Dr. Ishrat Husain

Dean & Director, IBA Karachi

By Wali Zahid 21.03.2011

Your one-sentence description of yourself?

Difficult to say. Let's try: caring, compassionate person. Patient when reforming.

Your first leadership opportunity? When? What was it?

When I was appointed as Assistant Commissioner Patuakhali in Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), I found the whole jurisdiction area was widely scattered. The one million people dependent on my administrative centre for access to justice and resolution of their problems were very poor and had to travel really long distances to reach me. I decided that instead of they coming to me and bearing expenses, I will travel to them. In a month I used to travel for about 21 days in our steam boat to listen to people's problems and resolve them on the spot.

Were you ready for it? (H, M, L, no)

Yes. High. Learnt their language by using a tutor.

What was your readiness factor? (luck, will, skill, network)

An internal calling: Getting the problem solved and compassion for people.

How did you perform then? On a 1-5 scale?

4. People far and wide had access. And when my tenure ended, all three political parties, Awami League, BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami gave me a joint farewell which was a demonstration of their trust in my leadership and public service.

Your all-time most significant leadership opportunity so far (if different from this)?

Governor of State Bank of Pakistan for two three-year tenures.

Your ideal, future leadership opportunity?

Leveraging my position and influential wide network to bring IBA to international level of acceptability.

Is it likely to happen in your remaining work years?

Hope so. I am laying the foundation and modernising the infrastructure, which had been neglected for the past forty years.

Today in your current role: Where are you on Wali's Will-Skill Matrix (high, medium, low)?

Cannot determine myself as self-assessment is a difficult task. You may need to ask others who work with me.

What drives you? (one-word driver)

There's so much poverty and hunger in the country and absence of access to even basic facilities. What drives me is this feeling if I can do something for the nation I must do. That's why I always preferred the hat of an institution builder, rather than seeking personal glory. In civil service roles, as the central bank governor, as the head of governance reform commission and now at IBA, my attempt has been to turn them around for better and leave them in better shape for my successors.

Candidly speaking, have you been happy about growth numbers in the past decade?


In an uncertain and ambiguous world, how can you make sure that your plans are achievable?

As the decision-making is becoming more complex, we may deal with uncertainty and ambiguity with intuitive thinking, taking a course and then making midcourse corrections on the way.

How easy or difficult is it to manage the Gen Y/Millennials (people born after 1982)?

Both sides to it. One the one hand, the Gen Y people are pretty smart and more knowledgeable than our generation. They learn by doing and it's quite easy to engage them and manage them. On the other hand, the electronic media in our country has induced a lot of negativity in them, which make it difficult that they would trust you.

Your legacy? How do you want to be remembered? In your industry? In your organisation?

That I was a person who believed in institution building, rather than working for personal glory.

What would you want to see in your leader (i.e. your leader to do)?

To correct me when I am wrong. To give me feedback on how I am doing, how the organization doing.

Your learning: where do you turn to for learning – both daily routine, and time-off for courses?

It's mostly on-the-job. I Learn from peers, juniors, seniors. I also turn to internet for my learning and read a lot, particularly literature. I serve at various advisory committees and attend workshops and conferences.

Are there sufficient opportunities for C-level learning here in Pakistan or in the region?


Learning and development of your team – what opportunities are available here? Your rating of these programmes? (1-5 scale)

It's mostly in-house at IBA. Or, I send faculty abroad for conferences.

What would you want different about these programmes?

That these are hands-on, skill/capability-acquisition exercises and that you learn from peers.

What are three core competencies or skill areas you would want your team to develop for this year? Next three years?

Communication skills. Interpersonal skills. Subject knowledge.

What is your biggest time eater at work?

Human resources hunt, their growth and development and their retention. Also, their compensation and incentives. Another time-eater is the grievances of non-management staff which consume both time and energy.

Information overload: What is your coping mechanism?

I am a speed reader and can sift/weed out irrelevant info quickly.

Do you have a stop-to-do list?

No formal list. But I am much focused.

How can we give up control (and do more empowering)?

By building up capacity of people and systems/mechanisms. By delegating the work and responsibility.

What kind of personal or social networks do you use to enhance your presence and the chances for success?

I have a multifarious network of people – locally and internationally. I meet people in business, media, banking and am quite updated on what's going on.

Faith? Is faith an inspiration for you?

Yes. I seek solace when I am in trouble.

Ever thought that how could the Prophet (saw)'s personality be a guiding factor for you in doing business, making decisions, empowering others? If yes, in what ways?

I get an inspiration from the fact that the Prophet (saw) was an honest man who practiced what he preached.

CEO derailment? Have you seen colleagues derailing/going down? What was the cause?

I have only seen people going up. Didn't notice any derailment.

Any other cause of CEO derailment in our part of the world?


Your messages to new generation of leaders: What leads to success?

Hard work. Honesty.

Your messages to new generation of leaders: Can you create your own luck? How?

No. We cannot create our own luck. It's only Allah who will help you if you keep working with honesty and good intention.