A Look At My Hult Journey…

A few weeks ago I finished my first year at Hult International Business School. It has aged me by about 10 years; 15, if you were to ask my wife. Joking aside, it is one of the most challenging things I have ever committed to and I’m not even halfway through the course yet. So, why did I choose to add an extra element into my already very busy life? Easy. I like to learn.

Sorry if you were expecting a more profound answer. There wasn’t exactly one lightbulb moment that made me want to head back into the classroom. For me, it was a combination of wanting to gain knowledge, improve my skill set and widen my social circle beyond my own industry vertical. So began my transformation. By day, Nader the Deputy GM, by night, Nader, the intrepid Hult explorer.

I’ll be honest, whatever my expectation level was of this course, the reality was very different. My first year flew by in a whirlwind of assignments, group sessions and seminars, later becoming virtual submissions, online chats and webinars. The impact of the corona virus may have shifted things into an online setting, but the intensity remained. I remember one particularly brutal week where I was working my usual day, attending night classes at 2am (they were on San Francisco time) and then submitting assignments at 4am. Then I’d do it all again the next day. Coffee, already a daily staple, became critically essential.

Of course, this is the reality of juggling things today. Would I change it? Absolutely not. Aside from all the usual things you get out of self-improvement, this course has given me a great deal of perspective on what it means to be a leader right now. There’s a big difference between being motivational and realistic when there is still so much uncertainty. It takes striking the right balance in helping guide your employees through perhaps the most unsettling time in modern history, whilst still being open and honest about the ever-evolving situation.

I know that I can have those tough conversations. I’m OK with being ‘the bad guy’ when I need to be. But I also know there is still so much to learn about how to be an effective manager in this new corona virus age. There is a lot of confusion, frustration and fear, and the sad fact is that it will only get worse before it will get better. That’s why it’s so important to surround yourself with the right people who want to push themselves to succeed, and who want to ensure not only their survival, but that of the organization as well.

It Takes A Village…

It was an easy decision for me to do my Executive MBA. I get restless when I know there’s more to be done in life. More to achieve. More to conquer. Signing up was the simple part. Learning the material was challenging, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome. The harder part is putting what you have learnt into action, however that’s also the beauty of essentially learning whilst already in the working world; you are able to test and optimize solutions in real time. That in itself is enough to justify going back into the classroom, but where I found unexpected value was in meeting and getting to interact with such a diverse group of people. I took a range of different summer electives, from Entrepreneurial Marketing, to Social Entrepreneurship and Becoming a Digital Ninja, which gave me the opportunity to talk with executives of all levels, all with different perspectives, opinions and personalities to mine.

You realize very quickly that you are just a small cog in the operation; all of us contributing to keeping those wheels of industry turning. As much as everyone is working towards their own goals, we still need to be open to other people and their thoughts. We need to be open to analyzing things from a different angle. We should regularly tackle problems in a new way. Hult has already taught me how to minimize the issues, expand my network, appreciate others’ insights and passions, and have a thorough grounding in what it takes to run a business today. No small feat, but then again neither is leading a company when there’s a pandemic currently shattering the economy.

As the original African proverb goes; “It takes a village to raise a child”, but in actual fact, it takes a village (or in this case, a collective group of talents) to bring about any meaningful change. You cannot and should not go it alone, whatever the challenge may be.

Don’t Sit Still. Aim High & Dream Big 

Do you remember your life pre-covid? I imagine things were pretty great by comparison, however, was that because you were working towards achieving your ambitions each day, or merely running on autopilot, accustomed to the everyday? If there’s one (sliver) of a silver lining here, it’s that the lockdown has forced us all to take a long hard look at ourselves.

For me, the last few months have accelerated my studies and my ambitions for entrepreneurship. I have a new lease of life. I’m excited for what will come next. I like challenges because they give me an opportunity to grow, and yes, accept the possibility of failure too. I’ve got no problem admitting that I have failed in the past because ultimately this acts as a big motivator for me to succeed now.

The crisis we all face at present is an economic, ethical and moral challenge all in one. There is no manual to how we should all as business leaders react to what is happening on a global scale. If the corona virus was the kindling, then the #BlackLivesMatter movement is the spark and the recent Lebanon explosion is just that… the fire. Things can’t go on as normal anymore, because it simply no longer exists. Change is inevitable and the sooner we all accept this, the better.

Ultimately, there’s only so much we can learn from books. Only real life experiences will help give context and perspective in dealing with the modern world right now. Everything is a learning curve. There will be ups and downs, but mentality is everything; if you’re open to different viewpoints, open to accepting that you can’t always be in control, then you’re already halfway there to being a better person, mentor/ manager and, yes, friend.

When Life Gives You Lemons… Squeeze Them

There’s a pretty bleak narrative being played out in the media right now, particularly when it comes to unemployment. According to data from the OECD, unemployment increased by an unprecedented 2.9 percentage points in April 2020 to 8.4%, compared to 5.5% in March. In the US, The economy shrank by 9.5% in the second quarter of 2020, compared with the preceding three months. Yet, as a direct result of the coronavirus, digitalization has been accelerated and is expected to create 149 million new jobs by 2025. Although that may seem a long way off right now, this mirrors the trend we have seen emerge post-lockdown; the desire for people to upskill and reskill with a digital-first focus.

Our lives have all been restructured and reshaped in 2020 in a way that none of us were prepared for. The journey is proving to be the biggest hurdle to getting where we want to be, but there will come a time, in hopefully the not too distant future, where we can all rebound from these challenges and come back, stronger, happier and more ambitious than ever.

Right now, I’m juggling my dream with a full time job and a busy homelife that’s set to add further chaos in just over three months time. Still, challenges are made to be overcome. I’m not saying it’s easy, and to be brutally honest, being determined is only part of it. You need direction and passion too; those are the things that will keep you going at 2am when you have already done a 12 hour day in the office.

I’ll admit, I’m a dreamer, but I work hard to make things a reality. Even with assignments overlapping and an endless checklist to get through, I could always see the end goal. I looked forward to my next class because I knew it would help me in my everyday work, and that’s why there’s always a workaround if you can keep your focus and stay on track. Still, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times when I wanted to throw my laptop out of the window. I’m human after all.

At the end of the day, we all need to be on the same page, understanding the requirements and operating systems of the industries we work in. There are a lot of stakeholders with different priorities, but ultimately, they are all working together to achieve the same goal. Whatever path you choose to forge for yourself, I think it starts with a vision, both for yourself and the company. If that seems too big, then start with something smaller to frame your mind each day.

For me, this means creating habits. For example, at the start of every day I make my bed. At the end of the day, I water my plants. These are my ‘bookends’ of time that help establish routine, order and method. It helps ignite and switch off my brain at set times of the day. I’ve had some great ideas whilst folding hospital corners and soaking my greenery, so next time you find yourself in a lull, move away from your screen and give yourself permission to just pause for a moment. You will be surprised what your mind can achieve when you aren’t busy forcing it into action…

By Nader Bitar