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people." Sometimes when I looked back at myself, the ratio of discussing ideas can always be improved. Let's work on discussing more ideas as compared to talk about people. 

The Power of Alumni
At the closing, Prof. Ghauth recommend that MMU should be close to Alumni. "Please keep your alumni strong, be close to them. Respect your alumni, be their friend more than you own management members." Because alumni is the one that who are going to spread the words to the public. If they are happy with the university, they will said something positive to the public and create a very strong public perception. When I think about it, that is such a brilliant point. Why should we treat alumni more than we treat the management team? The management team come and go, and once they are out of their job scope, they will no longer have any influence of the university. But the alumni will stay. One thing that made MCKK so well known is their strong alumni. It benefited their alumni members as well as the school branding. You don't have to spend so much money to generate student leads, if the alumni is doing the work of spreading the words in the public. Why do you think my brother now is studying in the university? I am the one who recommend it and helping with the application process. Because I am proud of the university.

When a wise person said something, there are so many things to learn and to think. Wisdom is something that are valuable and I try as much listen to the wisdom of the wise people. Thank you Prof. for sharing your thoughts and wisdom. Look forward to listen and learn more from you.