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Interview with Dr. Talal Abu-Ghazaleh

01-Jul-2010

Article Title or Author:

Interview with Dr. Talal Abu-Ghazaleh
By Farah Mehdawi
MBA Human Resources Management

For a thinker with such a lifetime achievement like Dr. Talal Abu-Ghazaleh, establishing Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Graduate School of Business was just a matter of time. The School quickly gained interest of many who witness this thinker's dream becoming a reality. By building an institution that has brought the finest of professors and academics, combined with Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Organization's expertise, the school provided the keys to leadership, and made this place the premier school of business in the Middle East.

TAG-SB was inaugurated in 2006 as one of the faculties of the German Jordanian University (GJU), a public university formed in 2004 through the joint cooperation of the German and Jordanian governments. This unique partnership brings the business expertise of TAG-SB to the academic world of GJU. Eager to retell TAG-SB successful story, Dr. Abu-Ghazaleh's interview was definitely"a heart to heart interview" ."Let me tell you a story,"he started "Many years ago, one of my daughters was studying business in Harvard and I was visiting her, she invited me to one of the classes. I thought deeply inside, what is it in Harvard that we cannot do? I couldn’t find a single thing except the will to do something like it"."Everything that Harvard does is doable, in every respect without exception, and having come to that conclusion, I thought we should have an example of Harvard in the Arab world, and that was what triggered the dream of establishing this College". It was easy to appreciate the vision behind this College; it was passion to create a better society.

Why Harvard in particular? 
When I say Harvard, I don’t mean Harvard as a name or a particular institution. It’s what it represents by being a symbol of excellence,therefore excellence was our motto and our mission to only take the elite and make them leaders.

TAG-SB, is a newly introduced idea in many aspects, one of those would be concerning the school being the fruit of cooperation between the private and the public sector.
I believe in the saying; when you get your destiny grab it. We were looking at establishing our own university in Jordan at one point. The Minister of Higher Education back then, Dr. Khalid Touqan, suggested that instead of having our own university independently, we can join a partnership with the German Jordanian University and run its business school.

How was your reaction to that?
I loved the idea, because this was the first and the most unique cooperation between a public university and a private institution. We were also aspiring to establishing a model for this kind of partnership by what the GJU presented in academia, and by what TAG-Org presented in the business world.

Tell us about the strife for the excellence you aspire to.
Now in adopting excellence, we went for accreditation, so we brought a European accreditation body to review us as an independent organization. We passed all criteria and we were given an accreditation in November 2009 for five years,without the need of examination, and there was no single reservation that we needed to implement, but that is still the beginning, people are expecting much more from us despite the fact the school is only four years old, but they are certainly right.  

You said once that this is "your commitment to make a contribution to the human resource that will lead the Arab region". How so?
I don’t think of this as a business venture; this school is something that TAG-Org is investing in every year. This is an investment in the future, and we are investing in the establishment of a model that will have its influence on the entire educational system in the region. Time passed and anticipation grew along with hopes of bringing the dream of TAG-College coming true. But in making this school the premier school of business, hard decisions had to be made, standards had to be met in earning excellence that the school claimed as its motto.

How challenging has it been getting professors, especially that there is a lack of number of PhD holders in Jordan, how do you guarantee the promise of excellence to students?
We decided to invest in this College and therefore we decided to take the salary scale of professors applicable in Jordan, and multiply it by two. We feel that professors are underpaid in this country, and so by doing this we are sending a message to other institutions that we need to revise the salary scale of professors, because that is going to reflect highly on the educational system, and will enable us to attract the cream of the crop.

It can also be as challenging being a student at TAG-SB, some students find it costly. What do you think?
We often have this debate at our high level advisory board, and some members agree with you. But I had to make a choice between making this place an institution for all, or excellence. There are other places where people can go for education.

But the number of students applying is going to increase.
Here is the thing, I define life of a human being from the day he is born to the day he dies as a chain of decision making process, in which he has to choose between alternatives and he either fails or win, so I had to make a decision. Do I want to make a center of excellence, yes, does that imply having to take some hard choices…oh yes.

Let’s talk about the school’s achievement from 2006 till today. The school had its first graduation ceremony with 50 students last year 2009, and is about to have another 77 the next coming July, how do you feel about that?
It makes me feel happy, with this being the true evidence for the success of the story of excellence. It also means more investment, because this project was for the purpose of creating a momentum in the education system in the Arab world, and not just isolated in its own success.

How do you like these students to remember the school?
I would like the students to remember the school by feeling proud of being once a student at TAG-SB. Students at Harvard are often told to be arrogant being graduates of Harvard, but I would like my students to be proud being TAG-SB graduates. The Arab world deserves to be proud. Despite all that is said in the anti-Arab media we have many reasons to be proud, our history, morals and our capabilities.

Are there any coming projects in which students of TAG-SB can practice their powers being the prospective leaders?
We are initiating the project of a center of competitiveness, and we are now discussing with the government the issue of hosting this center at the College instead of having it in various ministries. Such center, like in many developed countries, makes use of the academic and various tools available at the college, and it will release the government of the burden of having to work as a competitiveness observatory. We also signed a partnership agreement with IFC, which is part of the World Bank Group, and this is a program for corporate governance.

How do you see this place now, and what are your hopes for the future?
This place isn’t supposed to be the premier school of business, but also a source of feeding the business community with what it needs. I hope that students graduating from this school are armed with pride and leadership to compete with others not only on the national level, but on the international level as well.