Professor Kamran Razmdoost, Dean of ESCP Business School, London Campus: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times
My philosophy in life is to utilise my resources, body, mind and way of thinking in a way to create a positive impact”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Professor Kamran Razmdoost, the Dean of ESCP Business School, London Campus (UK). Kamran’s research is broadly focused on the emergence of service ecosystems through institutional change. Prior to his academic career, Kamran acted as project risk manager, contract negotiator, management system auditor, project manager, department head, and health and safety engineer, mainly in the Oil, Gas and Petrochemical sector. He strongly believes in authentic and distributed leadership, where you see leadership as a process with every single individual in the organisation having a role in that process. His main goal as a new Dean is to co-create an environment that motivates and inspires students, alumni, staff, faculty members and other stakeholders, and makes them happier in their engagement with ESCP’s London Campus.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was born and raised in Tehran. I did my Bachelor degree in mechanical engineering and joined Namvaran, one of the most reputable engineering consultants in Iran, as the Health, Safety & Environmental Protection Design Engineer. I become the head of the department while I was quite young and got involved in managerial activities. I did my MBA at the Sharif University of Technology at the same time and got more interested in management, specifically the softer side of management. In the final years of my time with Namvaran I was involved in our mega projects, liaising between the CEO, project directors and clients around major project risks.
I moved to the UK in 2009 and did an MSc in Strategic Marketing at Cranfield University. After winning a scholarship I continued to gain a PhD in Marketing there. For me, that was the transition to becoming an academic. I went on to join University College London in 2014, holding a number of teaching, research and enterprise engagements in the context of built environment. I really enjoyed working at UCL; I had amazing colleagues and a great opportunity to understand the UK Higher Education sector better.
In 2017 I joined ESCP Business School, which was a major breakthrough in my career. I found a great synergy between my values and way of thinking and those of ESCP, and could implement a lot of my ideas in terms of teaching, research, leadership, and external engagement over the past four years. All of this led to my current role as Dean of the ESCP London Campus.
Congratulations on your new role as the Dean of ESCP London Campus, what do you think you will bring to this role and what initiatives do you hope to bring to the London Campus?
My main goal is to co-create an environment that motivates and inspires our students, alumni, staff, faculty members and other stakeholders, and makes them happier in their engagement with ESCP’s London Campus.
We have already achieved a lot over the past few years at ESCP Business School as a whole, as well as here at the London Campus. We are benefiting from a healthy growth and improvement in many aspects of our business. My leadership plan is mainly to continue our efforts in establishing academic and business processes in collaboration with ESCP’s six campuses and their federal teams. We need to enhance the way we evaluate these processes and recognise the importance of the services our academic and professional service staff are providing.
One of my key priorities will be to continue our efforts in embedding our School in the UK higher education and business space. This will be achieved through enhancing our formal academic position in the UK, working with UK-based businesses, and improving our brand to attract UK-based talent to our programmes.
The London Campus is also a great platform for innovation. We need to think about the future of business education with regard to students and businesses prioritising skills and mindset development over disciplinary-based knowledge. Experiential, multi-disciplinary and project-based learning will be more and more at the core of our education. The London Campus is recognised for its ability to create an ambidextrous position on different aspects of business, such as creativity and analytics, technology and management, or corporate and social logics. I would like to formalise our position and further develop areas that address our complex business and social challenges.
What motivates you?
My philosophy in life is to utilise my resources, body, mind and way of thinking in a way to create a positive impact. It makes me satisfied when I see my actions lead to a positive change, even if it is a small one. There are also areas such as what we do at ESCP around talent development that I can relate to more, as I believe these are crucial elements in our society to create even more significant impact. Our students become future business leaders and we are planting trees that will bear fruit for our society in the future; this is something very meaningful for me.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
One of the key aspects of uncertain and challenging times is the fact that existing social norms and social institutions are challenged and, as a result, sometimes found not fit for purpose. A leader plays a significant role in filling that gap. She or he needs to have the capability and capacity to look at the world from different angles; to be mindful of different stakeholders and people in different situations in order to make decisions and build new norms and culture that bring everyone together in challenging times. This requires a much higher level of engagement from a leader compared with a normal situation.
Which three words best describe your approach to leadership and why?
I strongly believe in distributed leadership: to see leadership as a process with every single individual in the organisation having a role in that process.
Also, to me leadership needs to be visionary, to give meaning to what we are doing and make sure we are not losing our key purpose.
And leadership actions should be authentic. We should believe in what we portray as our values, assumptions and directions and to practice them genuinely. We should be true to all stakeholders and more importantly to ourselves.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
It really depends on what is our definition of a plan. I don’t see plans as rigid guidelines that make our life difficult in uncertain environments. I see them as flexible processes helping us to remove our anxiety and be ready for different scenarios. To me, it is more important to show agility and adaptability when things change and to be able to quickly adjust your plans. So, I would be more in favour of planning, organising and administering that is continuous and dynamic as opposed to more authoritative and inflexible.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide students through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Although environmental turbulence is not ideal and sometimes rather painful, it can provide an opportunity for personal development to build resilience and test our capacity. Over the past two disruptive years we have had, I have been telling my students to accept the situation as a challenge, stay positive and find ways to change the situation in ways that benefit them. I have done this myself throughout my life to find the best in worst situations, something which can often be very difficult.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most mistakes you have seen other leaders make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
I am a bit puzzled with the term “mistake”, as any action could be perceived as a mistake or success depending how we are looking at it. I can perhaps talk instead about things that could be missed in difficult times, for example long-term thinking, intangible aspects of business such as people’s feelings, and business areas that are not in direct exposure to leaders. In my view, strong culture can help us not miss those key elements.
If you could tell your younger self one thing what would it be?
I remember at points when I was selecting my first degree or in some of my career choices, some of my deepest thoughts were affected by me looking for a version of success that was defined by society. I would perhaps tell my younger self to be free from such limitations and search for a version of success that has a meaning for yourself and your identity. This has been my personal journey over the years: to be more and more honest with myself, and to find areas that are unconsciously and unnecessarily limiting my thinking, something which is still improving.
What are your hopes for the future and ESCP Business School London?
There is something unique about ESCP London which makes staff, faculty and students feel part of a family. Whether it is our individual-centric approach, our pragmatism and care, or our ambidexterity, it elevates our Campus beyond simple business interactions. I very much hope we can explore and recognise this further, and have more and more people experience it.
Thank you for your time! We wish you continued success