Leadership is about Execution – Not Degrees

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, founders and CEOs of Microsoft and Facebook respectively, dropped out before completing their college education.

The recent decision by the courts in Pakistan, to remove Air Marshal Arshad Malik as CEO of our national airline and halt the impressive turnaround that he has led, since taking over the leadership position at PIA, has been absolutely baffling.

As a CEO myself, I found some of the arguments thrown about, regarding specific education requirements and qualifications, to be myopic and out of sync with 21st century thought on corporate management. In my opinion, If Pakistan is to progress and compete globally, our thinking will have to evolve to where the rest of the developed and developing countries are already – Leadership is about execution, not degrees.

Richard Branson, the founder and CEO of Virgin Airlines, an upstart airline that successfully challenged British Airways’ monopoly, barely completed secondary school education, let alone pursue any college or university education.

Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the Chairman, and CEO of Emirates Airlines has a degree in Political Science. Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas, studied Physics and Mathematics, while Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines, studied Economics as an undergraduate. Finally, Herb Kelleher, the CEO of Southwest Airlines, studied Philosophy, and then later obtained a law degree.

Further afield, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, founders and CEOs of Microsoft and Facebook respectively, dropped out before completing their college education. Elon Musk studied physics and has been (and is ) CEO of an e-commerce company, an automobile manufacturer, a rocket company, and a subterranean drilling company.  Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, who recently met with PM Imran Khan at Davos, is not a computer scientist but has a degree in philosophy.

The common theme here, as you may have noticed, is that to run and build a successful airline or any other type of organization– there is no set or specific degree that is a pre-requisite. Having a vision, and then the ability to lead an organization to achieve that vision, is what determines success in the corporate world. As I said earlier – leadership is about execution, not degrees!

There has also been an irrational downplaying and denigration of capability that military servicemen and women bring to the corporate world. A study conducted by Korn/Ferry International, employment recruitment and talent management company, found overwhelming evidence that CEOs with a military background are more likely to deliver reliable performance.

The Korn/Ferry study found that companies led by military servicemen and women as CEOs delivered higher average returns than the S&P 500 index over one, three, five, and ten-year horizons.

Allana Akhtar is a journalist who has written extensively about CEOs with military backgrounds. In an article in Business Insider, she highlighted Johnson and Johnson, Rockwell Collins, Kinder Morgan – all successful Global Fortune 1000 companies led by servicemen CEOs.

In another article, she looked at the values that the founders of Walmart and FedEx acquired while they were in military service. And how they leveraged these values and skills to build these two amazing enterprises.

Right here in Pakistan, we have the storied history of Air Marshal Nur Khan and then Air Marshal Asghar Khan leading PIA to great heights. More recently, Air Marshal Sohail Gul Khan has worked hard to build Serene Air to serve the people of Pakistan.

Clayton Jones, CEO of Rockwell Collins, notes that the leadership and management skills one picks up in the armed forces can’t be underestimated, “At a very young age, you get a chance to be in leadership positions of significant magnitude,” he says. “You become comfortable in a leadership role.”

Jones also points out that military leaders must make tough decisions daily, which helps prepare them for the rigours of the corporate world. “Some people want to know more and more information before making a decision. In the armed forces, you don’t have that luxury. I have found that in business, it is incredibly important to be quick to market, or deal with a crisis.”

I recently started flying on PIA again last year after almost a gap of 20 years. It felt great to be on our national carrier. There was great optimism that our national airline, after years of neglect and mismanagement, was on the right track – till another self-inflicted wound punctured that belief. 

What are your views on this? Share in the comments bar below.

  • Air Marshall Arshad Malik might be good but team around him are all crooks. INCLUDING the air force officers on secondment. These include Air Commodore Jibran butt whos official title is CEO Skyrooms but is involved in the Supply Chain Management. He along with Chief Engineer EBD Afzal Noor are engaged in a massive corruption within PIA. If anyone requires proof this can be made available.

  • سپریم کورٹ کو جلد از جلد ارشد ملک صاحب کو پی آئی اے کی پوسٹ پر 3 سالوں کے لئے بحال کر کے ان کو موقع دینا چاہیے ھے یہ ایک ایماندار دیانت دار شخص لگتا ھے امید ھے 3 سالوں میں پی آئی اے کی کارکردگی بہتر ہو جائے گی

  • بل گیٹس اور مارک زکر برگ نے جب سے ہوش سنبھالا ھے کاروبار ھی کر رہے ھیں پہلے وہ ائر فورس میں نہیں تھے ۔بندہ مثال دیتے ھوئے کچھ تو سوچ لیتا ھے۔

  • I thick some stupid donkeys are sitting in supreme court. First these judiciary are not doing anything for lower and medium class people.
    High class people including judiciary are going free anywhere in the world. They don’t think about Pakistanis but to themselves.

  • Why none of the example cited above are serving airforce officers? Why no other country came up with this brilliant idea of making a serving air marshal the head of national civilian aircraft company? The court objected to his two jobs and the nature of the ad which was given by the government in newspapers , about which the author of this article has nothing to say

    • There is only one job. He is on deputation from Air Force to PIA. Just like when a civil servant gets posted to the UN, or World Bank – they don’t have two jobs – they have one. It is very common around the world to deputize people from one government organization to another. Gen MacArthur, led post war Japan, Lt Gen Groves took over the Manhatten project – and tons of other examples.

  • It seems that the intentions of our honourable CJ were not clean in removing the Air Marshal.
    The AM dismissed many of the political appointees who were not performing and were a huge financial burden on PIA. Perhaps some of these white elephants were related to our SC judges?
    Moreover he nor the other Air Force officers drawing any salary from PIA as they were on secondment. I am sure our learned judges know the meaning of secondment.
    This leads me to conclude that the intentions were Mala fide!

  • The whole issue regarding the fake degree employees in PIA is being totally misunderstood. The AM is doing a phenomenal job of weeding out the corrupt. He is not removing employees because they lack the proper qualifications but because they presented fake degrees at the time of employment and their corrupt friends facilitated their employment. By doing so, they denied that job to a genuine qualified candidate. I am totally puzzled why the courts and specially the CJ couldn’t identify this. Or maybe they did but their corrupt patrons did not want their stooges to be removed

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