Marietjie Wepener, marketing and business development director; Edith Kennedy, manager, stakeholders relations, and Isa Omagu, DGM, GTBank & global chairman, USB Alumni Association of University of Stellenbosch Business School in this joint interview with Modestus Anasoronye, share the drive of the institution towards achieving a more robust education in the African Continent using well structured leadership and management programmes. Excerpts:
About the Institution
University of Stellenbosch Business School was the first to get the three key international accreditations – AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA, it is a very rigid process; it’s like auditing a company. They look at everything that you do in the business school, what you teach the students, the curriculum, how you deliver it, the quality standards, the Alumni, what they say, what students say, and they may decide if you are worthy of these quality stamps, and it is not forever either; you must be reaccredited because you might have some lapses. They want to make sure that you are still at that high quality standard, periodically.
Officially, we became a University in 1916, almost 100 years old. You can imagine the depth of knowledge that is in that environment. Of course, the business school is essentially 50 years. We have made some very strong presence in Nigeria in the last 8-9 years.
We are now in for reaccreditation with (EQUIS) in August 2014. This is for our two major programmes, the Masters in Development Finance (MDevF) and the MBA. I think that it is quite important because it gives you recognition, and it gives the Alumni some confidence.
This accreditation is very important for an African school to have because the school is not from Europe or from America where it’s more easily accepted. But now, people can see it’s got the same quality standards as the top business schools in the world because only 63 schools in the world have got triple accreditation and we have that, so that is quite an achievement for an African born business school. Then coming from that is our focus on Africa. The MDevF programme entire focus is on the continent. It is not on any other emerging or developed market. It is entirely on Africa. So it is our priority not to look at Europe or at America, but look to the rest of the continent. Especially, the growth areas like Nigeria, we are also strong in East Africa. It is also important at the business school that we don’t merely train managers in business, we train leaders. So we go beyond the management skills, to the leadership skills, and we do that on all our programmes. On the MBA, in the MDevF with the way that we do it, the process that we follow and the way that we learn from each other in the group work and intense discussions, that’s how leadership skills are really developed.
We are not only training the top leaders and highest degrees like PhD, we’re also growing the PhD levels, because you can go from an MBA to a PhD and you can go from an MDevF to a PhD. And we now have many students from all over joining the PhD in both streams, the MBA and MDevF, and of course we have Post Graduate levels. And we have seen that we must also contribute on the entrepreneurship basic level where people are struggling and where they have started a business, a small business, we can help them grow and help them expand their businesses. This is a sponsored programme, in other words, they pay virtually nothing when they join us for nine months on the Small Business Academy (SBA) programme. In the townships in South Africa or communities round on the edges of the city where we have so many people without jobs and we’re looking at them to create the jobs of tomorrow and this is our second year in the programme.
Another part of the programme is that we ask the Alumni to mentor each of these small business owners. It’s part of this whole knowledge sharing because we want to take what we’ve learnt and apply it as well and if we have a space where we can help people develop and grow their economy that way, that’s also a way we want to be involved.
The Alumni help them deal with things like marketing, finance that’s a huge issue amongst small business owners and when we look at HR, we look at compliance, and how to sort out their tax issues. Then we find out that those that successfully come through the programme.
Later, these graduates actually start flourishing, they start other businesses, they start speaking to other people, on how to become an entrepreneur, how to start their own businesses and that’s what we want to do. We want to encourage that so that the economy grows from there, to have a positive impact on the community.
Impact of the programmes on immediate communities
The business school is also trying to see how the gown and the town can have a hand shake. It’s not just that you’re on campus you’re having so many research programmes and it is not impacting on your near environment. There is some kind of link to what is happening on campus, the gown, and what is happening in town. And as an Alumni Association, our vision is to be able to make a desirable business school across Africa.
The ultimate mission is to see how we can grow Africa of course with South Africa as the starting point, because that’s where the business school is, charity begins at home. We have started doing it already in South Africa especially in Cape Town. Now there are three planks of our engagement with the rest of society as an Alumni Association.
First, we want to be able to have relationship with our Alumni society, one on one, in the process, be able to bring them out, engender some very strong communication, if we succeed in doing this, the next thing is for us to be able to build that relationship, then the next thing for us to do is to build capacity and momentum by reinvesting our skills, there are so many of us, apart from the education itself we are also doing things on a daily basis in our various environments, in our various communities to achieve very strong social engagement and by supporting the Small Business Academy programmes.
We must expand over time. It will be wonderful if one day we have a Small Business Academy here in Nigeria. That is our vision. It can expand, throughout the continent.
