Ara Chalabyan (MBA ‘01) Recognized by Internal Auditor Magazine
With a wealth of professional experience and impressive credentials, Ara Chalabyan (MBA ’01) offers valuable insights into economics, education, personal development, and the future of development in Armenia. As a lifelong learner, Chalabyan holds a graduate degree in economics from Yerevan State University and a master of business administration degree from the American University of Armenia (AUA). He recently completed AUA’s Data Science Summer School program.
Chalabyan is currently Head of the Internal Audit Department at the Central Bank of Armenia as well as president of the Institute of Internal Auditors Armenia. He also teaches at AUA as an adjunct lecturer at the Manoogian Simone College of Business and Economics.
Recently, Chalabyan was named Outstanding Contributor for his work, “Elevating Team Performance,” published in the April 2018 issue of Internal Auditor. The article lays out the staff assessment process that he has developed to evaluate the performance and develop the skills of employees at the Internal Audit Department of the Central Bank. The tailored performance measurement system comprises five elements that identify and leverage employees’ strengths while also determining opportunities for improvement through training, mentoring, and self-development.
Chalabyan sat down with AUA to talk about his assessment process, his AUA experience, and thoughts about the future of Armenia’s economy.
Tell me about your background and experience.
I graduated from Yerevan State University Economics Department in 1997 and later received an MBA from the American University of Armenia 2001. In 2004 I studied Development Economics and at the Fletcher School, Tufts University in Boston, a six-month program that covers global themes, such as the role of policies in development, microeconomic poverty interventions, political economy, international finance, and others. Since 2010, I have been managing the Internal Audit Department of the Central Bank of Armenia.
Tell me about your work “Elevating Team Performance” that was published in Internal Auditor magazine.
The article is about management and building a successful team, starting from hiring, motivation, and performance assessment. It describes an assessment process and presents my vision of how to build a strong team. It’s an authentic model in performance management and that’s the reason why, I believe, Internal Auditor has recognized it as outstanding.
There are five simple assessment elements in the model: Collaboration (supporter, active listener, desired team member, and fair-minded debater); Efficiency; Professional Development; Visibility; and Responsibility. These are the criteria we use to assess, generalize, establish an average for the team, and assess each individual on that basis.
How did this model develop?
I was not satisfied with the performance assessment process at the Central Bank of Armenia. There was too much bureaucracy and paperwork without a lot of real value. I went to senior management and said this doesn’t help me to assess my people. They decided that each department would develop their performance assessment system. I developed this for my department.
My goal was to have something simple that all team members could understand and utilize. Personally, I think you have to keep things simple.
How did you decide to submit your model to Internal Auditor?
After several years of using this model, there was a conference at our peer institute in Latvia and I was invited as a speaker. I prepared this framework and delivered it there. Then I thought, “Why not write an article?” I contacted Internal Auditor magazine and sent my slides from the presentation in Latvia. I told them I have this idea and I would like to publish it. Through cooperation with them, I developed the article.
What does AUA mean to you?
AUA is a big part of my life. I studied here and I’m teaching here. My wife studied here and that was instrumental for her future career. My elder daughter is studying here. My brother has studied here. As you can see, I have all possible connections: alumni, teacher, parent, and also as employer; I have hired AUA students and graduates for internships and full-time positions at the Central Bank.
After studying at Yerevan State, I served in the military. When I returned, I enrolled at AUA. Later, I studied at Tufts University in Boston with a group of 15 government professionals from the public sector in Armenia. It was much easier for me to study at Tufts compared to my colleagues who had only Yerevan State or Armenian State Economics University backgrounds. At Tufts, we had a very tough workload: going to school, coming back, having some food, then studying until midnight. I was used to a heavy workload from my time at AUA. Because of that experience, it was easier for me.
ACCA, which I completed in 2006 had 14 exams. But, because of my MBA and my multidisciplinary studies at AUA, I was granted exemptions from five of them. I was able to build upon my knowledge from AUA and pass the other nine exams comparatively easily.
I consider AUA my alma mater. For me, AUA was a completely different atmosphere. At Yerevan State and any former Soviet institution, you have this divide between professor and student, teacher and pupil, etc. Here, I had very good professors who would teach us and afterward we would go play tennis or have a beer together. I do the same with my students.
What are your hopes for Armenia’s future?
My vision for Armenia is to invest in and promote education. Many of the problems in this country come from the generally low level of education. For me, elections are not just about voting. It’s when people are offered choices, they are informed and can evaluate different options, not just suppose and make emotional decisions. When people are informed about their choices they understand what various political parties stand for. They can demand from those parties and subsequently from government and other bodies such as the National Assembly to take the right course of action.
The only way to do this is through education. This is a long-term process. You don’t see results immediately. In secondary school, it takes twelve years to see results. When you change something, you’ll see the results in 12, 15, even 20 years after those students complete school and then university. And because political cycles are short–five to ten years–no one wants to invest in those things because people want quick results. But to build the country you need educated and professional people.