At Drucker Forum, Stevens Student Explores the Changing Notion of Leadership in a World of A.I.
Finance Student Says ‘Inspiring’ Global Conference Helped Her Embrace Diverse Perspectives on the Challenges Facing Managers
Kanika Ghocha has steadily climbed the professional ranks since completing her graduate degree from SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, with management positions of increasing responsibility at Nomura and PwC, along with a past internship at Amazon.
But Ghocha’s consulting work with clients in various industries convinced her that she needed to upskill in technology, in order to help her play a more strategic role at work. That’s why she applied to the master’s program in Finance at the School of Business at Stevens Institute of Technology.
“As a consultant, you have to be very forward looking in order to find strategic solutions to client problems,” she said. “You read a lot of thought leadership on the future of work, A.I., the trends of the future. When I thought about all that in terms of my own career, I realized I needed to learn more about technology and digital innovation.”
Ghocha’s inquisitive nature and future orientation have contributed to her early-career success, but also led her to pen an essay for the Peter Drucker Challenge that ranked among the top 20 of all student entries in the challenge.
A glimpse into a future driven by A.I., automation
The topic was right up her alley: Staying human in a robot society.
“As A.I. continues to evolve at high speed, trivial job duties and support functions will be driven by A.I. or automated,” she said — a trend she saw firsthand during her years of consulting. “A.I. can give clients data and analytics, but it cannot connect the dots like a human can, to show how that information applies to a business goal.”
That was a central theme at the annual Peter Drucker Forum, in Vienna, Austria, which Ghocha was able to attend thanks to her essay. There, she met with some of the world’s leading thinkers in business and technology, including Philip Kotler, a Northwestern professor who’s among the most influential researchers in marketing; Unilever CEO Paul Polman; IDEO CEO Tim Brown; and Martin Wolf, an associate editor at Financial Times.
“It was so inspiring to meet and learn from some of the most influential and intellectual minds in the world,” Ghocha said. “It was a union of thought leadership and ideas, where leaders, managers and young professionals brought together diverse perspectives and experiences.”
Those thought leaders had plenty to say about how the world of work will change in the coming years. Professor Hal Gregorson, a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan, said in a world of artificial intelligence, “human ability to ask the right questions will win the final argument. When operating at the edge of uncertainty, right questions unlock opportunities.”
Speakers also highlighted how leadership will transform with A.I.-driven organizations, a key focus for Adrian Wooldridge, of The Economist.
"Meritocratic assumption wants us to believe that clever people in position of power have the monopoly on virtues and moral leadership,” he said. “Being part of the leadership class requires self-denial, not self-dealing".
The rapidly changing future of leadership
In her essay — titled “The Age of Discontinuity II,” an homage to Drucker’s famous book about the impact of technology-driven changes on the economy — Ghocha outlines her perspectives on the digital revolution and the operating model for the business of the future, including leadership, talent development and processes.
These topics are central to the School of Business, where teaching and research focus on how intelligent machines can augment, not replace, humans. Graduate programs explore how aspiring leaders can think about technology as a way of asking smarter questions and making better recommendations that create business value.
“When I decided to go back to school, and I was looking at options, I felt Stevens was much more current, in terms of the curriculum,” Ghocha said. “I thought Stevens gave me the best opportunity to learn tech-specific skills that would match up well with my business experience.”
That’s just the kind of expertise her clients were looking for at PwC, where she was most recently a senior associate in the company’s management consulting division. For example “on a due diligence project, I might build an Excel model. But that sort of function will soon be automated, with an API that connects my dashboard to a data source and A.I.-driven benchmarks and success metrics,” she said. “To stay relevant, I have to be able to make sense of the model’s findings and present my conclusions in ways that are closely tied to a client’s goals. That technology focus is what my Stevens classes prioritize.”