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Sustaining Success: Nitin Anand, Skyline University College The Executive Director and Chair of the Executive Council at Skyline University College on spearheading the institution's next leg of growth.

By Sindhu Hariharan

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Skyline University College
Nitin Anand, Executive Director and Chair of the Executive Council, Skyline University College

From ensuring the organization is being steered in the right direction, to maintaining and building its stakeholder relations, while also developing strategic plans for its future, Nitin Anand is someone who seems to have a lot on his plate in his role as the Executive Director of the Skyline International Group, which has, among its many enterprises under it, Skyline University College (SUC) in Sharjah, UAE, where he enjoys the designation of both Executive Director and Chair of the Executive Council. But while others may have found themselves flustered with the tasks at hand in such a position, Anand seems to be managing it all quite effortlessly, and having everything quite under control. So, how does he do it? The secret perhaps lays in the fact that Anand's professional growth has mirrored that of Skyline's own evolution. As an educational institution that grew from rather humble origins in the early 90's to become one of the UAE's (and the region's) trailblazing universities, it is Skyline's growth and resilience that Anand, the nephew of its Founder President Kamal Puri, has tried emulating in his own career trajectory, from being a student at Skyline once upon a time, to becoming a key player in its top management today.

Anand received his master's degree in business administration from Skyline in 2004, and today, he drives and oversees the various business units under the organization's umbrella, which also sees him play a leading role in its inroads into other MENA markets, as well as countries like Pakistan, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. "Through my journey of Skyline, I have witnessed how it has evolved to stay abreast of the latest developments in education, to realize its vision of becoming a university that nurtures the spirit of innovation and creativity, in order to build a knowledge-based society," Anand notes. From his time as an eager student at Skyline, taking in all that the institution had to offer then, Anand now holds the challenging responsibility of understanding the changes in the way students learn today, and how the educational institution needs to adapt to this dynamic world.

On a typical day at work, Anand can be seen doing everything from meeting the university's various stakeholders, to guiding the administrative and office support teams, while also developing and executing plans to ensure that Skyline is on the right track with respect to securing its future. "Building relationships with leaders in different industries, and communicating with them the mission and values of Skyline International Group as a whole are also important aspects of my role," he says. "I am handling different businesses under different industries, so I make sure to allocate a few hours of the day keeping myself updated with the latest trends. I also deem it essential to maintain good relationships with Skyline's staff, as I strongly believe in the power of teamwork and collaboration to make the enterprise excel in all sectors. We want each enterprise of Skyline International Group, particularly Skyline University College, to become an organization that encourages innovation and creativity."

Nitin Anand, Executive Director and Chair of the Executive Council, Skyline University College

It is this emphasis on innovation that has seen Skyline University College grow from a two-classroom college in 1990 offering diplomas in travel and tourism (it was also the first private educational institution in Sharjah to offer a bachelor's degree), to counting over 8,000 alumni today for its portfolio of courses comprising of business education, information technology systems, strategic management, leadership, and much more. The campus is currently spread across 40 acres of land in Sharjah's University City, and fulfills the talent needs of a variety of sectors, including hospitality, tourism, marketing, technology, finance, and more. One of its characteristic features is its Corporate Affairs Office (CAO), which brings together the student community with the industry players in the form of guest lectures, industry visits etc. to ensure the employability of its students and bridge the skills gap.

"With our dedication to provide the highest quality education, Skyline has become one of the most successful institutions to offer business and management programs in the region," Anand says. "One of the things I am proudest of about Skyline is that it evolves with the time. Although our institution has the highest respect when it comes to tradition, it embraces change." An instance of this is Skyline's support to the UAE Vision 2021, which aims at developing a knowledge-based economyon recognizing that the UAE government's initiatives to drive the growth of the ICT sector can succeed only if there is a pool of skilled professionals to participate in it, Skyline launched its School of Information Technology that offers Bachelor of Science in Information Technology- Enterprise Computing (BSIT-EC), which includes courses on robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, cloud computing, and big data, among others. "We have partnered with top IT companies such as Oracle Academy, CISCO Academy, Virdi, and EC Council to advance our teaching strategies and nurture students' technological curiosity," Anand adds.

A major driver for the university to continually evolve and cater to changing times is its firm conviction that every person should have access to good education- regardless of their nationality or social status. "There has been a significant progress in the enrolment and attendance in schools in the MENA region," Anand says. "However, access to educational institutions is still limited in some parts of the region, and unlike in other markets, the cost of education here is staggering." While Skyline has continued to invest in and maintain its leading position in the UAE, Anand notes that the institution has, over the years, established offices in other locations like Morocco, Pakistan, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, and other countries, to assist prospective students. "And, to give students a chance to achieve a quality education at a reasonable fee, Skyline offers several scholarship programs," Anand adds. "Skyline [has also] entered into memorandums of understanding with universities abroad, social clubs, consulate, foreign embassies, and the local government to offer financial assistance to deserving students."

