Exeter MBA Seeks Teamwork Skills For Success in Azerbaijan
Rauf Mustafayev hopes his MBA and international experience will make him a better leader when he returns to his business
Prior to the course, he completed PhDs on globalisation and international legal ethics, as well as a Masters in EU law and a BA in European Studies. After a year volunteering with the UN on a literacy mission in central Asia, Rauf returned home to set up his own company, which he later sold to domestic security firm KC&SS.
He then worked as assistant and advisor to an Azerbaijani politician who served on the board of AGBank. This led to roles in international investment projects and an Azerbaijani World Bank project. He now co-runs a medium-sized security services company in Azerbaijan.
Teamwork and professional skills
“I really needed experience of teamwork. Personal proficiency just isn’t enough when you’re leading your own company. I recognised I needed to build on my communication skills. For too long I was trying to do it alone and missing out on knowledge.
“I thought I was ‘the one’, that I could be independent and savvy like many Western entrepreneurs. But it doesn’t work like that in the Eastern culture of connections, where professional skills are less important. In Central Asia and the Middle East, if you’re not part of a big community, then it’s impossible to succeed. You need mutual support, a network.”
“That was a big motivation behind my decision to do an MBA – I needed that experience of networking and the confidence that comes with it.
“Now I know I can communicate. Before I was almost a little afraid of the exposure to so students from so many places, but now I believe I can work alongside anyone.
“My long-term goal is to work in Azerbaijan and give something back to my country. Part of my plan is to absorb some Western culture and professional practises so I can offer something unique on my return. I want to take the international perspective and use it in domestic business.
“There are 24 different nationalities in my class, and so it feels like a small emulation of the globe. The sheer number of countries, with students from Africa, the US, South America, Europe and so on, is something you must experience to understand.
“Henry Mintzberg tried to list the required qualities of a good manager, and one he gave was worldliness. In my view, the single way to become worldly is to get together with people from across the planet, which is exactly what I do every day.
“When the class sits around a table and works on a problem, it becomes a brainstorm with elements of experience from the whole world. And the things you learn from each other stay with you.
“You start to feel like a racing driver whose car has been souped-up – when you finish the MBA you’ll have the edge over the other drivers because of the shared experience and thoughts. You believe you will win.”
The MBA workload
“It’s challenging but brilliant. To succeed, you’ve got to be ready for sleepless months. At the minute we work from 9am to 7pm on core modules – and after that we then have guest speakers, business case study meetings, business games and more.
“My advice is to arrive ready to live the MBA. My PhD and Master’s degrees didn’t come close to the intensity of this course. From the second week we were pushing out 19 hour days.
“But at the same time I can’t describe how happy I am studying at Exeter. Our new director had us meeting with businessmen in London within three days of arriving, and he’s kept up that pace ever since. I really feel my sacrifices bring brilliant results.
The One Planet MBA
“Business is business and money is money – but ultimately we’re losing the planet. Practises need to change, especially in developing countries like my own.
“I believe that in 25 years the graduates of this course will be in demand as global innovators. We’re the ones who are learning to mix business sustainability with environmental sustainability. with practical projects throughout the course like the recent consultancy project with The Met Office on improving their environmental impact.
“As questions about environmental sustainability grow, the world will think of us as the real innovators.
“Despite the hours, it’s not just about study. We have an enormous amount of respect for each other and find ourselves sharing everything.
“The most recent example was the Pakistan-India cricket final. Because of the eight Indians in my class, out of nowhere I was suddenly supporting India like it was my own team. After only a few months with them, I really see no difference between my nationality and my coursemates’.
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