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Tea with Dr. Uditha Liyanage

Brain drain can be reversed

Hiring people is a very important task that managers have to do in companies. Many of them make mistakes in doing this very often by looking for track records or previous experience causing waste of time and money.

The advice of Director Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM) Dr. Uditha Liyanage to this problem is different.

ďCompanies must look for talents, not the skills when hiring people. Because attitudes and competencies are more important than skills. If you hire a person with the right attitude and competencies he will develop on the job,Ē he said.

The Director of the pioneer of the MBA programme and the only self financed university in the country, Dr. Uditha Liyanage was interviewed by the Daily News Business.

Q: How did you get the opportunity to become the Head of this Institute?

After my school education at Royal College Colombo, I studied to get the CIM qualification . At the same time, I joined the Browns Group as a management trainee.

After sometime I moved to Maharaja Group as the Brand Manager and then shifted to Shaw Wallace, where I ended up as the Marketing Director.

There I made a mid career change from full time corporate management to academia moving to PIM as a senior lecturer.

That was 15 years ago. Three years ago, I became the head of PIMís academic affairs under Prof Gunapala Nanayakkara. And then took over as the Chairman Board of Management and Director in September 2007.

Q: What made you to make this important change in your career life?

I always had a academic bent even as a senior manager and a visiting lecturer at PIM and looking back it gave me a lot of satisfaction. That was my talent to conceptualise and develop strategies. It was my natural ability. Not that I dislike operations. But it was my preference.

Q: What is your role at the PIM ?

I play the administration role as the Head of the Institute and Chairman of Board of Management . Then I wear the other hat at 5.30 p.m. going to the lecture room and lecturing on marketing strategies.

Q: What is the strength of the PIM and how do you see the impact of PIM education to the corporate world ?

At any given time we have about 400 students for the MBA programme which is a two year programme where middle and senior managers of leading companies participate.

PIM has produced about 2500 MBA graduates over the last 25 years, it pioneered the MBA programmes in Sri Lanka. I am happy to say that a large number of CEOs and Directors holding key positions are products of PIM . What is special to these people is the blend of theory and practice. We attempt to make practitioners to become professionals.

Practitioners have experience but professionals are able to relate his experience to a body of knowledge and it is not limited by his personal experience . The mix of theory and practice are MBAs edge where they are able to perform in an exceptional way.

Another thing is that we attempt to teach our students to think creatively not logically. This will give a competitive advantage. Because conventional thinking only provides solutions which are common. It is very important in a competitive market, If you think like the other guy you become like the other guy and there is no difference.

Differentiation is the key to staying a head of the game.

In addition to MBA, we have a PhD programme and we also have a Professional Development Programme (PDP) spread over 7 to 8 weeks. The idea of this is to take a narrow area of management such as employee selection and then provide the current knowledge on the subject and develop the skill of the participants in that narrow area.

Q: Many organisations face difficulties due to the inability to find the right people to fill their vacancies . What is your view on this?

Yes. The question is do you hire for skill or something else. At low level, you may look for skills but it is important that you hire for competencies and attitude. If you hire a person with right attitude and competencies, he will develop on the job.

But companies select people for skills. They go for track records and fail to get the right person.

Have you done this job before is the question they ask without asking the question what his capabilities and talents are.

I have developed two words in this regard, capability and ability. Ability is you are able to perform the task now. But someone may have the capability which is the competency but not able to do the task now.

That is why I say that companies must look for talents when hiring people. At PIM, we are very strict on selection for the MBA. We have an admission test plus interview to check their potential.

Sometimes the private sector doesnít make this distinction.

Q: How do you see the brain drain in the country today and what will be the future of the country with this trend?

I see this as a big problem. Even if peace returns there should be people to take the country forward. End of the day an organisation is as rich as its talented people. I am reminded of what Peter Drucker said.

There are no rich or poor countries only badly managed countries and well, managed countries. To manage a country well you need people with ability. Therefore we have to retain talented people.

But the university system in Sri Lanka does not provide sufficient room for the students to enter the university. Therefore the country cannot stop them leaving the country for higher studies.

On the other hand parents also feel that the education they get is not relevant here and that is why they do not get suitable employment.

Our University programmes must first identify what the market requires and how to develop competent people and then work backwards to see how we should make programmes rather than telling them to follow the available programme and find employment. They should be value creators.

People begin to see hope and if changes are made to our education system, people will want to stay. Those who leave also do so with reluctance.

I am sure it can be stopped if the right changes are made to the education system. Brain drain can be reversed. Lot of Indian people who went to USA is returning. Because India is developing fast. That is called reverse brain drain. If we look positively our people also will acquire necessary skills and then come back and create value to the country.

Another fact is that most of the people have multiple qualifications which is good. They donít just stop by getting a degree and become multiple disciplinary. There is a thirst for knowledge and education. Parents also encourage this.

Q: What is your opinion about foreign universities coming to Sri Lanka?

There are positive and negative sides. The most important thing is that there should be quality assurance for whatever the programme. But there are so many institutes without this quality and that is bad.

Q: What are your plans for 2009 and how do you like to see the PIM in five years time?

We have the new batch of MBA students coming and we want to have a larger number of Professional Development Programmes (PDP).

We are working with Sri Lanka Institute of Directors to train young Directors for the country. We are going to broaden our scope and enhance capacities to accommodate foreign students and faculty. We already have Indian and Maldivian students.

We are in a magazine called Professional Manager in addition to our journal. There will be three issues per year where captains of industry are contributors to this.

Then we will develop strategies to analyse and develop a unique position for the company and professional communication will be brought into the MBA curriculum. In five years time, the PIM will become the Centre of Regional Excellence.

We are already in Dubai, and we have 200 students in just one year with the same MBA programme. I like to see PIM strengthening its position in Sri Lanka and continue to be the leading business school in the country.

Q: What are you hobbies?

I like to work long hours. Work is my hobby. I have stopped separating work and play. Work, play, and learn we think are three separate domains.

When we play we donít want to work. When we work we donít want to play. But I see the inter connection and I enjoy my work. When I work, I play. When I play, I work.

Q: What is your retirement plan?

Work, learn and play. There is no retirement plan as such. Only the setting will change. But the work, learn and play will continue.


Name: Dr. Uditha Liyanage

Academic Qualifications: MBA and PhD (Sri Jayawardhanapura University)

Professional Qualifications: Chartered Marketer and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing

Current position: Director of three leading companies and consultant and developer of senior managers in several companies.

Married, has a daughter.



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