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Ian Fenwick, Sasin School of Management

Name: Ian Fenwick

Occupation: Dean, Sasin School of Management

Location: Thailand


"This is the age when using your assets, using your resources in an innovative, creative way is vitally important"

A gigantic metal rabbit, mindfulness taught by a senior monk, and sustainability at the centre of the curriculum are just some of the appealing aspects of Sasin School of Management in Thailand.

“Some 40 years ago, some farsighted business leaders and university leaders here in Thailand realised that we would need a world class business school teaching in English quickly,” the institution’s dean, Ian Fenwick, tells The PIE News.

“At the time, Thailand was booming, one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and they wanted an instant business school. And so a group of academics and business people went to the US, which was at the time the height of business education, and they went around to try to find partners,” he says.

They went to Kellogg School of Management, which at that time was in the top five at the US and Kellogg was “very interested”, he explains.

It was the first international graduate management program that Kellogg undertook, and as it brought in Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to assist, the program started. Chulalongkorn University also joined to launch the school in 1982.

“And almost from day one, it was a big success. And in fact it was so successful that more recently Kellogg started its own series of programs modelled on this collaboration. So it really turned out to be a model that was not only innovative and successful, but one which was quickly emulated.”

This is Thailand’s first internationally accredited business school, offering an MBA, EMBA, and DBA.

“The founder of Sasin, professor Toemsakdi Krishnamra, originally named the school the Graduate Institute of Business Administration which is kind of a mouthful.

“And they shortened to GIBA but ‘BA’ in Thai means ‘crazy’, so it wasn’t a perfect name for Thai speakers. So, professor Toemsakdi approached his majesty the king and he suggested we rename the school and call it ‘Sasin’, which is a mixture of ‘Sasa’ and ‘Indra’, ‘Rabbit’ and ‘King’ – king of the rabbits.”

All the school’s graduates receive a furry rabbit toy on graduation day with the name of the school embroidered on it. “We have adopted the rabbit as our symbol everywhere,” he grins. “We have a huge rabbit made out of recycle metal outside our building, which we call a ‘Rabbzilla’.”   

“Sustainability has been at the heart of everything we do for the last 10 years”

Associated with 43 world-class institutions in 19 territories, sustainability is an integral part of Sasin’s vision.

“We adopted the positioning and the slogan, if you like, ‘inspired, and transformed for a better, smarter, sustainable world’. The whole idea is that this is the age of creativity. This is the age when using your assets, using your resources in an innovative, creative way is vitally important. We’ve gone past an age where it’s simply how much money you have, how many resources you have, it’s how you use those resources.

“Half of our Thai students are actually educated outside the country, and they come to us to reconnect, to form their business networks so that they can be successful within their country. So connection is very, very important. And of course, transformation. If we want to have a sustainable world, we have to change what we are doing and we have to do it now, if not yesterday,” he stresses.

“Sustainability has been at the heart of everything we do for the last 10 years.”

An entrepreneurial mindset and mindfulness is also vital, he continues.

“Sustainability will only be accomplished by an entrepreneurial mindset, looking at things like entrepreneurs asking, ‘how can things be done differently? How can I use the existing resources in a new way to be more effective and reach the goal of sustainability?’

“We are also now mixing in mindfulness with mindfulness in management, which I think fits with the positioning of the country of Thailand. With Buddhism as a religion, we created a meditation room as part of our research centre.”

A senior monk talks to incoming students about the importance of mindfulness. And Thai culture seems to be dominant in the school’s curriculum.

“The whole idea is to teach not only basic maths, but also to reflect on your values. And the whole idea of what you do as a manager reflects you as a person.

“Culture is a two-edged sword,” he explains. “We try to teach people to be culturally nimble, to be able to understand the culture and behave in a way which is not unintentionally rude, but equally not to be dominated by a culture.”

“You are culturally sensitive, not culturally submissive. It’s what I always say to people,” he adds.

As part of its recruitment strategy, Sasin is also looking internationally, with 90% ethnically Thai in their MBA classes.

“More than half of [the students] have been educated for 20 years outside of the country. So culturally, they’re not really Thai.  Ethnically, they are. And I think that’s going to be more true of future generations. I would love to have more nationalities in the classroom. We accomplished that in part by exchange programs.”

There are 44 exchange programs, but still most enrolled students in full-time programs are local.

“We focus on showing people that they can adapt and that, in fact, the rules of doing business, if you like, are pretty much the same everywhere”

While Thailand is a very different study destinations compared to the UK and US, however, Fenwick stresses that the rules of business are the same.

“Most people have seen foreign documentaries or movies and they have an impression of a fast moving, hectic, confusing place, which is very, very true. And so I think actually people are predisposed to believe it’s different, but perhaps they fear they can never adapt. We focus on showing people that they can adapt and that, in fact, the rules of doing business are pretty much the same everywhere. But the approaches are very different.

“We’ll be trying to teach people that what you see is not what you get.  The fact that people smile a lot does not mean they’re happy with you at all. It’s just the way they they hold their face, which is very pleasant but doesn’t really tell you anything.”

The pandemic disrupted the school – particular the academic schedule – but Fenwick remains optimistic.

“We used to start in April, Southeast Asia’s New Year, but April 2020 was a very bad time in Thailand and people were withdrawing from our program every day.” Management opted to start programs in August.

“That was a great idea in 2020, wasn’t quite so good in 2021 but we stayed with that start date. So first of all, we changed our program in that respect.

“Secondly, obviously, it reduced our enrolments, which are now climbing back. So we’re not quite back to pre-pandemic, but by next year, I believe we will exceed our pre-pandemic levels,” he predicts.

It also impact the 60% of courses taught by visiting faculty from overseas.

“We taught some of the courses by distance, which was a great move because it showed everyone that actually learning online is possible,” he states. “It may not be better than face-to-face, but in some ways it is, it’s more convenient. And it forced us to look for new visiting faculty.

“We found a surprising number of visiting faculty that teach in other countries, but live in Thailand. And so we were able to tap into some of those people.

“So now we’re developing a blended learning program which will be taught partly online and partly face to face,” he concludes.

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