Q&A WITH DEAN ROBERT WHEELER III

(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
July 11 - 17, 2011

F. Robert (Bob) Wheeler III is the Dean of the Karachi School for Business & Leadership, as well as the Chief Executive Officer and Director of the Karachi Education Initiative.

Bob started his career as a corporate attorney, but chose to pursue one in education instead. He has numerous years of experience in education and has served as the Director of MBA Admissions at Georgetown University, Assistant Dean, and Director of the MBA Program at The Pennsylvania State University and the Assistant Dean as well as the Chief Operating Officer responsible for the administration/operations in Executive Education at the University of Texas at Austin. He holds a J.D. from Syracuse University and a MBA from Georgetown University, Washington DC.

Bob lives in Karachi and speaks highly of the people in Pakistan

Q: WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO TAKE A SURPRISING JOURNEY TO PAKISTAN?

A: Owing to my frequent travelling, I knew that I would like to move abroad whenever the right opportunity came along. Quite honestly living in different parts of the US has taught me that each city is different with its own unique culture. This led to my desire to live in a foreign country so that I could interact with people from different backgrounds. When KSBL approached me with such a wonderful opportunity, I instantly thought that this was my chance to experience a new culture and to meet new people. When I first visited Pakistan, I loved the people I met and there was an instant rapport with the colleagues I am now working with. Since I am single and have 2 adult children who live in the United States the decision to move here was a fairly easy one.

Q: HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN LIVING IN KARACHI? HOW DO YOU LIKE THE CITY AND THE PEOPLE HERE?

A: I have been here for around 18-19 months. The people here are warm and hospitable. They have opened up their homes and their hearts and I've been invited to many events. I have been to a dozen weddings, and there are more coming up in July. Pakistani weddings are a colorful treat to a westerner like me and I enjoy seeing different customs and traditions. I have also befriended some Hindu cleaners who speak perfect English and have been invited to their religious festivals. At the same time I am also interacting with CEO's and people who are working at senior positions. The people I meet are warm and wonderful. I have however noticed that people like to observe my actions just as much as I enjoy observing the people here.

Q: DO YOU HAVE A STORY ABOUT HOW YOU FELT WELCOME BY A PARTICULAR PAKISTANI?

A: Well my landlord's mother lives in an apartment across from me and my landlord warned me that she loves to chat but I absolutely adore her. We have totally hit it off. She migrated from India after the partition and has wonderful stories to tell. She was one of the first people on the legislator, and has pictures with Jinnah which is pretty impressive. We have a great relationship and I guess she has played a significant role in my adapting to life in Karachi.

Q: HOW DO YOU SPEND TIME AFTER WORK?

A: My family isn't here, so I socialize a lot. Becoming "fashionably late" has been something that I found challenging. The first time I attended a dinner party, when I arrived it was dark and there were no cars. The attendant said to me, "you are the first one here." I replied, "oh no I'm not," and I got back into my car and returned 45 minutes later. As far as work is concerned I love what I'm doing and if I had more work to do I'd love to do it.

Q: HOW DO YOU LIKE OUR FOOD? ISN'T IT TOO SPICY FOR YOU?

A: In the US Pakistani and Indian food is thought to be similar, but after tasting the local cuisine here I beg to differ. As for the spices I love it, one of my favorite dishes is Halwa Puri and especially from a shop at boat basin, it is mouthwatering good.

Q: WHAT IN YOUR OPINION ARE THE SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE PAKISTANI CULTURE AND YOUR CULTURE?

A: I am not used to having a servant. However, I am blessed to have a good and trustworthy person, who cooks extremely well, but it was hard for me to have somebody there all the time. If you grow up with this, you don't even notice, but to me it was very obvious. Both, Pakistani's and American's are very friendly and share a similar sense of humor. Both are family oriented and enjoy shopping. But, the way people drive here is rash. I have taught Mohsin, my driver and Urdu instructor, to slow down whenever I say "peace, love, and happiness."

Q: WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CURRENT STATE OF HIGHER EDUCATION IN PAKISTAN AND HOW DO YOU THINK IT CAN BE IMPROVED?

A: LUMS and IBA are excellent business schools and are doing a wonderful job. That being said, there is still a lot more to be done. KSBL intends to introduce a world class international standard of education to take higher education to scale. Every time there is excellence people aspire to it, and I think KSBL will be a part of the excellence sphere.

Q: WHAT ARE YOU MOST PASSIONATE ABOUT?

A: I love helping people and am fortunate to have that gene. My two sons are adopted, and I was a foster parent for 10 years in US. Over here, I help as much as I can. I consider myself a Pakistani, because I have taken a huge interest in meeting people and donating to different organizations. I have had a chance to meet students, Muslims, Hindus and all kinds of people. I think that is why I find education more satisfying than being a lawyer. It is about teaching and helping, and particularly helping those who are less fortunate.

Q: WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF FIVE YEARS DOWN THE ROAD?

A: I consider Karachi my home, so if I am lucky I will still be here. If not, I will definitely be in Asia and will be in education. I learned what I wanted to do when I grew up, and I definitely want to be in education.

Q: WHAT MESSAGE WOULD YOU LIKE TO CONVEY TO OUR READERS?

A: Education is instrumental for Pakistan. In my particular case, I am working for higher education, but education is important at all levels. Pakistanis should take an active role involving themselves wherever possible. Higher literacy rates are going to be the breakthrough for the country. KSBL is assisting the business side and we want people who are ethically trained to learn and give back to this country. If you come to KSBL you are coming to a top institution, which is a gift to give back. Pakistan is predicted to be the 4th largest country by 2050 and education is critical for this country to run smoothly by then.