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Follow The Leader: Laoucine Kerbache, Dean and CEO, HEC Paris in Qatar Kerbache is very tuned in on the changing dynamics of the Middle East economies, and is keen on having his organization cater to the specific needs of this particular region.

By Aby Sam Thomas

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HEC Paris in Qatar
Laoucine Kerbache, Dean and CEO, HEC Paris in Qatar.

"The Qatar National Vision 2030 plans to diversify the non-hydrocarbon economy and recycle the country's mineral wealth into finance, infrastructure, education, science and technology, and real estate. For those with the knowledge and skills within those fields, this presents an opportune time to invest and establish a business that caters to the needs of the nation. By being an early adopter of such plans, you can reap in the benefits and create a firm base to grow and prosper."

As the head of the Qatar division of an institution that's been ranked among the top three providers of executive education in the world, it's safe to say that Laoucine Kerbache has a lot on his plate in his dual role as the Dean and CEO of HEC Paris in Qatar. But to his credit, Kerbache seems to have been playing his cards right- ever since the France-headquartered HEC Paris opened its campus in Qatar in 2010, the school has been steadfastly sticking to the goals with which it was established- which is, as Kerbache puts it, "to significantly contribute to the development of a knowledge-based economy in Qatar, and to strengthen corporate competitiveness in the region." And for what it's worth, Kerbache's efforts are certainly getting noticed- at Entrepreneur Middle East's 2015 Qatar Enterprise Agility Awards, HEC Paris in Qatar took home the award for Education Innovation, in recognition of the institution's highly ranked, Qatar-specific management programs and research activities, as well as for its influential list of Qatar-based graduates, which today includes H.E. Sheikha Hind bint Hamad Al Thani, Vice Chairperson and CEO, Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, Aysha Al Mudahka, CEO, Qatar Business Incubation Center, and others.

But all of this doesn't mean that Kerbache and his team at HEC Paris in Qatar are taking their success for granted- on the contrary, Kerbache is very tuned in on the changing dynamics of the Middle East economies, and is keen on having his organization cater to the specific needs of this particular region. While the Doha-based school's executive education programs have been consistently lauded, Kerbache also notes the importance of evolving their programs and offerings to better serve its students in this region- for instance, its custom programs, especially with respect to family-owned businesses in this region, have been very well received. "When HEC Paris opened its campus in Qatar, it was paramount that we didn't just take our programs from Paris and apply them here," Kerbache explains. "For degree programs, as well as for open programs, we asked our faculty to understand the local and regional environment and to inject, alongside the international practices, any relevant managerial practices to enrich the content and the group discussions. As for the custom designed programs, we work very closely with the customers to design content that specifically cater to their needs and their requirements. We have worked very closely with our main campus [in Paris] and with Qatar Foundation to ensure that the courses and programs that we offer are tailored to the regional needs."

But, to use a cliché, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and Kerbache proudly points toward HEC Paris in Qatar's graduates to showcase the wins his school has achieved. "A testament to this success is that, to date, HEC Paris in Qatar has graduated 347 participants, of whom 220 are Qatari nationals," Kerbache says. "All these graduates hold top executive management positions (CEOs, COOs, CIOs, CFO, etc.) in public, private, and governmental organizations in Qatar and in the region." While this is indeed a reason to celebrate, Kerbache remains rooted to the need for HEC Paris in Qatar to be consistently evolving and innovating. "We cannot rest on our laurels, and we continually strive to deliver excellence to our participants," he explains. "And as business models change, we have to develop our programs offered as well as create adaptable establishments and grow through alliances. This has become an integral part of modern strategic management. In addition, and an area I am very proud of, HEC Paris in Qatar has established a Research Office in Qatar to develop local and regional content. Over the last two years, we have successfully developed over a dozen case studies about companies operating in Qatar. This has not only fed into our programs, but also ensured that what we offer remains relevant for tomorrow's leaders."

