INSEAD Participant Interview

Interview with a past participant of AVIRA: Improve your Vision as a Leader

Assem El Alami

Head of Real Estate Finance at Berlin Hyp, Germany

"That process of taking a step back and critically reflecting on how you look at yourself and how other people look at you was extremely valuable. It’s given me some insights which I’m now applying back at work to improve certain things about the way I lead." says Assem El Alami, past participant of AVIRA: Awareness, Vision, Imagination, Role, Action.

Can you describe your current role, and your career role?

I trained in law, but I’ve made my career in banking, and in real estate lending in particular. Currently, I’m the Head of Real Estate Finance at Berlin Hyp, one of Germany’s top real estate banks. I report directly to Board members.

Why did you decide to “go back to school” with an executive education programme

As a senior leader, I’m always looking for ways to improve my management skills. But I also had a particular business challenge in mind. The environment in which banks operate is changing dramatically. I wanted to broaden my horizons to understand more about current shifts and trends, and how these might be affecting the banking industry – and real estate lending in particular. I wanted to be more aware of the implications for my leadership and my organisation.

What drew you to INSEAD's AVIRA programme?

I did a lot of research to find the right programme – in fact, it took me a year and a half to settle on AVIRA. I just wasn’t satisfied with the way a lot of executive education programmes are presented.

AVIRA was interesting to me because despite the broad title, the way the content is outlined seemed relatively clear and hype-free. The information on the typical profile of participants is also very well set out. And I was aware, of course, of INSEAD’s excellent reputation for executive education.

What were your expectations of AVIRA, and did the programme live up to them?

I wanted to experience something that would inspire and challenge me when it comes to understanding new trends in my industry. However, as a real estate lender, I work in a very particular field, so I was aware that probably not all my questions would be answered. But I thought that if 60 per cent could be answered, that would be a good satisfaction rate. Looking at the programme from that more realistic standpoint, I can say my expectations were almost met 100 per cent.

What impact has the programme had on you as a business leader?

On a strategic level, it’s changed the way I look at things. The programme talks about giving business a meaning and measuring performance and progress in that context. These are the leitmotifs that now influence my thinking about how we should motivate ourselves as an organisation. How can a real estate lender do more for sustainability? What about social impact? These kinds of questions resonate much more with me now. One thing I’m looking to do is to create an ‘ecosystem’ type of forum with our clients and business partners, where we can exchange views not only on business matters but on matters that could potentially have a social impact.

Did AVIRA affect you on the personal as well as the professional level in terms of the way you lead?

In terms of the personal development aspect, I found the 360-degree coaching and feedback most useful.
That process of taking a step back and critically reflecting on how you look at yourself and how other people look at you was extremely valuable. It’s given me some insights which I’m now applying back at work to improve certain things about the way I lead.

Was Professor Subi Rangan a good mentor to help you improve your skills? Did he inspire you to take on your role in a better way?

Subi was very inspiring and brought a particularly warm and liberating atmosphere to the group. I think everyone was very taken by his personality.

Were you also able to learn from the other participants on the programme and their diverse experiences in leadership?

We did have a particularly diverse mix of participants, both in terms of the industries they represented and the geographic spread. At the same time, we had some people coming at the issues from a more technical point of view, while others had a more philosophical take. There were some great insights shared, helping to ground discussion in the context of business and bring things down to the micro-level. In fact, access to such insights was one of the most valuable aspects of the programme for me.

How would you describe AVIRA to another interested person interested in participating?

If you’re a very senior person who is seeking to be challenged, and you are willing to let yourself be guided through a seemingly abstract, but ultimately holistic, highly relevant process of looking at yourself, your organisation and your industry, it could be transformative. It was for me.
If you are a senior business leader keen to refresh your outlook and to see the bigger picture for your business, visit our webpage for  AVIRA to find out more about the programme content.

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