Almost 12 years ago we began a journey, a movement actually, to build the leaders that build the businesses that will build Africa. Like all great quests, it has been an ambitious adventure, but one that has reaped harvests beyond the telling of it – either by us or our graduates.
When we started, we were an outlying branch presenting an MBA from a British business school, albeit the oldest one in Europe. That year, we had 30 graduates.
A decade later that number had grown tenfold, but then so had what is now known as Henley Business School Africa. We were no longer an outlier to Henley Business School in the UK, but actually a fully-fledged sibling and stand-alone business school in our own right, producing our own research and more than two thirds of Henley’s global MBA cohort. Henley is a rare global business school, with campuses in Asia, Africa and Europe. And we are the highest African-accredited and -campused business school in Africa according to the FT last year (19), and the only business school in Africa with international quadruple accreditation.
We had also reached out into the continent, as our name suggests, establishing partnerships programmes and collaborating in east and west Africa. In the process, we grew from a pokey little office in a Johannesburg building to occupy an entire office park, creating a brand new decolonised and, thanks to the rigours of lockdown, decolumnised campus.
There was only one place left on the map to go to: Cape Town. It might seem strange, after all the Western Cape is home to two of the finest business schools in the country, if not the continent; in the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business and the University of Stellenbosch’s Business School. I know, because I designed and was the first director of the GSB’s Executive MBA before heading up executive education and launching the corporate education programmes there, later led by my colleague Linda Buckley, who is now the director of executive Education at Henley Africa.
We are officially opening our campus in Cape Town to better serve our corporate clients headquartered there whom we have been working with in person and virtually for years, but also to answer the need for the alumni of those programmes – and other interested candidates – to progress up through our unique ladder of learning to be able to study up to their MBA degrees and soon their DBAs.
Henley Africa’s Cape Town campus will bring something different from the Western Cape landscape. We are a different kind of business school, after all we are effectively a start-up, having had to bootstrap ourselves to where we are today; using the tools we teach to be successful, developing the approaches we needed to navigate a harsh landscape, whether punching above our weight or having to make sense of an unfolding situation for which there was no playbook, whether pivoting our entire teaching delivery from physical to remote ahead of the March 2020 lockdown or the safe return to campus when the pandemic passed.
We are continually learning, innovating and mastering technology to teach virtually or studying air quality to create safe learning and living environments.
The tools we create in the process are vital because we immediately take them back into the classroom. We pride ourselves that our students earn while they learn. Most can’t afford to take a year off to study full time, either financially or in terms of the effect of the Marriage Break up Academy on their relationships. It’s one of the reasons we focused with passion on family-friendly learning years ago to address that.
We created a ladder of learning that allows people with all the skills but who had received none of the education opportunities to finally get back into a classroom to learn the lessons to help them better apply their practical learnings in the work by understanding their theoretical underpinnings.
We started MBAid to crack through the carapace of our business leader students who might not have understood the true context of the lived realities of their staff or have been not grounded themselves in the needs of the communities in which they work. In return we gave 350 NGOs priceless management and business tools to be able to ultimately lessen their dependence on the same donors every year.
We launched a corporate activism movement so that our students could learn that the corruption of state capture could never have happened without active corporate collusion – and we are developing the tools to ensure that when they go back to the boardrooms, their companies would not make the same decisions and the same catastrophic consequences for citizens, staff and shareholders.
We created the biggest scholarship scheme of any business school in the country, to honour some incredibly important South Africans while infusing our classes with the diversity and disruption of people who our society so desperately needs, but yet work in industries that are financial precarious; like the performing arts, music, media, sports and the creative industries.
It is an agility and an entrepreneurial spirit that we see reflected very much in the Western Cape, a willingness in the form of private public partnerships to step away from the clamour and instead look for long terms answers; to invest in future technologies to the radical transformation of the economy by creating opportunities for those who had none to unlock their potential and take up their roles.
We believe we can help that process, in much the same way as we have done in Johannesburg, where the student body has swelled towards 4000 students a year, more than 250-300 of them graduating with an internationally conferred MBA each year in a graduation ceremony that these days stretches over two weeks instead of of two hours in 2011.
We hit those metrics and set new targets every year because we don’t sit still. Our faculty are perpetually looking for answers to some of South Africa’s most pressing problems and our new series of exciting white papers is sharing these insights for all. For free.
During lockdown it was helping South Africa’s doctors cope with the business ramifications of shifting to a brand-new world of telemedicine. Before that it was designing short courses to help South Africa’s subsistence farmers develop into small scale farmers and to help small scale farmers evolve into large commercial ones. There’s a need for both of those short courses alone in the Western Cape with its history of medical innovation and the significant role agriculture – and especially viticulture – plays. But there’s also our ground breaking Post Graduate Diploma in Management Practice for Africa, with its use of augmented and virtual reality technology, helping students make sense of African markets, these days being able to step into Nairobi, Accra or Lagos with ease, an important selling point for businesses in the Mother City who fancy themselves as much a gate way to Africa as their counterparts in Gauteng.
While on one level education institution compete, in a much more real sense they collaborate and work together to build education in South Africa - to fill that yawning void of exclusion so we can create businesses, jobs and livelihoods.
Collaboration in education is what we need as well as good, healthy rivalry, for the sake of finding the best solution for the client through creating the best education and executive skills for our mature students.
At the end of the day though, it is about providing choice – and healthy competition – in an environment that can only benefit from it. We are very excited about this new iteration in our journey. We think the people of Cape Town will be too, as we start developing a ladder of learning than open access to mangers and executives all the way from post-matric to masters. Forget being Masters of Business Administration, let’s be Masters of Building Africa, together.
Professor Jon Foster-Pedley is dean and director of Henley Business School Africa and chair of the Association of African Business Schools.
This article was originally published in the Daily Maverick