Laureate Leadership Perspectives- Neel Broker, CEO, EMEAA
his month, Esther Benjamin, Laureate’s Senior Vice President Global Public Affairs and Chief Benefit Officer, interviews EMEAA CEO, Neel Broker. Neel has over 10 years of experience at Laureate, and in this interview he shares with us some of the major highlights of his career as well as his vision for the future of the EMEAA region and thoughts about the company as a whole.
Esther Benjamin: Let me begin by thanking you for taking the time to meet with me. Could you please share with us some of your major career highlights and milestones before joining Laureate.
Neel Broker: I grew up in India, and I started my career working in investment banking in the U.S. and London. I went to business school in the U.S., then did management consulting for a few years in Asia and the U.S. After that, I joined a mission-oriented private equity firm focused on growing minority-led businesses in the U.S. The mission aspect of this work truly appealed to me and I began to appreciate the importance of balancing a dual agenda. I landed at Laureate quite serendipitously. I had never heard of Laureate before or even thought that companies like this existed. I met Doug Becker in Hong Kong in 2008, and in two weeks, he managed to take me from someone who was completely unaware of Laureate’s presence, to being completely energized and excited to come on board. Ten years later, here I am.
EB: You have had three roles at Laureate. Could you describe your roles and your key takeaways from each?
NB: My first role was in a business development and market entry capacity as Laureate was just starting to build its presence in Asia. As we acquired institutions, one of the big questions we had was how to enter India. It was a large market with massive potential, but also a complicated market. I moved to India and began our partnership with Pearl Academy and UPES. It was then when I took up my first operational role at Laureate as CEO of India. This was an exceedingly exciting phase for me as we built a Laureate startup operation in a very exciting part of the world. In 2015, I moved back to the U.S. for two years as Head of Global Strategy at a very interesting time for the company when we were trying to develop our long-term future and solve many challenges. Finally, after going public in February 2017, I moved back to Asia as CEO of the EMEAA region.
EB: What has kept you committed to the company for over a decade?
NB: First and foremost: the people. I have always wanted to be inspired by the people I work with—people who are not only smart and capable, but whose heart is in the right place. I found this at Laureate and it has kept me here since. Students are another wonderful source of inspiration. Visiting a campus and spending a few hours with students is the most reenergizing and refreshing thing. Our students are so positive and dream of changing the world. They remind us of our wonderful mission and the uniqueness of what we do. Nobody else in the world has successfully done what we are doing.
EB: You started by managing one country in Asia, and now as CEO of EMEAA you are leading a very diverse operation across countries and contexts. What do you see as your greatest challenges and opportunities?
NB: Our greatest challenge is also our greatest opportunity. EMEAA is a massive region of the world geographically, culturally, population-wise, and in its critical need for quality higher education. It also comprises some of the poorest parts of the world and most rapidly-developing parts of the world. How do we prioritize, focus, and manage the complexity of this task? How do we achieve scale that matches the need and justifies the investment in managing complexity? That is our biggest challenge. On the other hand, this region presents our greatest opportunity. We must expand in the markets we are in, selectively explore new markets, and pioneer digital innovation for education delivery. The mission of the EMMEA team and the role we see ourselves playing at Laureate for the next few years is to be a growth driver for the company.
EB: Eilif has spoken extensively about being a technology-enabled higher education company. What does this vision mean for your leadership of EMEAA?
NB: There are multiple dimensions to this vision, and as a company we are still evolving to find our own definition of this. First, as an innovative multinational company we must build a solid systems-based technological foundation to improve our daily operations. We must also focus on impacting our students to improve their experience. In many of our markets, online delivery is becoming much more prevalent, especially in India and Laureate Australia and New Zealand. Core to this vision is partnering with the leading technology companies in the world, for example, we have various projects with IBM in India and Australia. We need to expand these kinds of partnerships and work much more closely with them in areas such as artificial intelligence, that will become critical to the future of our business.
EB: What is your perspective on the key issues of quality and affordability?
NB: I think we must focus on offering a clear value proposition to every segment we target. Our students expect and demand this. Our focus is on delivering a high return on investment for our students. We need to become smarter on how we use technology as an enabler to bring down cost of delivery, offering a more affordable product in a way that is sustainable and beneficial to students.
EB: Last October, we saw the launch of the Positive Leadership initiative. How has this initiative progressed in your region and what does this mean to you personally as a leader?
NB: It is a fantastic initiative. It is about treating others how you want to be treated, not just at work, but in life, and institutionalizing this behavior. I have witnessed firsthand the enthusiasm and energy it has brought to my team. It has changed the way people think about our business and their own careers. It is even challenging areas like office design in some of our more traditional campuses and locations. If we want to create a more open and positive environment, even our campus design needs to reflect this.
EB: What would be the three most important leadership lessons you would like to share with our students and staff worldwide?
NB: The first lesson is that as leaders in the education business, we must be good students ourselves. We must continue to learn and be curious, and I think many of our leaders embody this quality. The second lesson is humility and respect. We are an ambitions and aggressive global company, and our markets and stakeholders have often reminded us of the need to balance this with humility and respect for local cultures, their diversity and specific market needs. Finally, find ways to be inspired. We must find inspiration in everything we do. I find inspiration through our people – in our colleagues and our students. This keeps me motivated and is a very important part of my leadership journey.
EB: What would be your final message to our colleagues across the network?
NB: We have a shared obligation to be part of building a future strategy for this company. The opportunity and the need for what we do is massive. This is an exciting collective endeavor. We are the largest education company in the world and we need to work together as One Team to continue growing, improving and to have an even greater impact over the next five or ten years.