Business school directors in their own words – Financial Mail

Experts discuss the problems Business Schools face, such as the value of teaching ethics and new approaches to leadership.

Experts in the field discuss the problems schools face, such as the value of teaching ethics, new approaches to leadership and management, the need for “spiritual intelligence”, entrepreneurship in the informal sector, making a difference to society and sensitivity to African development initiatives.

• Owen Skae, director, Rhodes Business School:

Rhodes Business School has been applying its mind to sustainability and leadership for a long time. Back in 2004, when this approach was formalised in our curriculum, we saw opportunities for organisations to change the way they do business. This is the only way to grow the economy and narrow the inequality gap, while ensuring our planet is preserved for future generations.

Standard approaches to conducting business are unsustainable. Business today requires leaders and managers able to think holistically and in an integrated way.

We actively engage contemporary business issues through the lens of sustainability. It advances critical thinking about the business environment so that our graduates can position themselves for personal growth, improved leadership capabilities and career advancement.

• Sharmla Chetty, president, Africa, Duke Corporate Education:

We are trying to reach a broad range of people to make leadership more accessible. It’s about leading from the centre. Managers are being asked to do more than they did before. Middle leadership is our primary business.

There is too much corruption. Duke is trying to create a new kind of leadership. It’s about changing behaviour and mindsets. Ethics has to be enforced in the fabric of our society. You have to teach consequences.

We’ve been in SA for 10 years. It was at the time of the global recession so it was a hard time to grow here and in the rest of Africa. We localised quickly. We had to build our independence quickly but also sustain business. We had good support from the global team. At that time, deans of some local business schools said they didn’t want their academics to work with us. There’s a little more flexibility now. As a global school, we are learning so much from Africa that we can use in the rest of our network.

• Marko Saravanja and Penny Law, directors, Regenesys Business School:

Spiritual intelligence is misunderstood. It’s about truth and purpose. Most business schools teach dog-eat-dog. That’s greed, the opposite of humanity and compassion. Ethical behaviour requires a deep learning process. You can’t take short cuts. People don’t want to be unethical but situations arise where greed caps everything else. We try to transform the way people think. We would like to think they come out differently at the end, by looking at the same situation through a different lens.

The problem with a traditional MBA is that some people believe their new knowledge gives them power. They become less humble and compassionate. Corrupt leaders believe they aren’t bound by the same rules or morals as everyone else. Unfortunately we don’t have enough positive role models in our society. Individuals need to be guided by their personal convictions. But that often requires great personal strength. The right actions are often blocked by our fear.

• Cobus Oosthuizen, dean, Milpark Business School:

We were acquired this year by Stadio Holdings. It also controls Southern Business School, the Afda film and broadcast school and a number of other higher-education interests, including fashion. It talks of creating a “multiversity”.

We learnt a lot from our previous shareholder, the Apollo Education Group in the US. If it were not for that relationship, we would not have progressed as far as we have with online distance learning.

Our doctorate in business administration has been approved and we are waiting for the paperwork to be completed. We’ll probably offer the qualification from 2019. We’ve appointed a head of department responsible for executive education. Previously it was run as part of the overall business. We hope the appointment will allow us to penetrate new sectors. We don’t expect instant payback. It will take two to three years for the new unit to establish itself as profitable and self-sustaining.

• Randall Jonas, director, Nelson Mandela University Business School:

We have been busy in the entrepreneurship development space. We have been approached by local government and business to roll out entrepreneurship programmes. We are very strong there, particularly in the informal sector. We want to identify all the entrepreneurs in one geographic space, map activities and see if there are collaborative synergies. Where is there duplication? Is there any way to cluster them? What skills can we help them with? What knowledge do they need? The biggest problems are usually marketing and finance. We will put them in touch with people who can help.

We want to be part of the solution in and around Port Elizabeth, along with the city, business and civil society. We want to contribute to the discussion on urban renewal, waterfront development, infrastructure. Too much planning in SA lacks long-term thinking.

• Jon Foster-Pedley, dean, Henley Business School – Africa:

Business schools must show people the consequences of corruption. Illegitimate behaviour becomes legitimate through repeated practice. You persuade yourself that this is not really illegal.

But you are complicit in the destruction of wealth. If you are colluding or corrupt, you are not only stealing taxes. You are ruining suppliers and preventing young entrepreneurs from entering the system. You cause a problem within society. Hospitals and schools aren’t built. Instead of creating hope, you are creating despair and cynicism.

Business schools must raise and confront these challenges. But they’re often afraid to take a stand. Someone once said if you aren’t threatened three times a year with losing your job, you are not doing your job. If you are not threatened for pushing the boundaries as a school, you are not doing your job.

