Dr Nermeen Mustafa, Associate Professor and Global Programme Director, Heriot-Watt University

Dr Nermeen Mustafa is the Global Director of the Business Administration programme at the Edinburgh Business School. Dr Mustafa is an experienced strategy consultant and speaker who specialises in topics related to innovation and new product development, particularly those related to luxury and creative industries. Her research studies examined competitive strategies in the perfume industry and the fashion industry.  

Recently, in an exclusive interview with Higher Education Digest, Dr Mustafa shared her professional trajectory, the courses taught by her in the areas of business strategy and her research on organisations that design and create luxury goods and services at Heriot-Watt University, significant career milestone, biggest stress relivers, words of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Hi Dr Mustafa. Can you tell us about your professional background and areas of expertise?

Many years ago, I set foot into the dynamic world of UK higher education, armed with a passion for knowledge and a vision for pedagogy that goes beyond conventional boundaries. My academic voyage commenced as a young professional with a full-time career in consulting and a visiting lecturer in London – a role that would later become the focus of my career.  As I progressed, my passion for education grew and was fueled by my extraordinary students and their motivation to learn and grow. As a young lecturer who was immersed in industry, I appreciated the teaching and learning environment and campus life, which was a stark contrast to the gray carpeted corridors and wood panelled corporate boardroom that I was accustomed to. My classes and workshops grew popular among students who were of a similar age group as myself at the time and I was offered a full-time position which I considered very carefully. It was a difficult decision to make as I had just been promoted and had my career plan laid out. After careful consideration, I decided to accept the role and embarked on my doctoral studies shortly after.

I have been immersed in the field of luxury brand management since my early career and have brought this on with me to the classroom environment and into the learning experience. In line with my passion for working with luxury brands, my PhD study examined luxury brands as organisations and their behaviour around innovation and product development, as well as product launch strategies, and market share creation. Coming from a strategy background, I worked alongside perfume brands starting from inspiration to ideation all the way to launch. It’s a fascinating industry with unique business models and in-house dynamics.

Tell us about the program(s) taught and researched by you in the areas of luxury brand strategies and sustainability at Heriot-Watt University.

I am an associate professor in strategy and act as the global programme director for our popular bachelor’s in business administration programme. I teach courses related to global business and business strategy at undergraduate and master’s levels. Those courses equip students with the fundamental knowledge for assessing the internal and external environment while taking into account the meta level variables. My focus is on equipping students with the necessary knowledge that helps them build a practical repertoire of tools that enable them to contribute to the corporate world. Many of those cases revolve around luxury brands but also a variety of other brands in order to provide a full spectrum of examples. Sustainability and ethics are inherently embedded in many of the courses delivered.

How do you try to bring in a practical approach towards the subjects taught by you and make them industry-oriented?

As an educator, I’m passionate about infusing a practical approach into the courses I deliver. I aim to foster an immersive experience that breaks down barriers between theory and application and creates a dynamic and engaging learning environment. I can see this immersive approach building curiosity, critical thinking, and a love for learning among my students. As an early adopter of immersive learning, I have inspired and led the way for many of my colleagues to continue with imbedding this practical approach into their learning journey. It is truly satisfying to see those colleagues’ efforts and success in engaging a practical learning approach. In some of my past courses, assessments were designed in collaboration with key industry players. This is a very popular approach among students as they feel connected to live cases with organisations. This approach truly creates a nexus between organisations and higher education institutions.

In your opinion, what qualities constitute a good leader?

In my view, effective leadership is a fine balance between decisiveness, empathy, integrity, and inspiration. Some of the most effective leadership skills required are excellent communication and social skills.

What has been your most career-defining moment that you are proud of?

There have been many defining moments that have led me to where I am currently. My decision to leave the corporate world and move into academia was the start followed by my decision to embark on my PhD journey at Bayes Business School London (City University London) which was a key milestone. Bayes business school is a highly regarded university in the City and being part of that environment shaped my professional character, while allowing access to some of the world’s renowned professors as my mentors. This was a paradigm shift for my professional career. I am also proud to be part of Heriot Watt university where quality and academic standard excellence are a priority. Heriot Watt university represents rich heritage with its first origins dating back to 1821.

What is your favorite non-academic book and why?

Books related to the science of the brain are fascinating, particularly books related to cognition, learning, neurons, the subconscious mind, and how we can rebuild certain pathways and their relation to existing programming and books addressing the topic of neuroplasticity.

What is your biggest stress reliever?

Early morning walks in nature, exercise and connecting with an inspiring supportive community. Pursuing hobbies and passions such as my love for art, travel, culture, and languages. Sharing knowledge and experiences with colleagues and reflecting on those experiences goes a long way.

How do you define success? What is your take on the ways to achieve long-term success?

I must point out that success as a concept is deeply personal and subjective, often defined by individual values, goals, and aspirations. This is a question I often ask my students as I am quite curious to understand their outlook on life.

There are many layers to success, and it begins with the small wins and the achievement of smaller goals that can be measured by the attainment of personal and professional goals. These goals could range from career milestones to personal development objectives. Feeling content, fulfilled in one’s personal and professional life is a significant aspect of success. This involves finding joy and satisfaction in both daily activities and long-term pursuits.

Success can be seen in the positive impact and contributions one makes to their community, industry, and lives of the students. It is also felt in the respect trust and recognition received from colleagues and industry partners, students, and their families. Ultimately, success is a dynamic and evolving concept. It’s important for individuals to define what success means to them personally, considering their unique values, passions, and life circumstances.

What valuable advice would you like to give to the students for them to have a prosperous career ahead?

I would advise students to be intentional and to pay close attention to detail as they navigate their higher education journey. Take every task and each opportunity seriously and stay curious and approach your journey with a blend of passion and discipline. I am an advocate of life-long learning and I take each opportunity to acquire new skills. Continuous learning is the key to staying relevant and resilient. Finally, networking and building friendships and professional networks goes a long way and cultivating your soft skills is key.

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