First among equals

First among equals

Amin ElKholy
Chief Operating Officer
Modus Capital
Cohort of 2006

Over the last 15 years, Amin has developed a special relationship with the University of Manchester. As well as being a member of the very first MBA cohort in the Middle East, he has gone on to become the first in a number of other areas – first Chair of the Middle East Alumni Association; First Ambassador for the University in the region; First Adjunct Faculty member from the Middle East; and the first representative of the region to join the Advisory Board of The University of Manchester. 

Given all of this, it was no surprise to find Amin on the sidelines of the MBA workshops in Dubai, where he was teaching. “I really didn’t expect to find myself teaching on the MBA programme, 15 years after starting the MBA myself. This was never in my mind but I have to say that I’m glad I’m doing it, and I’m really enjoying it.”

This is Amin’s unique story. 

I started the MBA after I moved to Dubai to work in financial services. I had already done my own learning and exploring and wanted some more formal learning. Initially, I thought it might be better to study economics so I applied to LSE but missed the deadline and so looked at the MBA. I researched the options and applied for the executive MBA on campus in Manchester and then received the good news that the Middle East Centre had opened in Dubai along with the suggestion that I attend an information session, which I did and it was good. I did the MBA following the Finance pathway and doing it in Dubai saved me a lot of time.
I did the MBA over an extended period and linked this with training in other areas to open my mind to things and it was a nice learning journey. I took a career break and spent a couple of years doing various qualifications, such as executive coaching, NLP, hypnotherapy. I still kept in touch with the Middle East Centre and attended events to answer questions from MBA candidates and always tried to give my honest feedback.
Then one day, I was sitting with Randa Bessiso (Founding Director, Middle East Centre) and she asked me whether I had ever thought of teaching any of the MBA modules, such as business account and finance – I had studied the module and worked in the industry for years. She asked me to consider it and it sounded fun.

Of course, The University has a process and a set of criteria for adjunct faculty and I had a PhD but in a different discipline. So, I shadowed one of the MBA tutors, then applied and was accepted. 

I attended MBA workshops and covered the academic content because I had already studied it and knew it very well but I discovered that I could also add all my career experience and real-world examples of companies here. I could talk about stock markets here and how they impact things, the history of some companies, loans that went bad, payables and receivables.   

The first MBA workshops I joined were in 2018 and I just started teaching – it was really fulfilling and I enjoyed it a lot. Generally, I get good feedback from students (if they hate my teaching, no one has told me yet!) and plan to continue doing it. I am now back in full-time work in investments and so a little squeezed for time but I am very happy to fit it in – and the workshops are immensely satisfying. 

The face-to-face component creates such a strong interaction with students and even with the current Covid-19 restrictions, we can still deliver the full experience of a face-to-face workshop. The blended MBA was already a hybrid model of learning before the pandemic and we can do much of the learning through virtual modules online but the face-to-face element is so valuable and irreplaceable. The commitment to part-time teaching means I need to take 6-7 days of leave – it’s not a holiday but I am happy to do it, as it is so satisfying.

My training in executive coaching led me to build a small group of clients and this was very satisfying working with professional clients and helping them with jobs and careers. I also use professional coaches and appreciate their importance. We also maintain strong personal connections because it’s fun.

Coaching follows specific processes for outcomes and NLP helps in observing behaviour more keenly. Hypnotherapy helps understand how the mind works and this reflects in speech and behaviour. Some of these skills are useful in teaching – to be engaged with other people and the challenges they face and where their careers are going. There’s always a benefit for the coach or the teacher. The best managers use judgement and feelings applied to their business and personal lives, because at the end of the day, we are all human.

At The University of Manchester, the community of alumni, students and the centre is important and mutually enriching – the more you give the more you get in return. At a social level, we are good friends and mentors and this makes it interesting. Some alumni have hired fellow graduates and other fellow students have done business with each other. My own company offered an internship to a student and then hired him. 
I didn’t start the MBA for something specific but went in with an open mind and let things happen. If nothing else, as a community we have interesting discussions on life, work and the universe and have something in common through our work and studies. Many of us face similar issues together and there’s a nice sense of community here.

Career or careering?....

What I heard from that first MBA information session I attended in Dubai, all those years ago, was that the MBA gives you a new way of looking at the world, a new set of glasses. 
Several years later, I was working on a project and looking at 10-15 data points relating to a particular company and this is exactly what was happening; I made conclusions about how the company worked based on what I had learned through the MBA. This idea of looking differently with different glasses – it really happens.

My career is still ‘careering’ and there is no set plan. I wanted to understand what I could do better and wanted the knowledge that I didn’t get at the undergraduate level, not for specific career goal. I had specific aims for the MBA and got what I wanted and expected – a valued MBA degree, the knowledge, and a network. Basically, I joined for the knowledge and stayed for the community and I’m still enjoying the community. 

There were a number of academics that made an impact on me – the quality was excellent and they are also practitioners, and I am still friends and in touch with some of them. I remember one guest speaker from the University who presented on the role of emotion in strategy and this really opened my eyes to something I had thought about – and this was just one of many such talks. The whole community and support are really valuable including Randa, who I consider one of my coaches and has a natural ability to share generously with people and we have regular chats about life. I have lots of good friends among the alumni who work and socialise together.    

For the first time in a while, I am currently building an asset management business, starting with a clean slate and with my experience, aiming to do it better and enjoy the challenge. What I get from this process now is greater satisfaction in building a sustainable team and it’s a different approach than before, when it was more about the mission. As I get older, I am looking to build something new, growing and developing the team and the structure
The payoff for me is the social interaction and the people are the most rewarding element. Nurturing comes with maturity and it’s what you care about more with age. 

There’s a moral dimension and the obligation of an MBA is to give back and share with other people. This comes out naturally and as you become more senior and set strategy, you are working with younger staff and realise you are providing financial wellness for clients, shareholders/investors, and staff. 

Balance is everything and I see this in education as well. 

Covid-19 has taught me that there is a baseline beyond which we will not go in terms of online education. Universities and business schools need to work out what and how we can do online and face to face. There’s a reinvention happening now and it’s still unclear what will come out of this process. However, there is a clear sense of the benefits of community and face-to-face learning but there’s a different balance emerging between teaching/learning and face-to-face interaction.  

How would I summarise my relationship with the University? It’s become part of my life. The ‘Ambassador’ role is built-in so I’ve been given a title just to keep doing what I’ve always been doing.