Do the public know what business schools do? No. Do schools themselves know what they offer? Students come in thinking they’re going to get one thing and often find themselves doing something completely different but which they didn’t know existed. What you really want to do may not be in the school brochure. But we offer it.

• Simon Tankard, director, Extended Learning, University of KwaZulu-Natal:

We are making a difference in the province and beyond. We are engaging with many sectors and clients all over the country, for example utilities, logistics and transport, including the leadership in the KwaZulu-Natal taxi industry.

The main university is world-class in a number of discipline areas, such as engineering, medicine, food security and nutrition, sustainability, and mathematics. As business educators, we draw on that expertise for our clients.

We have run programmes in nutrition and food security which contribute to the agenda and goals of the NDP. These programmes have directly contributed to the saving of lives, as documented by the health department.

Public higher-education institutions are in a unique space. They have academic freedom but are also accountable for the use of public funds. We support the social development agenda, and academic freedom comes with responsibility in using education to build capacity in the country.

• Ahmed Shaikh, director, Regent Business School:

If the dreams of 500 million young Africans are not met, we are in trouble. Asia had this in the 1990s and did not deal with it very well. Now it’s Africa’s turn to experience the youth bulge. The hopes and aspirations of young Africans are at stake.

There’s a systemic problem at university level in SA. Graduates are being churned out inefficiently. Their qualifications don’t match the needs of the employment market. But we have not prioritised it on the agenda of business schools. It’s still business as usual. People don’t want to rock the boat. We need to listen to stakeholders like alumni, graduates, business and society in general.

There is a skills mismatch out there, between what people are educated and trained to do, and what the market actually needs. Our employability unit, through which we equip people with skills required in the jobs market, allows us to sleep better at night.

In our entrepreneurial institute, we help business start-ups with machinery, suppliers and even financial support. There’s a lot of enterprise development funding available out there. We start out as a partnership but then cut the new enterprises loose after one or two years. The emphasis is on independence, not dependence.

• Zaheer Hamid and Paresh Soni, Management College of Southern Africa:

There are very few private-sector business schools that offer doctoral programmes. We will launch ours in September. The public sector alone can’t meet demand. SA needs 8,000 doctoral graduates a year. It gets 3,000.

Higher-education regulators want to impose more controls on short courses. That limits innovation. We need education stakeholders to be more innovative. Institutions don’t have the latitude to be as flexible as they want to be. Public business schools still want to be like Harvard or Wharton in the US. Private schools have to be more competitive.

How do we then hold people to account on ethics? Companies must commit to a charter of good practice. Behavioural change can’t be taught in the classroom. There has to be immersion.

Most people undertaking business education want to advance business with the emphasis on profit. If business is positioned as being for personal benefit, that’s what will happen. Other considerations become secondary and ethics is glossed over.

• Sibusiso Sibisi, director, Wits Business School:

The business school should be a place that co-ordinates and encourages interdisciplinary research within Wits University. We need to offer thought leadership with a business mindset, for both the private and public sectors. It might be to do with education or health. For example, can we make national health insurance work? What are the implications for hospitals? We should provide ideas driven by impeccable scholarship. We don’t compromise on that.

There must be a forward-looking element to what a business school does. We all say artificial intelligence is killing jobs so what is the new type of job we need? What might the country and industry look like in 20 years? We must look at things that aren’t happening yet.

• Nicola Kleyn, dean, Gordon Institute of Business Science:

New broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) codes are shifting corporate spend on education. Procurement departments are looking for programmes offering scorecard points.

Ethics is not a skill but a belief system. Our teaching includes ethical leadership. We don’t want to teach ethics and codes but responsible leadership. Business schools spend a lot of time on analytical rigour but we also encourage moral reflection and imagination. Ethics is about dilemmas and hard choices and right and wrong. People come in here with very clear ideas of who they are then leave two years later as very different people.

We are working with a US business school to develop an ethics barometer. It’s a perception index. We will probably launch in the next couple of months.

We should not be called business schools because we don’t just serve business. When most people think of a business school, they think of something to serve capitalism. We serve society, business, not-for-profit organisations and government. We are helping shape leaders who are equipped for the future and for helping society.

There are too many business schools in the world. Probably half should go — those that don’t help us build a future and a more productive world for our children. But if we bulldoze all the schools, who will do what we do? It takes a long time to develop an institution but we have to adapt as times change.

