By Jay Hodgkins
Bahraini entrepreneur Hala Sulaiman says her colleagues and friends often ask her, “why do you keep studying?” After all, she has already transitioned from a long and successful career in communications to found two companies — a management and communications consultancy and AlRawi, an audio book service specializing in Arabic-language books.
“But I have to keep updating my knowledge,” Sulaiman said on the last day of the two-week Leadership Development Program (LDP) for Bahrain business leaders hosted at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business and led by Darden Executive Education in partnership with the Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance (BIBF). “I would quote a term used by the dean [of Darden, Scott Beardsley] when he spoke to us: lifelong learner. That’s what I would like to call myself.”
Developing lifelong learners is exactly what Darden Executive Education and the BIBF specialize in delivering, with a shared belief that organizations need to invest in their leaders to sustain a competitive advantage in the current climate of turbulent change around the world. Darden’s LDPs are built on the understanding that what you know can rapidly obsolesce, so how you learn becomes the critical factor in navigating uncertainty.
This November’s LDP was unique as the 17-person cohort was delivered solely to Bahrain business leaders recruited by the BIBF for the first time. Darden also partners with the Emirates Institute of Banking and Finance, and in the past, the LDP has been delivered to combined cohorts.
Women accounted for five of the 17 participants in the LDP. The majority of the participants hailed from the finance industry, with others representing the oil and gas, insurance and consulting industries.
Led by Darden Professors Jared Harris of the Strategy, Ethics and Entrepreneurship area; June West of the Management Communication area; Lynn Isabella of the Leadership and Organizational Behavior area; Yiorgos Allayannis of the Finance area; and Alan Beckenstein of the Global Economies and Markets area, the program’s general management approach is designed to foster the leadership skills and strategic perspectives necessary for leaders from any industry to succeed in an increasingly global environment.
“Darden and the BIBF have been partners in delivering executive education programs to Bahrain senior executives both in Charlottesville and Manama for more than 20 years,” West said. “This year, the participants met with students from Darden’s Middle East and Islamic Student Association with the goal of enhancing this long-term partnership to include opportunities for Darden students and faculty.”
Participants and students discussed potential case studies on the Gulf region, the possibility of a Darden Worldwide Course in Bahrain, and summer internships and career opportunities.
“We are very pleased to see our long-time partnership continuing to flourish and develop to bring lifelong learning to Bahrain executives and to provide valuable learning experiences in the Middle East for Darden students,” West said.
Sulaiman said her goal was to apply the insights from the program’s case studies and classroom discussions in the consulting work done by her agency, but she also believes the learnings are practical for any entrepreneur.
“In my previous job, I used to work with a lot of entrepreneurs. They always approached the task of opening a business from the mindset of ‘Let’s open a restaurant or a flower shop.’ They were missing out on the bigger picture,” Sulaiman said. “So doing these kind of courses is good for them to understand what’s happening in the global business and economic landscape. They need to take a step back and see things from a broader perspective.”
Sulaiman said Allayannis’ sessions on Brexit, the Eurozone and Greek debt crisis provided perspective for members of her cohort who worked in finance, but said the highlight for her was Isabella’s assignment to watch the 1957 film 12 Angry Menfor a discussion on the use of persuasion and influence by leaders.
As an entrepreneur, Sulaiman said she has a strong bias for action and tends to make decisions quickly, as she is often bored by details and frustrated when others are not willing to move as decisively. But in 12 Angry Men, she saw how patience allowed one juror to walk 11 others through all the facts and ultimately persuade them through his leadership.
“I thought, ‘How can I do that?’” Sulaiman said. “I want to go home and watch the movie again and discuss it with family, colleagues and counterparts. If that was the only thing I take away from the program, it would be a learning milestone for me.”
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D. and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.