The unlikely man behind SMU

The unlikely man behind SMU
Mr Ho Kwon Ping, executive chairman of Singapore-listed Banyan Tree Holdings. He is also the founding chairman of the Singapore Management University (SMU).

1. How did you feel about being chosen as the man to start the country's third university?

My background as the first person to conceptualise the new university was not auspicious. I was not a likely candidate to be the founding chairman of a management university.

Not only did I not possess a real PhD (my honorary doctorate doesn't really count), I hadn't even obtained that mandatory badge of business acumen, the MBA. To make matters worse, I attended three universities in three countries and took nine years to graduate from only one.

2. How did you get through that hurdle?

Oddly enough - and I have found this to be true in other areas of endeavours - when you have absolutely no way to even measure up against other people in a particular field, you are liberated to speak your mind with no fear of being embarrassed by ignorance.

One of the problems of being "qualified" to opine on something is that in the process of becoming qualified, you unwittingly end up thinking like everyone else.

3. Does SMU still stand out from the other local universities?

A recent Bain consultancy survey commissioned by SMU found that perceptions of SMU by stakeholders had evolved from that of a "new disruptor" to a "credible alternative" to the other two more established universities.

The first and immediate challenge is how to sharpen our differentiation from the other two universities when they have adopted many of the practices which made us unique.

To the extent that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we should be gratified.

But with the students from other universities (becoming) increasingly articulate and selfconfident due to (their adoption of ) many of the practices we had, the differentiation is blurring.

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