JAMES KAMWACHALE KHOMBA is the first professor to emerge from the Faculty of Commerce at the The Polytechnic of the University of Malawi. As he looks forward to his professorial inaugural lecture on Friday, April 15, 2016, he shares his thoughts on leadership and management in Malawi with our correspondent, JACOB JIMU.
You are now professor of finance and corporate strategy; how does it feel like to reach the top as an academic?
I feel humbled and honoured at the same time; it’s the humility and honour that is also accompanied by so many responsibilities of course. I thank God for enabling me to come this far. True, I am the second professor for the Malawi Polytechnic and the first for the Faculty of Commerce of the University of Malawi.
Where did it all begin for you academically and professionally?
I was awarded a Diploma in Business Studies and a Bachelor of Commerce (Accountancy) by the University of Malawi in 1989 and 1991, respectively. After joining the university as an assistant lecturer in 1994, I went for further studies at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada for a Master of Business Administration in August 1995 and graduated in May 1997. I continued with professional qualification studies with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (Cima) which I completed in May 1998 and became a fellow of Cima (FCMA) in May 2001. I later read for my PhD in Financial Management Sciences at the University of Pretoria. I graduated in 2011.
Professionally, I am a fellow member of Cima (FCMA) which is the highest professional designation awarded by Cima in the United Kingdom. Additionally, I am a Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) as designated by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) in the United States. Locally, I am also recognised as a chartered management accountant and financial management expert by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Malawi (ICAM).
Take us through the achievements that have earned you the professorship.
Locally and internationally, I have been engaged in various research projects and consultancies. I have published extensively in financial management and corporate strategy in internationally peer-reviewed journals in Africa, Asia, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. My research interests are in areas of sustainable corporate performance, financial management, performance management and measurement systems (including the balanced scorecard model), the African Umunthu philosophy and business ethics and corporate governance. My various consultancy projects have been with both local and international institutions such as the World Bank, UNDP, Usaid, Government of Swaziland, Ministry of Health and the National Council for Higher Education.
Quite a glittering list, but aren’t our weaknesses as a nation in management and leadership an indication that you guys training professionals in these areas have failed?
[Laughs]. Indeed, most of the challenges that our economy is going through hinge on management and leadership dimensions. Management and leadership skills should be progressive; classroom training in itself is not enough; we need more counselling, coaching and mentoring in the industry as well. For instance, we don’t train our students how to be corrupt or embezzle funds but see what happens when they join the industry. We must translate our students into true managers and leaders in our classrooms and the industry as well. Issues of management and foresight leadership should apply to all disciplines of our curricula at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
Among others, we need to inculcate a culture of collective responsibility and patriotism in all disciplines for us to move forward. Issues of business ethics and good corporate governance should also be cross-cutting in all disciplines, just as should entrepreneurship and innovation. In summary, the University of Malawi needs to be at the centre stage in developing and promoting skills in management, foresight leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation.
There is a feeling Malawian institutions of higher learning have not been innovative enough in responding to our realities and providing solutions to the problems we face. Do you share this thinking?
To a great extent, I share those sentiments though there are some challenges as well. Yes, our local problems need local solutions and not the copy-and-paste business that we have been doing over the years. There has been little research taking place among institutions of higher learning to establish lasting solutions to our local problems due to funding constraints. Instead, our institutions of higher learning have been focusing on teaching rather than research which is a feasible way of dealing with our specific problems that we encounter. Rather, we tend to be the improved high schools. Additionally, our teaching curricula have been employee-based and not employer-based. We teach our students on how they should become better employees or managers and not employers.
Finally, what issues will you deal with in your inaugural lecture next Friday?
The inaugural lecture will highlight the Umunthu Sustainability Business (USB) model that I developed, specifically discussing its four building blocks (perspectives) that are determinants of successful corporate performance. The lecture will also suggest how the model can strategically be applied in addressing the challenges we have been facing in order for us to attain our financial independence in the long run. In summary, there is a need for an internally-driven change that should collectively come about because of the national problem we have at hand. Our local problem needs a local solution! n