The MBA has been part and parcel of the corporate world now for as long as we can remember. Having an MBA was seen as a fast track to the top of the corporate ladder and a necessity to work at some of the larger companies in the world. That has slowly changed over the years, with some acknowledging that there are other criteria that can predict success in business.

However, MBAs and expensive business degrees are still highly prized – especially in Southeast Asia. But does that limit the playing field and skew heavily towards businesses that can afford to send staff for MBAs or give those from more privileged backgrounds even more opportunities?

We wanted to find out more, so we spoke Will Fan, the CEO of NewCampus. This is a new business school focusing on lower cost business education that develops young managers from startups and fast growing companies. This seems ideal for Southeast Asia, which has a growing number of startups that are expanding rapidly. They have a goal to make business education accessible to all and the curricula is taught by leaders, such as executives from Grab, Xiaomi, and Netflix.

MBAs are apparently only accessible by 1% of the population, so we’re looking at extremely small sub-segment of people who can afford this education.

We explore the future of alternative proteins in Southeast Asia with Gautam Godhwani from Good Startup

Will was kind enough to share his thoughts on the industry in Southeast Asia and elaborate on the evolving needs to today’s managers.

Building the alternative to Southeast Asia's obsession with the MBA - NEwcampus
The NewCampus team on a virtual call

Help us understand the type of learner that would benefit most from a NewCampus course.

The ideal learner is someone who is currently working in a hyper-growth business seeking to scale themself by building better teams. In the past, the type of learners that came to NewCampus were individual contributors looking for personal upskilling. Nowadays, we tend to work with learners who are responsible for a team of anywhere between 3 to 10 people in a remote, fast-changing environment, and who want to sharpen their skills and change their mindset to get the best out of the people under their care. 

Often, these learners have great instincts, but find themselves in a new role which challenges their current abilities and requires them to navigate areas they haven’t before—like their leadership style or coaching others to succeed. As their business, organisation and industry experiences rapid, significant changes, they’ll need to shift from executing as an individual to driving change together with their teams and organisations.

Could you elaborate on the issues that the current MBA landscape has in Southeast Asia?

Although we talk a lot about the MBA landscape, we do not compete directly with MBAs. However, MBAs tend to be accessible to only the top 1% of the population and at NewCampus, we’re targeting the remaining 99 percent. These are people who haven’t considered doing an MBA in the first place, and we’re solving  business education and leadership training issues among this group.

This is critical because the average manager leading a team in Asia is in their mid-twenties or early-thirties. In some industries like e-commerce, managers are even younger. By the time they receive leadership training, they could already be in their 40s. Hence, you could have a whole decade of the “blind leading the blind”, potentially leading to toxic work culture and employee attrition rates rising over time, much of which might have been avoided with more accessible leadership training earlier on.

Define a scaleup and what difference does that make with the mindset of the employees that work there?

We specialise in working with scaleups, which are companies undergoing massive change and growth like Grab, GoJek, Carousell, which have paved the way for the future in Fintech in e-commerce-rich marketplaces. There’s also a significant pool of emerging Series A, series B, series C companies that are thriving in the Southeast Asia region. The growth potential in the region is immense, and to realise this potential companies will need to invest in developing the capabilities of their middle management. What’s special about these scaleups is that as they evolve into full-fledged organisations, they tend to identify and promote internal talent with leadership potential, rather than importing external experienced hires. 

This has become more prevalent, especially for Fintech and e-commerce companies which have grown exponentially from 200 people to over 2000 people. They need to drive growth for the next fundraiser, merger(s) and acquisition(s), or SPAC—which involves ensuring the team is aligned and has a growth mindset, which encourages creativity and innovation.

A NewCampus event pre-COVID

Why are you looking to acquire a business school license? What would that add to students/learners at NewCampus?

We are acquiring a business school license so that our module(s) can be accredited and become a licensed global business school at the end of the year. This is incredibly exciting for us for a few reasons: 

  1. It allows us to cater specifically to these hyper-growth companies and hyper-growth leaders undergoing change.
  2. Instead of being yet another training company, we can rethink how business education is built, how that credential is defined, who’s teaching it and how it is delivered.
  3. Also, more specifically for Asia, it can allow learners to not only acquire credentials after doing a programme with NewCampus, but also benefits them abroad. Our business management essentials programme will be accredited by the end of this year and is the starting point for a full alternative MBA programme we’re designing over the next two or three years to help globally-mobile learners be recognised for their expertise wherever they go.

How do you foresee the evolution of business education in Southeast Asia

Business education is still incredibly outdated and expensive. Essentially, there are two types: The first is traditional institutions and local trainers—all of which are generally opaque with pricing and of varying quality. In 2022, the content for these options will  already be outdated. For instance, someone who has been in academia for 20 years won’t be able to give on-the-ground advice about the future of a company like Lalamove or NinjaVan, as their business models and the people behind these businesses are changing so rapidly.

Business education providers need to ask themselves: How do you keep the content fresh? How do you keep it relevant? More importantly, how do you make it practical?

The second type of business education providers is online courses like Coursera or Udacity, which have paved the way for accessible content, but with low retention and completion rates.

We foresee business education evolving to a cohort-based learning approach that’s a hybrid of the approaches mentioned above. This places interaction and engagement at the heart of learning, resulting in an immersive, deep learning experience that leaves lasting results. Cohort-based learning also addresses one of the key reasons why many choose to go back to school—networking. By integrating relationships into the learning experience itself, building connections is inevitable. I believe the blend of relationship-based, deep learning, alongside immediately applicable content will create an entirely new type of business school that’s both inclusive to demographics and exclusive in excellence.

Southeast Asia is a region that’s constantly evolving. We envision business schools as places where learners can gain real-life, practical skills they’ll apply to their daily work as they build the future of their organisations and communities.

What’s next for NewCampus?

Our plans in Southeast Asia involve nurturing a resilient, thriving ecosystem to bridge the fragmentation that exists between borders. This is particularly important for the companies and  teams we work with such as Lazada, Shopback and Lalamove, as these businesses are increasingly interconnected across this incredibly diverse region.

So rather than local vendors training local teams, companies will increasingly need a destination like NewCampus that supports their non-local business and its growth needs holistically, through learning experiences with cultural sensitivity. As NewCampus expands in Southeast Asia, our mission is and always has been centred around giving non-traditional leaders the growth resources they need to strengthen their communities and transform their cities through building better, more resilient businesses.