Kamal Puri, Founder President, Skyline

However, Skyline's mission extends beyond democratizing access to college-level education for youth. Anand explains that at Skyline, they also work to ensure that their students attain their academic goals, while simultaneously developing "the right attitude and skills that will help them become socially responsible professionals and competent players in the international stage." This strategy, he says, gains more significance with the MENA's education sector seeing a rise of internationalization. "In line with this, it is important for students to learn about international competency," Anand explains. "Skyline encourages its students to develop an international attitude. We strike partnerships with universities abroad and create programs to expose students to other cultures and allow them to collaborate with people overseas. Skyline established an agreement for transfer of credits with various universities across the world like the US, UK, and Canada, among others."

With the youth making up a significant proportion of the Arab populace, and with the World Economic Forum pegging youth unemployment at 27% in 2017, there is a dire need for the region's policy makers and private sector to empower MENA youth, and drastic measures in the sphere of education and entrepreneurship could be the most effective tool to do that. Anand and his team at Skyline are cognizant of the fact that as educationalists, it is their responsibility to play a leading role in this issue, and that's why the business leader is quite succinct when he says that Skyline wants to help foster the entrepreneurial spirit in its students, and not just support them in their dreams of working for multinational companies. "More than anything, we want them to build their own dreams; create their own businesses so they can provide jobs for others," he says.

"The MENA region attracts interest from global investors. The UAE, particularly, has been labeled the forerunner entrepreneurial hub. And education plays an important role in teaching young people leadership and entrepreneurial skills that will give them the confidence to innovate and become business owners, thereby contributing more to their country's economy. Hence, in Skyline, our programs and approach to learning are tailored not just to prepare students to become capable professionals, but also to instill in them the spirit of entrepreneurship so they can generate employment later on. To promote entrepreneurship and innovation, Skyline has allocated funds for students who have qualified and feasible business plan and who aim to start a business venture. Moreover, Skyline established the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Club Centre, a facility dedicated to showcasing the business plans and enhancing the entrepreneurial skills of students."

Skyline University College

With respect to Skyline International Group, Anand notes that the organization today boasts of interests in a variety of sectors, with the company having made the decision to build a diversified portfolio for itself way back in 2005, which it started by making advances in the UAE's real estate industry. More recently, in 2011, the Group acquired a state-of-the-art raw material processing unit for plastic with the production capacity of 1,000 tons per month, and this year, Skyline is opening a new plant in SAIF Zone with a monthly production capacity of 2,500 tons. Growing in other markets was also on Skyline's agenda. "In 2011, we saw great opportunities in Africa, particularly in Nigeria," Anand says. "We studied the market, and analyzed how we can expand our operations as a group there. As our core strength is education, we initiated the process and started seeking the approval of the National Universities Commission (NUC) of Nigeria to establish the first private university in the region of Kano; hence, Skyline University Nigeria (SUN) opened on the 19th of July."

But that's not all. Post the early successes tasted in various industries, the Group is now also moving into other areas. "It is targeting high-end international curriculum school set-ups," he notes. "We are also venturing into the F&B industry. We are looking into establishing food chains that offers international cuisines. We also see potential in the IT and infrastructure sectors. In the hospitality sector, we are planning to include four- and five-star hotels in our global portfolio. And for the health sector, we want to establish clinics and hospitals." Anand says that all these (and more) are targets the Group aims to accomplish in "a phased-out manner over next five years."

At this point, given all of the initiatives that Anand is spearheading at Skyline, one is now bound to wonder about what's driving the Executive Director to do all that he does. "As the person at the helm of Skyline's organizational ship, Kamal Puri, Skyline's Founder President, has inspired me to be resilient, determined, and to always keep Skyline's vision and mission in mind in whatever decisions I make," Anand replies.

"He dreams of a university where creativity and innovation are nurtured. This challenges me to become a leader that inspires creativity and innovation among Skyline employees. His example leads me to always create new and better ways of doing things." But, surely, the road ahead isn't going to be as smooth as he makes it out to be. "There will be a lot of challenges in the future," Anand admits. "But I am confident because the university's 28 years of existence is a proof that by embracing change, using the lessons from the past to move forward, and by keeping true to Skyline's mission, we can realize the Founder President's dream for this university." And that's something we are all looking forward to seeinghere's to the future.

Related: INSEAD Chairman Dr. Andreas Jacobs On Executive Education, Entrepreneurship And The Middle East

Sindhu Hariharan

Former Features Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Sindhu Hariharan is the Features Editor at Entrepreneur Middle East.  She is a financial consultant turned business journalist with a FOMO when it comes to everything technology.

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