Laoucine Kerbache, Dean and CEO, HEC Paris in Qatar accepting the Education Innovation award from Qatar Chamber Vice Chairman Muhammed bin Ahmed bin Towar Al Kuwari at the 2015 Qatar Enterprise Agility Awards. Source: Entrepreneur Middle East.
Speaking of leadership, Kerbache has set himself a very straightforward goal (albeit a rather arduous one) in his role as the CEO of HEC Paris in Qatar. "Personally, I have been leading my team to continue increasing the profile of HEC Paris as the preferred institution for executive education and higher learning in Qatar and the region," he says, quite simply. "Over the next five years, the objective is twofold: first, we plan to consolidate the existing programs, as well as developing new executive education programs in Qatar and in the region. Second, we shall continue to develop our applied research activities by working more closely with our main campus in Paris, and with companies based in Qatar and in the region. More than a dozen case studies have been developed with the objective to integrate them alongside international cases in the modules offered in Doha. We will continue to build upon them." Kerbache's plans are thus in line with the country's vision for being a knowledge-based economy in the years to come, as per Qatar National Vision 2030. "HEC Paris in Qatar understands this, and while its programs and research activities aim to shape business development within the global economy, they are also fully aligned with what Qatar National Vision 2030 seeks to achieve," Kerbache notes. "Overall, the imparting of world-leading executive education in Qatar is only ever going to have a positive impact on the knowledge "levels' of the host economy. Our goal as an educational institution is not to be a carbon copy of our campus in France, but to support the transformation of Qatar. This being said, having a presence in Qatar brings something unique to HEC Paris' portfolio. Primarily, being present in a burgeoning marketplace such as Doha, we have access to the business community, which fuels our capacity to create knowledge, which then feeds in to our global teaching activities."

As someone who is focused on building "tomorrow's leaders," Kerbache is clear that leadership today, be it as an entrepreneur or as the head of a corporate, needs to be dynamic and in tune with the times, and this is a principle he follows through on as his personal strategy for himself, as well as for HEC Paris in Qatar. "The global marketplace today is under a number of pressures, requiring successful leaders to contend with stiff global competition, political and security turmoil and adverse financial effects," he notes. "To be able to overcome these challenges, it is imperative that a leader is equipped with the right knowledge and skills to steer their business through this minefield, and in most cases, this knowledge is obtained from their peers. In all programs offered at HEC Paris in Qatar, we enable participants to share knowledge and leadership approaches with peers coming from diverse cultural, educational and professional backgrounds as well as world-class renowned faculty, researchers and guest speakers. I am confident that that our graduates will be among the new leaders of today and tomorrow, and who will steer their organizations to greater heights. At HEC Paris in Qatar, as a firm believer in a customer-centric approach, I follow a similar mantra with regular meetings with faculty and alumni to understand areas of improvements to our programs and offerings for the benefits of our participants and to corporate partners. Only by consolidating feedback and knowledge from all our shareholders can we develop and sustain a competitive edge in the MENA market."

ASK THE EXEC - Laoucine Kerbache

The Q What were some of the challenges you encountered in finding a good executive team for your enterprise?

The A "These are very challenging issues in Qatar and in the region. As we focus on executive education, we chose to rely essentially on our home campus pool of full-time and affiliate faculty to staff most of the academic positions, including the executive team. Therefore, we benefit from a great network of experienced and highly qualified professors. Further, this enabled us to operate with mostly variable costs. As for the support staff, the local market provides opportunities to meet the demand. However, it is important to stress the need to train these people to fit into a rigorous academic environment, and we achieve this through training and frequent staff exchanges with our main campus in France. Of course, one of the main challenges in the region for many companies is retention. With increased competition it is vital that talent management and talent retention are and should remain top priorities. Executive education is a major lever to unlock the talent of managers and executives, of whom some become true leaders and agents of change leading to competitive and sustainable edge. These are some of the key success factors that CEOs and Presidents know well, but they need to be implemented."

Related: Envisioning Qatar's Tomorrow: Dr. Sheikha Aisha bint Faleh bin Nasser Al-Thani

Aby Sam Thomas

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor in Chief, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.

Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.  

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