• Chris van der Hoven, CEO, USB-ED, Stellenbosch University Business School:

We have three big opportunities as an executive education division. The first is digitalisation. The second is Gauteng, where we are looking for a Sandton campus. And the third is our African project, which depends on digitalisation. We have a joint venture in Botswana, we are talking to education ministry officials in Zimbabwe and we have a close relationship with Namibia. We are also looking further afield for joint ventures, alliance partners and possible acquisitions in some key markets. We’d prefer to concentrate on sub-Saharan Africa. One of the challenges is how to offer Stellenbosch in Africa without creating the idea of SA academic colonisation. It’s an issue all SA schools face.

There is a danger that corporate SA pays lip service to ethics. It asks if there is a business case to be made. People work out the cost of bums per seat: what is the impact on turnover and profit? The whole ethical debate is littered with problems. Very little is black and white. It’s not just about right and wrong but about whose right and wrong we are talking about. People hold views because they believe them to be true.

• Raphael Mpofu, acting dean, Unisa Graduate School of Business Leadership:

We have one primary purpose: to produce students capable of contributing to the economy. Our commerce qualifications have always been very traditional, with emphasis on issues like finance and marketing and leadership. We have done less in terms of society. We also have to produce leaders relevant to our environment. We all know about Western values but we must also be sensitive to African development initiatives.

We run successful academic and executive education programmes, now we want to bring in social initiatives and integrate them with our core business. So we ask ourselves if a business school is there to help township businesses. That’s the sort of thing Unisa would like us to do but it is not forcing us.

• Oliver Seale, head of executive education, Unisa Graduate School of Business Leadership:

We are doing particularly well among public sector clients. Medium-term, we’re probably looking for a 70:30 split between the public and private sectors. We have quite a few public servants signing up for the MBA. We want to grow that space because we think there is a particular need there. We also have a strong reputational brand across Africa but we are not leveraging it.

• Kosheek Sewchurran, acting director, University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business:

Ethics is not a knowledge transaction. It should change the way people show up, deliver and show goodness. Business schools don’t get it right because they don’t develop people holistically. Ethics should be the foundation for everything else. We should create people more thoughtful and deliberate, who are not bullied by ideas they don’t like.

I’m in this acting position until the end of the year. My role is to hold the space and keep things steady so academics at the school can continue to do their best thinking.

• Lyal White, director, Johannesburg Business School:

Business schools need to be multi-disciplinary and stop teaching business in an orthodox way. Harvard was created 100 years ago and we are still doing things the Harvard way. We are too concerned with the bottom line. We should be influencing the collective impact of business on society. Schools are not changing at the pace they should. Are we here to develop individuals to sit in the corner office as CEOs or people who will survive and thrive in a world of disruption.

This school was launched in August 2017. I want it to be an African school but with international networks. We are starting to test the market with some executive education. We need to generate revenue. We have to help human resources see beyond old-fashioned targets and break those mindsets.

• Fulu Netswera, director, North West University School of Business & Governance:

As a black academic coming to a campus (Potchefstroom) that is still fundamentally white, I was hesitant. But people have been very welcoming. It’s been the same at our other centres in Mahikeng and Vanderbijlpark. What I am finding, however, is very different client bases at our business schools in Potchefstroom and Mahikeng, which used to operate independently before merging. Mahikeng is like Limpopo, in that its students are almost all government employees. Potch is more private sector.

I was previously at Limpopo’s Turfloop business school. There are a few things I want to achieve here. One is to clarify the relationship between the school and university over responsibility for short learning programmes.

• Helena van Zyl, director, University of the Free State Business School:

We are developing a platform to communicate with our alumni. SA business schools have traditionally been bad at retaining contact.

It’s difficult to plan a long way ahead in executive education. Clients pick up on trends and want the same, until another trend. This year’s flavour is rarely next year’s.

We engage a lot with clients to learn what they really need. That’s not always clear. Within the public sector. it’s often not about educational needs but about spending needs.

Sometimes I think we’re too obsessed with MBAs. SA’s big need is for managers, not academic managers.

• Anthony Stacey, Wits Business School

We need to be constantly reviewing our definitions of what is ethical. When students submit their research for approval, they also have to submit ethics forms. I don’t think some of them understand ethical issues exist. They don’t realise, for example, that they are guilty of plagiarism. They are unethical without realising it. A number of plagiarism cases have involved students whose research consists of compiling others’ thoughts and ideas. Some will even subcontract parts of their research to others. Some people who retweet something they see on Facebook think of it as their own. I don’t think it’s malicious.

Standards are changing everywhere. Ten years ago you sent out a survey asking participants if they were male or female. Now you ask about gender identity.

(published by Financial Mail 27 July 2018)

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