Dr. Selina Neri is Professor of Management and Corporate Governance at HULT International Business School (Dubai and London) where she teaches MBA and executive MBA courses in the areas of corporate governance, organizational behaviour, business and society, and luxury marketing. She is a research fellow of the Future of the Corporation Program of the British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences and a member of the International Corporate Governance Network (ICGN).
Hult is the first triple accredited business school (AACSB, AMBA and EQUIS) in the USA, with campuses in San Francisco, Boston, London and Dubai. Hult is a place like no other, a place of innovation, of trying out new things and of profound self-discovery. Dr. Neri states, “We strive for relevance: relevance to business, relevance to personal development, relevance to society, relevance to teaching and research, life-long relevance to our students and alumni. Developing the human is one of our top priorities, beside developing competence in the domains of business and at the edge of knowledge and possibilities.”
Below are highlights of the interview conducted between World’s Leaders and Dr. Selina Neri:
Brief our audience about your journey as a women leader. What challenges you had to face to reach where you are today?
My journey is one of survival and grit. It is also one of personal discovery. I have survived physical disability at a very young age, a family background that gave me a springboard into education and yet tried to pull me back into the version of me that my family desired. I survived natural disasters and I survived illnesses. I developed grit and tenacity. In the first years of my career, in the USA, I survived an obnoxious, sexist and racist boss who did a wonderful job at igniting in me the ability to show my true colors. The more he tried to demean me, the higher I rose, emotionally, intellectually and hierarchically. I started my education in the liberal arts, went on to Economics and an MBA. Worked for over 26 years in technology and eventually crafted four industry changes. I sat on board of directors of listed companies and felt on my skin what corporate power means and how it can serve society or self-interest. I was awarded a PhD in Business at the age of 52 after three years of doctoral studies for which I sacrificed everything. I fell in love at the age of 39 with the man who eventually became my husband, my true love and my number one fan club. Mine is a story whose texture is epic and filled with discoveries of who I really am deep inside, what I stand for, in whose company I feel comfortable and what does not belong to who I am. I am still searching but I have learned to be comfortably vulnerable and to be me, whatever it takes.
Enlighten us on how you have made an impact in this industry through your expertise in the industry?
I am a business person who came to academia late in life and I think this gives me credibility, deep and vast social capital, the ability to connect the dots for myself and for our students, whether in corporate or alumni relations, in securing top faculty for our courses and the best minds the world has to offer in their respective research domains. I bring energy, optimism, comfort in functioning as the primary spoke person for the campus, dynamism, vision and a healthy degree of fun and spontaneity. I do let my hair down! Our stakeholders say that I am an influencer and an initiator of the “new”: I take this as a compliment. As faculty I bring competence, fun and an exciting learning journey to my students. As dean, I build opportunities for growth, bold ideas and the ability to win people over and think off my feet: at Hult we are masters in pivoting!
What are the challenges you and your team at Hult International Business School come across in your day-to-day operations?
We face a variety of challanges that command our ability to pivot and to be intrapreneurial: from the Covid pandemic and ensuring the health and safety of our community, to being able to function as a strong, imclusive and diverse support system for staff and students who face personal, professional and life crisis and challenges. We face challenges where the world would like us to bend: bend the rules, bend your ethical standards and bend your morality. We stand for something: if you do not stand for something you’ll fall for everything. We cannot and do not want to afford it. We stand for a liberal education and for what education means in a human life. We stand for professional conduct in and outside of campus, we stand for an inclusive community where each of us is free to be and valued for who we are. We stand for students who cannot afford their postgraduate education but have talent and merit, so we have a comprehensive scholarship program to support them. It is because of our strong values that we overcome day-to-day challenges, from finding last minute faculty to replace a colleague who cannot teach to pivoting a whole course around a great idea students might have, to delivering big events with limited budgets and finding sponsors for our most innovative activities.
Describe in detail the values and the work culture that drives Hult International Business School.
Nothing is impossible, entrepreneurial thinking, student centricity, cost consciousness and teamwork. These are the foundations of how we operate. Hult went from a disruptor in higher education to a triple accredited business school that plays in the top league of its game. These values ignite me and speak to me; otherwise I could not be the dean of the Dubai campus or a faculty. We stand for a place where we all feel that we belong. We are a family and go together through thick and thin. We share a profound respect for our students, their families, their professional and personal journey. As dean I am prepared to go through fire for my team and my students. This is also what authentic leadership is all about.
Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run and what are your future goals for Hult International Business School?
I can comfortably say that I have found my purpose in a leadership position in higher education in an institution I respect and with people I care about. This is very rare ,and I am grateful to be here, in this moment, in this place. I like the personality of higher education and the true colours of leadership. It is exhausting and at times solitary, but it is who I am and what I do. I am at a juncture in my life where I choose what I do and so far I have learnt many lessons. We are taking Hult to its next era: a time filled with flexibility (demanded by students), cutting edge specialisations and programs, pervasive eco-systems of education, governments and business where our students are introduced to C-level executives and organisations that shape the future of humanity. We are exploring the edge of business topics, whether finance 3.0, emerging tech, data analytics or the humanities (much needed to develop the leaders of the future in the human economy). We are adding new value to our alumni who form the backbone of who we are.
What would be your advice to budding Women Leaders?
You must blossom and you must learn to know yourself. The ancient Greek civilisation use to say that knowing ourselves is the goal of life. I could not agree more. 35 years ago I thought I knew who I am but now I know that was a fabricated version of me: the texture wasn’t me, the persona wasn’t me. I think I was ashamed and scared of discovering my true self as I was raised in the belief that likeability is key. It is important but it is the result of being comfortable in your own skin, not a goal in itself.