Professor Tawfik Jelassi gave us his last class in the MBA program this week. He will be moving on to new endeavors as Assistant Director-General at UNESCO. What made this such an unforgettable speech?
Imagine you are about to board a flight to leave gloomy Paris for sunny Florida and take your kids to Disney World. Unexpectedly, you get a call from a country you have not called home for the past three and a half decades. And it’s not just any country. The year is 2013, the month is December. The call is from Tunisia, a country in turmoil since it underwent the Jasmin Revolution three years earlier. And the caller? The caller is the country’s prime minister-designate, who invites you to join his transition government as a minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research, and Information and Communication Technologies.
Would you agree? Many would probably politely refuse, considering all the things they would have to give up; the dangers and difficulties of a post-revolution country at the brink of civil war; and the potential resulting career suicide. And that’s without mentionning the political assassinations in the country. Did those things worry Professor Jelassi? They sure did, yet he agreed to take the offer. Following the call of duty, he packed his suitcase and left behind his position as Dean of a business school in Paris and a crying family.
The Professor shared his learnings from this experience with the class. First of all, we learned how one cannot take survival for granted in such a position. Second, the mental strength and emotional resilience needed to deliver on expectations, and the importance of a support structure provided by colleagues for such challenging endeavors. And finally, how to make big decisions in a high turbulence context, impacting millions of people.
The class was honored to receive these learnings first-hand, and we ended the session with a standing ovation.