Dr. Stephanie Jones to Yemen Times:The world is my home! [Archives:2007/1058/Reportage]

June 11 2007

Interviewed by: Nadia Al-Saqqaf
The first time I met her I was not sure that she was the university professor I was supposed to meet. Instead of meeting a stern formal academic with spectacles and a bunch of reference books, I saw a pretty crew-cut female wearing casuals and carrying a rucksack on her shoulder. She had a wide grin on her face, and with a firm handshake she introduced herself and I know this would be an interesting interview.

For more than half a century, Maastricht School of Management (MSM), based in one of the oldest towns in the Netherlands, has focused on international cooperation, combining education, technical assistance and research in its professional services. The Maastricht program is offered in a number of Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. For the past two years, MSM has had a higher education partnership with Sana'a University, and 24 Yemeni students have enrolled in the first intake, with the second intake just about to start.

With the objective of enhancing professional competence and enriching the lives and careers of those involved in the practice of management, the school balances management theory with practical experience and research in a multicultural and multidisciplinary setting. MSM has a variety of highly competent professors and lecturers from all around the world. Professor Stephanie Jones is one of several MSM faculty who have participated in the Yemen program.

Dr. Stephanie Jones

Dr. Jones is an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior. Having a PhD in Economics from University College London, Dr Jones managed Human Resources consulting and training businesses in the UK, Hong Kong, PRC, India, Australia and Dubai, from 1988 to 2001. She was previously based at the Kuwait Maastricht Business School, and taught at the University of Wollongong in Dubai and the American University in Dubai, from 2001-2005. She also lectures in Thesis Writing, Quality Management, Change Management, Cross-Cultural Management, International Business, Entrepreneurship, Business Ethics and the Consultancy Process.

Dr Jones is an active consultant and trainer in human resource management and leadership, and serves on the editorial board of a practitioner journal Human Assets Middle East. She has served twice as an assessor and lead assessor for the Dubai Human Development Awards. Her research interests are in leadership, cross-cultural issues, and HRM topics such as recruitment, training and interviewing approaches.

Since gaining her PhD in her early twenties, Dr Jones has authored over 20 full-length internationally-published books on business and management, including on the subjects of psychometric testing, recruitment, career development and expatriation. Dr Jones has recently completed the first volume in the MSM textbook series, How to Write Your MBA Thesis, jointly with Dr Khaled Wahba of Cairo and Professor Beatrice van der Heijden in the Netherlands.

Her latest book, Nelson's Way: leadership lessons from the great commander, reached the top ten best-selling business books in the UK. “Nelson's Way is my favorite book, I researched the leadership skills of this great leader and hope the readers will learn and use the knowledge and ideas we presented in this book throughout their lives,” she added.

Joining the Maastricht School of Management

After more than 5 years teaching at international universities in Dubai, Dr. Jones decided it was time for a change. She came to know about MSM through their exhibition stand at a conference she was attending in Dubai and hence applied to join the Maastricht program in Kuwait, and then the “head office” in the Netherlands.

“I wanted to work in a more flexible environment which allowed for creativity and innovation. The Maastricht program was perfect for me especially that it includes a lot of traveling which I enjoy very much,” Dr Jones commented on her start with MSM in 2005. Although Dr Jones originally comes from a small town in the South West of England she considers the world as her home. Having a house in Malta, and having consulted and taught in many countries around the world, she considers herself as a world citizen.

Currently Dr Jones is visiting Yemen as a part of the Sana'a University-Maastricht Executive MBA program, which lasts for a year and half. Being a consultant and trainer in human resource management and leadership, she plays an integral part in the executive MBA program in Yemen because of her approach that mixes theory with practical training.

Yemeni higher education

As to her views on the priorities of the education sector in Yemen, Dr. Jones simply explained that for an educational system to be successful it should be practical and up to date. Regarding this she commented, “the problem with the higher education system in Yemen is that it seems stuck in time-warp. Many of the academics use the same teaching methods they were taught years ago and they do not realize the dire need to advance with time. The problem is that students evaluate their teachers on the basis of how interesting and practical the teachers and teaching methods are. And I think this is why many higher education students give their teachers a hard time. Especially that the students have gained a taste of different teaching styles through their own experiences overseas and the visiting teachers coming from abroad through the Maastricht program. We need to keep in mind that these students are senior adults and mostly very successful in their careers, and want to equip themselves with better knowledge and skills. And these kinds of students are the most challenging and interesting ones.”

