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Q&A WITH Harvard Professor Sunil Gupta


You taught Ngorn Saing at Harvard Business School (HBS). What do you remember about him?
Saing was generally a quiet person, but you could see that he was actively listening and thinking deeply about the issues that we discussed in class. One of the goals of our programme is to have a diverse group of participants from all around the world with different backgrounds and experiences. Saing was the first Cambodian to attend our programme, so he enhanced the diversity and richness of the learning of all programme members.

In a country as underdeveloped as Cambodia, how relevant are the things you teach at HBS?
Our programmes are very global in nature. For example, the General Management Program that Saing attended has participants from more than 40 countries, many of them from emerging markets. Therefore, the programme puts a significant emphasis on the issues and challenges of these markets and how innovation and growth can happen in these economies. At the same time, there are many principles and ideas from the developed world that can be adapted and applied to emerging markets.

Do you expect to see more Cambodians coming through HBS in the future?
We do not have any specific quotas for any country or any part of the world. We are looking for bright people who are at the stage of their career where they can benefit significantly from our programmes. We will be delighted to welcome the right candidates from Cambodia in the future.

What are the benefits and challenges for someone from Cambodia going to study abroad?
The major benefit of our programme is that it provides participants with a different, broader lens to look at problems. We rely on the case method where everyone reads the same case and attempts to address the problem of the case protagonist. People are often surprised when their fellow participants see the same case with a completely different perspective and come up with very different solutions. This process broadens their view and provides them a very different way of thinking.

The main challenge for all participants, not just for those coming from Cambodia, is to go beyond their comfort zone and discuss and defend their ideas with a diverse group of people who see the issues very differently. Often this is a very different way of learning for most executives who are used to sitting in a lecture hall to listen to a speaker. At Harvard Business School, we have found that the case method is the most effective way of learning, as the ideas and principles emerge from the discussion rather than being lectured by the professor.

What would be the most important lesson people take from the course?
Self-awareness. The programme puts a lot of emphasis on leadership. A good leader does not have to know all the answers; instead he or she should be a good listener, know what questions to ask, understand personal strengths and weaknesses, and be willing to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them. We spend a lot of time on helping participants get to know their strengths and weaknesses, their own leadership styles, and how others view them. Of course, we also teach the tools and concepts of strategy, finance, accounting, marketing and innovation, but all these concepts are not worth much unless a leader can inspire and motivate the people in his or her organisation to execute those ideas.


Words by Rupert Winchester | Photograph  by Russ Campbell, Couresy of Harvard Business School