Dr. Jikyeong Kang is the first female president of the AIM in its 50-year history
Marking its 50th anniversary next year, the Manila-based Asian Institute of Management's (AIM) fate has been closely tied with the economic fortunes of the Philippines.
When AIM was established in 1968 by the Harvard Business School in partnership with the country's top universities, the Philippines was considered a major economy in the region. Just two years before, Asia's leaders even chose Manila as headquarters of the newly-formed Asian Development Bank in recognition of the Philippines' preeminent economic stature in the region.
Jikyeong Kang, AIM's president since 2015 and the first woman to hold the post, recalls that when she was growing up in South Korea in the 1960s and 1970s, Koreans looked up to the Philippines. "Koreans worshipped the Philippines. This was the idol. We all wanted to be like the Philippines," she said.
After the Philippines went through prolonged economic stagnation and crises from the late 1970s to the early 1980s under the late President Ferdinand Marcos' authoritarian rule, AIM also seemed to have lost its former glory.
Internal factors also played a part. "When Harvard pulled out (the first two presidents of AIM were Harvard professors), there followed nearly 40 years in which the school increasingly focused on the domestic market and recruited only local faculty," wrote the Financial Times in 2013. "On top of that, there has been a complex and debilitating lawsuit between some of the professors and the school over salaries."
With the Philippines regaining economic momentum—it was one of Asia's fastest growing economies in recent quarters—AIM's prospects also seem to be looking up. "If the country is doing well, if the country is becoming one of the leading countries in Asia, we'll be able to attract a lot more students from the countries in the same level as us," said Kang. She noted that international MBA students study in countries where they also plan to work.
Amid the country's economic resurgence, Kang is embarking on an ambitious revitalization program to grow student enrollment and position the school as a catalyst for innovation and entrepreneurship.
She wants to more than double the full-time student population from around 350 at present to 850 in the next five years. To provide more and better facilities and accommodation for AIM's rapidly growing student body, Kang is considering expanding or upgrading the existing buildings in the campus or putting up new ones.
“It will involve major cosmetic work to the existing buildings. It will involve new building or buildings," the AIM president said. "Once completed, it will have a new look and feel. This is to support all the changes and initiatives we will bring about to the AIM."
Kang (center) poses with the Board of Governors of the AIM
Besides seeking board approval to introduce new graduate degree programs in data science as well as disaster, risk and crisis management, she is also in talks with edX, the online learning platform founded by Harvard University and MIT, to roll out free online courses on business and technology.
Kang disclosed that AIM has just welcomed around 20 science and engineering graduates who made up the first batch of its latest program offering, the Master of Science in Innovation and Business. Launched in 2016, the degree is designed for scientists, engineers and technologists who want to go into entrepreneurship.
The MS in Innovation and Business underscores AIM's thrust to promote knowledge of technology-based entrepreneurship, which is critical for sustained rapid economic growth. Right now, only about 15 percent of the school's graduates go into entrepreneurship and Kang said she wants to see a much higher proportion.
"That's what the country needs and there is a huge role for AIM to play in terms of how innovation, technology and entrepreneurship contribute to the prosperity of the country," she said. Last year, AIM partnered with Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist and technopreneur Diosdado Banatao to establish a business incubator for technology startups to be launched by students and faculty members.
Kang looks to be enjoying full support from the members of the school's Board of Governors as well the Board of Trustees. Mark Fuller, a governor and son of AIM's first president, Harvard Business School Professor Stephen Fuller, says:
"The institute is on a great course at present, raising some of the critical issues that not only business but society will be facing in the coming years—entrepreneurship, the management of complex data, innovation and national economic development. There will be a next generation of Asian managers who will have a disproportionate impact because of what they will learn here."
The Philippines' favorable prospects at this juncture and AIM's possible contribution to sustaining the economic momentum are terribly exciting for Kang, prompting her to accept the offer to head the school in October 2015. That was just nine months after she joined the institute as dean, vice president for marketing and marketing professor.
"I don't have a big family. I don't have children. I don't have a dog. I don't even have a gold fish, and this makes me feel excited: what I can do," she replied when asked why she accepted the job to head AIM.
Describing herself as a "Korean with a British citizenship and American accent," Kang was previously director of the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) Program at Manchester Business School (MBS) in the UK from 2010 to 2014. Under her leadership, MBS achieved the No. 1 spot in the Financial Times rankings of the best DBA programs from 2011 to 2013.
Before that, she was in charge of MBS' MBA Programs from 2001 to 2007 when the FT global ranking of Manchester's MBA Programs rose to 22nd from 47th in 2002. She also taught as visiting professor at the Instituto Empresa in Madrid, Spain, the Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, CEIBS in China and Sogang Graduate School of Business in Korea.
She earned her PhD from the University of Minnesota, her master's degree from Colorado State University and a bachelor's degree from Hanyang University, Seoul, Korea.
Dr. Kang says she is excited at the economic potential of the Philippines and what AIM can contribute to sustaining this momentum
After 17 and a half years in the US and 15 years in England, including a stint in Madrid, Spain, she said she came back to Asia and joined AIM because she wanted to be nearer her parents who were getting old. "But once I got to know about AIM, I was quite impressed, to begin with, but I also felt passionate commitment about the cause, how this institute was established, and furthermore, in what I can do, in my humble opinion, for the institute," Kang said.
Apart from promoting innovation and technology entrepreneurship, Kang is also working to prepare two initiatives to train and support women business leaders who still constitute a tiny minority among top managers. "As a country we're very good in producing women leaders. However, when you go to the top, the senior management or C-level, I think we can do a lot better," she said.
She has mixed feelings about the gender mix among AIM students though. "The balance is not bad, actually. I would say 40:60, 40 are women," she said. " I wish it were the other way around. The world will be a better place."
Roel Landingin is the editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur PH