Dr. Sanjoy Sen

Dr. Sanjoy Sen

We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Dr Sanjoy Sen, who graduated from Aston’s Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) programme in 2018. Sanjoy’s DBA research was based on the strategic management and governance of third-party ecosystems across large global organisations, and his work has been cited in academic and professional publications around the world.

As Deloitte’s global head of research and eminence for their extended enterprise team, Sanjoy advises some of the world’s top organisations on strategic governance and risk management. With over 30 years of international experience as a chartered accountant (FCA) and certified information systems auditor (CISA), it’s no wonder he won the prestigious 2021 Research Impact Award from the Association of Master of Business Administration (AMBA) late last year. 

Read on to hear about Sanjoy’s experience in the business world and why Aston was his university of choice.

What led you to pursue your DBA?

Even in the early stages of my career, I had aspirations to evolve from a traditional accountant (or book-keeper) to a more strategic business advisor. In working my way up from traineeship to partner at a competing Big 4 accounting and consulting firm, I was responsible for implementing and reviewing internal controls to minimise the risk of frauds and errors related to financial statements at various organisations. At this time, I identified that many organisations have a significant gap in alignment between their strategy and operating processes on the one hand and risk management mechanisms (including related technology platforms) on the other. To help clients bridge this gap better, I commenced my certified information systems auditor (CISA) certification in 1996. A few years later, particularly after the paranoia over Y2K had gone, organisations started embracing digitisation of their business and financial processes, in turn enabling them to extend organisational boundaries through virtual partnerships using connected technology and outsourced business processes. Aligned to this transformation, I stepped into an Enterprise Risk Services (ERS) partner role at Deloitte. Five years into that, I decided to look into the benefits of doing a DBA. 

My goal with the DBA was to build on my prior experience and become the strategic advisor I envisioned in the early days of my career.

How is the risk management space changing?

The world starts to notice good things on the back of bad events. Note the legislative and organisational changes due to the 2001 U.S. Enron scandal. This was a terrible event but also an essential trigger for change and opportunity.

If I use the pandemic as an example - and the digital transformation that happened around us - it’s fair to say that some companies performed better than others. Those that performed well saw risk management as a source of opportunity, not only to protect themselves but to transform themselves in pursuit of opportunity through calculated risk-taking. U.S. retailer Aritzia cited “exceptional performance last year despite the ever-changing pandemic landscape, including supply chain disruptions, shipping delays and labour shortages. Brian Hill, founder, chief executive officer and chairman of Aritzia, said he sees “extraordinary opportunities” in the retailer’s future.

What made you choose Aston over other universities?

How did I decide on Aston? I asked various people in my professional network for advice. The more people I spoke to, the more I could tell that Aston has a growing reputation within the business world and yet is based in Birmingham, where I had lived and worked out of for several years. They had esteemed alumni and eminent global professors. And, over and above reputation, they stood out because of their:

  1. Ability to provide a supervisor of choice - Your supervisor can make or break your research, and I wanted to ensure I was paired with someone globally eminent in the field of global sourcing and someone I could learn from. Having aligned objectives was very important to me.
  2. Flexibility - Already juggling my role at Deloitte with being a Senior Visiting Fellow at Loughborough University; I needed the DBA to work for me. Being able to carry out my research alongside my existing schedule was key.

What advice do you have for others who are considering a DBA degree?

The university will provide you with the platform and infrastructure, but you must drive it yourself. Your supervisor or others will not be chasing you up if you fall behind, so it is vital to keep the momentum up and continually be in touch with others who are also facing similar challenges, for instance, in combining work and study. For instance, I linked up with people in my cohort and others I met at DBA forums. It wasn’t about status - talking to students who held more junior roles to me, for instance, helped provide practical solutions. We would discuss things that the university didn’t put parameters on - for example, we discussed how to determine the ideal number of people to interview before reaching conclusions to ensure we’re providing enough analysis without the project becoming overly time-consuming. Most important of all, I used to keep a (virtual) “research diary”, updating it every time I learnt something new from my friends that I could use in my thesis.

I also think you must also keep your overall objective in mind and remain focused on what can help you achieve that objective.

Can you tell us about your AMBA award and what you’ve gone on to do with your research since 2018?

The AMBA award evaluated whether my research was relevant to the business and industry. As my American friends like to say, did it “show me the money?” [Jerry Maguire movie reference.]

My research introduced a new ecosystem-based perspective to managing outsourcing and the related third-party relationships, challenging the current view of doing this individually on a contract-by-contract basis. It demonstrated how such third-party ecosystems could open up new opportunities for businesses, such as exploring new markets or sources of supply, creating newer customer offerings and enhancing organisational skills. Yet these third parties created newer risks that needed to be managed. Regulators have also been holding organisations responsible for the acts of their third parties. During my research, I learnt that large global organisations could have anywhere between 10,000 to 150,000 third-party relationships forming such ecosystems, which need to be segmented based on criticality to ensure proportionate risk management effort. Based on this concept of a proportionate approach to governance and risk management, my research proposed a framework to maximise the opportunity while mitigating the risks, which could “show [my clients] the money”

Encouraged by the initial success of this pioneering approach, Deloitte launched a thought leadership series with me as the lead author in 2015, and we’ve published ten papers in the last seven years. The first one was titled Third Party Governance and Risk Management - Turning Risk into Opportunity, which evolved into an annual research-based publication. My research really gained momentum after the third paper was released. It was at this time that Deloitte rebranded its global practice offering in this area, calling it Extended Enterprise Management Services, to advise hundreds of clients in all major markets around the world, and I was asked to lead the research and eminence initiatives for this team. SSRN also published my doctoral thesis on their website, followed by the Academy of Management publishing a summary of the proposed model to determine current and future organisational positioning. 

Is there anything else that you wanted to convey?

Yes. Many people don’t understand the difference between a PhD and a DBA, so I feel it’s very important to clarify this. The modern DBA programme was developed by Harvard Business School in the United States in 1953 to enable students to think about “the most pressing challenges and interesting opportunities facing the world today” (Dean Nitin Nohria, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor and Professor of Business Administration) rather than just dabble with theoretical concepts.

During my DBA, I met Professor Andrew Kakabadse at a national DBA Colloquium, who said something that has always stuck with me. It was along the lines of “When you do a PhD, you create a theory that may or may not ever be applied in practice; and if it will work in practice. With a DBA, it’s the other way around. You start with a business problem and apply the theories you learn during your DBA to solve that problem. You only earn your DBA if you can demonstrate that your hypothesis actually works in a real-world setting.” 

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The executive DBA from Aston University is designed to help professionals explore cutting-edge solutions to modern-day business problems. DBA candidates pursue research projects that complement their career paths. 

The academic rigour and specialisation pursued in DBA programmes provide good simulations for the pressures of running competitive businesses.

Contact Aston University to expand your employment potential today.