Dr Jones commented that since learning is encouraged by Islam, Yemenis should be great learners. But maybe they are too concerned with getting good marks and gaining knowledge rather than really applying that knowledge. Knowledge for its own sake is limited. And it doesn't stop there. We have to keep learning and growing. There is too much unjustified complacency in academe in Yemen. We need to discover what we don't know before we think we know everything.

Management in different cultures

Dr. Jones' experience is multicultural. She had taught management in many different countries around the world, and she believes that each culture has its unique way of dealing with management and human behavior issues. “You can find the same human resource text book theories wherever you go, but when it comes to practical implementation the particularities of each country and each culture must be taken into consideration. It's simply because people are different and the way they deal with issues varies from one place to another.”

However, Dr Jones confirms that the best way of teaching management subjects to senior and mid-career professionals and executives is to combine internationally accepted theories and best management practices with local realities. “We want to prepare the students to be able to work in multinational companies. I would like to help my students to be able to fit into any multinational company around the world and do well wherever they go. We are trying to create an international business elite, and not just in established business environments. Most of the Maastricht programs are in emerging business environments,” she said.

Yemeni culture and successful management

As to whether the Yemeni culture supports organizational effectiveness she said: “Organizational effectiveness can be seen as a rather abstract concept – but in the context of Yemen it could mean local companies operating in a more effective way – setting goals such as making profits and wealth creation – and being efficient – such as not wasting resources. I think organizational effectiveness is important for Yemen, there is not much of it about as far as I can see – even multinationals here are not very effective. Why not? Lack of trust, tribalism, qat-chewing, discontent with salaries and “checking out”, i.e. going through the motions and lacking motivation.”

Dr. Jones thinks the culture of Yemeni companies would seem to be (in an academic sense) high power distant – i.e. fear of the boss; collectivist – operating in groups; uncertainty avoiding – need for structure and guidelines etc. The presence of so many poor people hanging around without employment must make people worry about job security issues. “If I don't do a good job, if I complain a lot, if I make lots of mistakes – there are plenty of other people to take my job. So people are afraid to make decisions and try new things. These behaviors reflecting these cultural norms do not help Yemeni businesses to be effective,” she commented.

If Yemen was a city state like Dubai there are comparisons like Singapore and Hong Kong. But it is quite a big country, still apparently suffering from the hangover of unification, and it is very traditional and Islamic. It doesn't have the oil reserves and home of Islam like Saudi. It doesn't have the Pyramids and the Nile and the diversified society of Egypt. It doesn't have the gas reserves and small population of Qatar. It doesn't have the oil of Kuwait. Tourism is a distinct possibility, but Yemen's reputation for kidnapping tourists is difficult to overcome. Maybe Yemen could be like Jordan, capitalizing on amazing tourist destinations – but Jordan seems quite poor still. Maybe like Syria, with the old city of Damascus reminiscent of the old city of Sana'a – but then maybe not. Syria is much poorer still. Yemen needs to make the most of its strengths and attack its weaknesses – and every Yemeni knows what these are.

Learning from the students

MSM has worked for over 50 years at the interface of the public and private sectors' management of transition processes in culturally diverse environments. The students enrolling in this program come from many different backgrounds. Dr Jones feels that not only does she teach the students but also learns from them. “I have learnt so much that I think this is what keeps me going. I was turning up for the class the other day, and the students said “how was your day?” I just said my day has just started now because the class is the highest point of my day.”

Coming to Yemen – for the first time – was an eye opener for her. “Yemen is the cradle of Arab civilization. You can see signs of signs of modernization merging with old traditional ways. It is like the country is trapped in history.”

Dr Jones appreciates the qualities of her Yemeni students. She thinks they are impressive, smart, open, argumentative, challenging, and bright. “I believe these students are the 'creme de la creme' of the Yemeni business environment, and I am sure they will be leaders each in their own way, if they are not already,” she concluded.