Levelling up - Amin El Kholy uses his sense of symmetry to re-balance the information gap

Levelling up - Amin El Kholy uses his sense of symmetry to re-balance the information gap

Amin El Kholy has played many roles during his 18-year relationship with The University of Manchester; Global MBA student, alumnus and then Alumni Ambassador, adjunct faculty, and Advisory Board member. This multi-role relationship reflects Amin’s current life portfolio, in which he teaches, mentors and coaches, as well as advises startup companies and sits on the board of others.

When he considers the common factor linking all these activities – his ‘driving passion’ – he believes it is a determination to make an impact and a difference by levelling the information playing field so that individuals, entrepreneurs and small companies can benefit from the exciting opportunities that the region offers. Having worked in the finance sector, Amin believes the asymmetrical balance of power when it comes to knowledge and information should be re-balanced and he can help address this through his range of interests and activities – including in the classroom.

Amin was a member of cohort number one, joining the first cohort of GMBA students in the Middle East, in 2006. He also joined the Alliance Manchester Business School Advisory Board in 2018 and today – in addition to his teaching role as an adjunct faculty for the GMBA – he is doing as much as he can to enhance the presence of the University in Dubai, the UAE and the region, which has been growing since day one. This includes exploring the idea of an entrepreneur’s club within the alumni community, with the aim of providing more help for current and prospective entrepreneurs within the student and alumni communities.

“It’s not just about Alliance Manchester Business School of course and there’s much more involvement and activity that we can explore for the wider University in the region. There are phenomenal opportunities for the University to build on its brand reputation and goodwill here. There are several projects already happening and we expect these to come to fruition in the next few months but there’s always more to be done – for example with entrepreneurs.

“Personally, I find myself gravitating towards a nexus of the technical stuff I have learned to do through my career, such as finance (and I teach some of this now); I started my career in technology before moving towards investment and finance, and more recently towards VC and startup companies, as opposed to stock markets, which are of less interest to me now.

“Deploying capital to help new ideas and new products come to market and new companies being formed is a hot topic wrapped in entrepreneurship. It’s the business aspect that I enjoy as well as the technical aspect – for example in fintech, which is big and growing and there’s lots of interest. I am currently working on training and mentoring companies in this space, so still operating within the areas I have been involved in through my career - finance and technology. I am more involved in mentoring and advisory boards, which means working more with people – and it’s more fun.

“I now realise that the common thread across these seemingly disparate activities – apart from my relationship with the University – is information asymmetry. When one party has more access than another - even when there is a regulatory presence – it leads to asymmetry and a tendency to exacerbate the information asymmetry.”

Amin sees his teaching and training roles in this context – “Many important areas of personal and professional life involve market transactions and when there is an imbalance in knowledge and information between one party and another it puts the weaker party at a disadvantage. I see it as my job to reduce the asymmetry and to engage with the learning group to provide and help create access to more knowledge, insights, and information to reduce the asymmetry. Unlike in business where success often depends on exploiting this gap, in the area of learning and development the aim is to close it. The ideal is also to help students become better than yourself. My grandfather (who was an academic) used to say ‘there’s always the time factor’ – he even had an equation for it, Student = Teacher + Time, to signify that a student should be better than the teacher as they grow and evolve. I find myself moved to do this rather than exploiting the asymmetry of information.

“I find it’s the same with startups and mentoring – it’s my attempt to balance the playing field and reduce the asymmetry. The Middle East Centre’s initiative to support entrepreneurs in the student 3 and alumni community is one way to do this. Can this also be brought to school pupils and can we bring this directly into schools? I am actively working on an initiative which aims to do that.”

As he goes on to explain, entrepreneurship is not just about a new company or business, it may be someone working in an existing company, a government department or a charity – anywhere you can identify the pain point and opportunity to make things better – and how you can help through different forms of entrepreneurship. The starting point is the same, addressing the essence of a business which is to answer the key questions - what problem are you solving, for who, and how to reach them?

“I found myself involved accidentally in this area but I feel very passionate about it. This aligns with my own values and interests. Education is a great investment and an asset for a country, region or city and for young people to look at the world in this way and see how to generate ideas and solve problems and pain points in any context – not just for a private company – because the basic building blocks are the same. This kind of thinking would be great to develop in early or later school years, it’s interesting and hopefully will come through. So, it’s a departure from my traditional investment, finance, asset management areas of interest and I find that it more aligns with my principles and I enjoy what I’m doing.”

Where’s this all taking Amin?

“The most valuable things I have learned through my life were not necessarily through what was designed as teaching material. At AMBS, of course, there is more emphasis on practice and experience – the Manchester Method. I went through situations - my real-life case studies if you like - from which I learned, so my approach to teaching is not that I’ve learned knowledge that is valuable and that I can impart it to others – students can find this for themselves in a textbook. It’s more about facilitating a learning environment. In the Global MBA, we create a learning environment where students can acquire and share insights and learn for themselves and from each other.

“It’s more than just the academics and this is what I am passionate about, and it’s also a learning opportunity for me as well because students share their experiences and ask questions – it’s like an electric current that needs to flow through everybody in the class or group and as a teacher you’re a part of this flow.”

Hindsight has given Amin some clarity and perspectives on his own career evolution: “My career was different and I was (and still am) driven by curiosity. There never was an end goal – to have this job at this age – but I wanted to learn to do things well. I wanted to do something useful based on what I was taught but predominantly, what I was learning.”

Looking ahead, Amin adopts a ‘wait and see’ approach and what arouses his curiosity and how he may be able to contribute. “I plan to stay active in areas beyond teaching and mentoring – I’m still involved in startups, training, fintech where I am advising companies, to keep my hand in as a practitioner – and keep learning.”

He stresses that the University remains an important part of this future. “I aim to keep what I have gained in circulation and can help others learn from this experience, such as support and guidance for students and alumni through the Manchester MentorME programme, which is brilliant. There’s an opportunity to enhance the University’s presence and we can do more, such as more research and I am excited by what’s happening in the region, compared to the ‘old world’. There’s a vast wealth of experience at the University gained over 200 years and the Middle East Centre focuses this here in the region, where’s there a growing sense of what’s possible. The University is enormous and very active but this still needs some translation – culture and environment – to connect to the opportunities in the region. The gears have to mesh and we see it working already such as with the work around graphene, and there is potential for so much more. It’s a very exciting time for the University.”

As a senior alumnus, Amin is still impressed by the growing presence and remarkable enthusiasm of the alumni community. “There’s such a strong sense of community here – in no small part due to the Centre team’s efforts – and every year we graduate and create more alumni and more momentum. Almost all of the 22 graduates of the first cohort are still here in the region and doing interesting and important things. It’s beautiful to see that cohesion and a growing community; I expect new dimensions to be added to this with the notable growth of students from Saudi Arabia over the last few years.”

Amin remains enthused about the future as the University celebrates its 200th anniversary. “Manchester has been through a real transformation over the last five years with a growing interest in internationalisation and collaboration. Manchester is more than football and the University is a 5 huge brand with international centres and a large ecosystem. The Centre has done a phenomenal job and much more than just the MBA programme. Visitors from the University come to the region and go ‘wow – let’s do this and that’. This is a great year to take this leap to more internationalisation and the overseas centres can play a significant role, with benefits flowing in both directions. After 18 years of great work by the Centre, there are many opportunities and it would be beautiful to see it all come to fruition and take off in this special year.”