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.
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