Henley Business School Africa has awarded an MBA Creative scholarship to Mariapaola McGurk from an organisation called The Coloured Cube.

There were two motivating factors for Ms McGurk deciding to do an MBA: “Three years ago I opened The Coloured Cube which focuses on creating exhibitions and activations with a strong connection between content, design and implementation. The three streams to the company are artwork/exhibitions, activations and manufacture.”

“It was not my first experience of entrepreneurship, however last year I found myself in a situation which I had never experienced before. This is the first business I have managed to get to this stage and now I am not sure what the questions are, never mind the answers, nor the strategy to take the next steps forward.”

“Of course entrepreneurship instinct, drive, ambition and a little madness will always push you forward, but I wanted to understand how business strategy works, how to be a better leader, how to create systems and a clear vision. I wanted to do this not by chance only but by knowledge.”

“We believe in the importance of collaborating with other creatives, projects and communities. Our goal is to create activations and exhibitions that are impactful, relevant and conscious of our South African context,” said Ms McGurk.

Her projects include skills development and workshop sessions with the youth and the regeneration of the Inner City of Johannesburg.

“Looking ahead, if l choose to leave my business and enter the arts and culture sector in a more senior institutional position, I want to have the knowledge to push this sector to where I believe it should be within our society. Our museums, galleries and cultural centres should be buzzing with life. They should be used by communities, the public, tourists and creatives. I have spent many years trying to understand why they are empty and why there is always controversy attached to them.”

“These questions and debates are continually taking place within the arts sector – what is not taking place are operations, strategy, systems and implementation discussions. Maybe what is lacking is good management and leadership and not good ideas. I want to learn how to manage systems, people, operations and drive a vision for these institutions that is relevant and suited for our contemporary South Africa.”

In selecting Henley Africa’s offerings Ms McGurk said: “I attended the Leaderex conference last year to see if an MBA was what I wanted to do. I had meetings with a variety of institutions only to have the huge bomb dropped on me regarding the costs to do an MBA. Apart from that, Henley was the only Institution that offered an extra creative module. This will help with my future projects.”

Regarding the challenges in her business Ms McGurk said that the areas where she expects the MBA will assist: “There are so many. I have been part of the Executive MBA class for only four months and can already see the benefits. It allows you to think clearly about business challenges – how to approach them, how to strategise and systematically work through complex issues – whether with people, products, services or clients.”

“I have no doubt that the MBA is fundamentally going to shift how I think and deal with my work and life. It is not easy. I am waking up at 4:45 am every day to get on top of my studies. I am learning content and information that I know very little about which makes skim reading difficult to do. I have thrown myself into the deep end – but I am loving learning how to swim.”

“A benefit of studying a Henley MBA, which I had not considered, is the connectivity between different people. Learning in a different world and stepping out of my own creative bubble is going to be hugely beneficial to my career and empathy towards others, although that bubble will always be the soft, warm and cultured world I will snuggle back into.”

Jon Foster-Pedley , dean of Henley Business School Africa, said the scholarship covers the full MBA course and includes workshops with select groups of individuals focusing on developing their creative and innovative capabilities. The programme develops and grows the skills for creative and music industry leaders as well as business innovators and entrepreneurs.

“Marketing and business understanding have become the backbone of a successful career in the arts, but most creative undergraduate degrees are still craft-focused and exclude business modules. Creatives are left to figure out the business side on their own,” said Mr Foster-Pedley.

“There is a change in the business world. Creativity is being used not only in marketing but also for addressing business challenges. New creative ways of working are being implemented and encouraged.”

He said that creativity in business is integral to the future growth of SA managers. “But most businesses remain reluctant to be creative for fear of failure. But for those who do, the potential exists to create business growth and enhance employee satisfaction and retention.”

“With the Creative MBA we encourage students to think outside the box compared to traditional management styles. We find that allowing staff to be creative, even in the small areas of their responsibility, increases productivity, affects the company’s bottom line and can also provide a competitive advantage,” said Mr Foster-Pedley.