In South East Asia, the bulk of their development is anchored on SMEs, small and medium scale enterprises. With the SBA thing we are doing in Cape Town, South Africa which should also dissipate across the rest of Africa, if we are able to hand hold all the small businesses to understand how to grow their businesses, there will be a chain reaction, they will also invest in other people. There will be less dependence on easy money and hopefully it will also improve security. If people are gainfully employed and making progress in their families, they will not be available to be used by bad elements. There’s a critical mission we need to be able to achieve, working with the business school itself and Alumni that are located across Africa and the rest of the world.
We believe that if we develop a very strong model that works and is credible, even with our Alumni that are outside Africa, we can now help to attract funds, to help us to be able to achieve those objectives. There’s so much work to do, but the first thing is to be a credible vehicle and a model that works and we can start with the SBA.
We are trying to create a platform where we can have synergy with corporate and these small businesses. We’re focusing on particular communities at the moment because that is where the need is the most. We know just how impoverished these communities are, that‘s where we want to focus on them. We are asking our MBA students to get involved, so that when they have a certain module, say marketing and they have to do an assignment on marketing, we ask them to do it on one of those small businesses, they often come back with a whole new view on how business gets done, from the ground up.
Now usually, the MBAs are sitting at that very top level where they usually go into corporate and they don’t always understand the nifty gritty of how the employees get to work. Then they also realise that there are so many innovative things happening in these townships, exciting businesses, something that they haven’t thought of before, and it’s a big learning curve.
MBAs are learning as much as the small businesses are learning. The size of the school Alumni is about 23,000 in 15 different parts of the world.
Do you also focus on mentorship?
There’s quite a bit of mentoring, we’re very keen on mentoring the MBA students in their career paths, the MDevF programme is helping us recruit, again that has been their strong point. Every section of the Alumni has something different. Then we have the mentors on the Small Business Academy, we also have those that are prepared to come and talk to the accreditation board, or talk to the information section. So they are involved in different aspects. We also have a programme which was started by the Alumni called the Management Programme for Nonprofit Organisations.
Another innovative proposition by the USB is the Round Table, which is an effort to get inputs from the Alumni and business people in all the regions on our programmes like the MBA and the MDevF where business person and an Alumnus, say about what should be in this programme, what should be the emphasis and the focus, maybe there’s a need for an elective course on Oil and Gas in West Africa. We call the advisory committee the Round Table, so they would make some input and advice on our academic programs.
We also want to find out from industry whether our programmes are relevant. If it makes sense for us to have that particular part of the programme, we can keep innovating the programmes. Programmes shouldn’t be stagnant; we want to make sure that we’re actually doing what industry wants us to do.
Uniqueness of programmes
We were one of the first schools to see the coming challenge, in terms of governance and ethics; we were the first business school to offer a module on ethics, way back in the late 70’s. Nobody else had it at the time, and now it’s so entrenched, in the MBA where we have business in society module where we speak about the ethics of government in sustainable business and all of those things. Plus those elective courses and it’s also the core of the MBA programme. It is identified as essential to get that critical mass of managers to take this continent forward and to leave that challenge behind.
One of the things that will strike you when you get to the business school is the Africa-centric inclination. So there’s a conscious effort on the part of the school to really train leaders who can hopefully go back to their towns and cities across Africa and begin to impact on their environment. What this does it that it breaks down barriers among people that are in top positions in various organisations across Africa, it makes things a whole lot easier and that’s what we are looking for. In Africa we have about a billion plus market, if we can focus inwards through developing people, through what USB is doing, and other sectors begin to see it from that perspective, you will be amazed at the kind of market we have and the kind of impact we can make in the lives of our people in the future.
We’ve had many feedbacks, really, from our Alumni. It gives a new perspective on what this is all about. After the credit crunch and the financial crisis in 2008, people are even more aware of this issue. The American Business Schools suffered a lot, because people accused them that they did not teach these things properly in business schools. It was all about the profit people say. And we in Africa didn’t have the failures regarding banking and finance like America and Europe had. I won’t say it is because of what we teach, I think it’s been so important and it’s been important over many years. People say that it’s because it’s been entrenched in our programmes that we have relative success with this issue.
How does your programme contribute to organisational leadership?
Leadership is of course more on the soft skills side, you need to know the emotional intelligence of those kinds of skills that you become aware of, as you reflect. We use a lot of skills to bring out awareness of yourself. We have the cognitive awareness where you know where your intellectual capacities are, but then you have the social awareness we just spoke about, you become more and more aware of people around you and of your own behaviour in certain situations.
It is getting to know yourself very well first, that is the first step in what we see in leadership development, we can’t be all the same and that’s the second thing that we emphasise, you will be a different leader from others, that is why we look at you and we measure and we see that you differ in certain aspects to others. But we don’t change you to become like others, but we enhance your strong points and we work on your weaker points.