Halal business management: the missing subject in our business schools

Business schools are a critical building block of our education system in offering business management, business administration courses, and executive education. Business schools are crafting new entrepreneurs and of course our future business elites. Business leaders commercialise innovation, produce products and services that are needed, create jobs, and export products and services to the world. Hence, business schools should be educating subjects that matter in business. I hope most of you will probably agree with me until here.

With my close to 20 years of experience in the halal industry in Asia and the Middle East, I discovered a new business world with written and unwritten rules, and business dynamics that are critical to understand in order to be successful in Muslim markets. I spent a big part of my time since 2006 conducting research in the halal industry to understand but also create new theories, concepts, and tools in particular the field of halal purchasing, halal supply chain management, halal clusters, and halal reputation management. For business leaders to be successful in Muslim markets it is important to master certain halal business skills in order to build strong halal brands and protect your licence to operate in Muslim markets. As halal is part of the religion Islam, certain mistakes in operations or communication can be highly sensitive, which can have far reaching corporate reputation and financial consequences for businesses operating in Muslim markets.

Today, the halal industry is dominated by producers and brands from non-Muslim countries. This is true for consumer products, you name it food-cosmetics-pharmaceuticals, but also for raw materials and ingredients. Why is the Muslim world lagging behind even in the halal industry? As Islamic banks and Islamic windows are so successful, is this money used to invest in creating the next halal food multinational in the Muslim world? What is the role of the Muslim world in the halal value chain? And many more questions have crossed my mind over the past years. Then I finally looked into the mirror. Maybe it is our education system in Muslim countries. What are we teaching our students and industry professionals that are coming to our business schools?

Then I studied the programmes and modules offered at our business schools. The programs offered in Muslim countries in Southeast Asia and the Middle East I discovered are identical to the programs offered in the West. Namely we are offering finance, leadership, strategy, marketing, organisational behaviour, technology, entrepreneurship, etc. This does not make sense. Why are we not teaching important theories and skills needed in the halal industry? Why are we not teaching ‘halal business management’ at our business schools?

For more than 10 years I have been teaching the subject ‘purchasing and supply chain management’ for MSc, MBA, and DBA programmes in Malaysia. During my classes I always taught my students one lecture each on halal purchasing and halal supply chain management respectively, which subjects always came back during the exam. I always received good response on these two lectures from my students from both Muslim and non-Muslim countries, Muslims and non-Muslims. But I always felt that the subject of halal business management deserved more attention at the business school, at least a full module for students at business schools in Muslim (majority) countries.

Education programmes in business schools seem to be cast in stone and there is often little change, flexibility, or maybe interest to relook at the business education curricula. Given the corona crisis that is also shaking up our education system here in Malaysia and many other countries, maybe it is the right time to rethink what we should teach the new generation of business elites at our business schools in Muslim countries.

‘What are important skills to learn in halal business management?’ you would probably like to know. I would propose the following topics to be covered in a ‘halal business management’ module, namely: halal industry dynamics, halal assurance system and halal certification, halal purchasing, halal supply chain management, halal logistics and retail, halal clusters, halal branding and marketing, and halal risk and reputation management.

To conclude, I recommend business schools to create a new module called ‘Halal Business Management’. If not part of the core curriculum, at least as an elective. We have to continuously upgrade our business school curricula to ensure our education system in Muslim countries is not only world-class, but relevant for businesses in Muslim markets and the best you can get. In my opinion, excellence in business management in Muslim markets and domination in the halal industry can only be achieved by educating the new generation of business elites on the subject of halal business management.

This article has been published in the New Straits Times newspaper.