26 May 2021, Johannesburg, South Africa. MEDIA entrepreneur Alexander Leibner has been awarded the Dean’s Creative Industries Scholarship to study...
My MBA started a reimagining of my life and work
For Thokozani (TK) Dube, son of South African music legend Lucky Dube, getting an MBA from Henley Business School Africa has helped him integrate two very different parts of his life; his successful career in IT and his roots in – and passion for – the world of music and creativity. He talks here about his journey from growing up in the shadow of a superstar, to carving out his own successful niche in the world – and his newfound confidence and capabilities that are helping him to help others forge a successful career in the creative arts.
I’m not the first child of a celebrity superstar to find out that a parent can cast a huge shadow. How, as the son of South African music icon Lucky Dube, growing up in a world surrounded by and weaned, in fact, on music, could I not imagine a place for myself in that world? On my father’s passing in 2007, however, I began to realise how daunting that could be. On the one hand, there is a rich legacy that you’re hoping to live up to. On the other, you’re constantly reminded that you would never be able to.
Fortunately, my father was also alert to the expectations that awaited his children who would want to walk in his footsteps – and understood the fickle nature of the industry he was in. I remember him taking me aside and saying, “TK, music has been good to me. It may not be the same for you.” From the start he wanted to make sure that we, his children had options in our lives. For me, that ‘option’ turned out to be IT. It was a field that as, a member of the generation of digital natives, I was as drawn to as music. I started my studies in information technology with a national diploma at the University of Johannesburg in 2006, and would in time continue to a Bachelor of Technology and an honours degree in 2015.
From that moment on, I almost lived two lives. There’s a reason why my LinkedIn profile makes no mention of music. I have worked very hard to keep my IT and my music distinct and apart. But to my surprise and greatest delight, it took an MBA of all things to bring those two parts closer together.
Funnily enough, the impetus to do my MBA came from both lives. On the IT front, I first worked as a software developer for various companies while still studying. In time, I would progress to a career as a systems analyst and then a lead IT business consultant for Nihilent Technologies, a global company that provides IT consultancy services to corporates in South Africa and globally. But as techies know, it’s easy to hit a professional ceiling in the field. Management, as the saying goes in most industries, is where it’s at. As a consultant to clients, I also wanted to offer a more holistic consulting service, one that could take into account all facets of a company. But I knew that required an additional skillset.
At the same time, in my work with the music industry, I’d been feeling the need for a skills upgrade. While forging a career in IT, I hadn’t abandoned my love for music. I still perform on the stage – with the Lucky Dube Band. Few things can match the nerves and thrill of a live performance! Over time I came to realise that I wanted to play a part in the lives of other musicians. So I started Different Colours Productions, a music production company dedicated to helping those aspiring musicians struggling to get a toehold in the industry. Talented artists who need guidance in everything from signing a gig to signing a big music contract, where many are easily duped. I think it’s essential that musicians who don’t just want music to be a side hustle, who want to make a career out of it, that they understand the business side of the industry.
I knew I had to go to business school, to learn more about the business side of the music industry; the business side of business in general.
But I will admit that I was cautious in the transition. Getting an MBA was, certainly, a long-term goal but I wanted to get a taste of business school first. So in 2018, a few years after finishing my honours degree in IT management at UJ, I dipped my toes into that world by registering for a Postgraduate Diploma in Management Practice (PGDip) at Henley.
The Henley bug bit. Barely had I finished the diploma than I took the deep dive into the MBA in 2019.
I won a scholarship to the programme and graduated with Merit in 2021. In my thesis I chose to explore the “revivifying” of employees and the role that they can play in a digital world, looking at small- to medium-sized enterprises in South Africa.
My years at Henley have been absolutely worth it, despite the interruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. My studies have allowed me to bring a more holistic approach to my IT consulting. I now better understand, and can better advise clients, on how IT fits into their organisations. How it’s not merely about making sure staff can access their email, but how it can aid their business. The research module on my MBA was, I will admit, one of my favourites as it allowed me to bring my IT work into the MBA, where I could connect those two worlds.
I now feel better informed on how to shape and organise my music business too. The MBA certainly started a reimagining of my life and work more broadly. Specifically, it helped me to discover a way to – as I’ve always wanted to do – continue my father’s legacy by creating opportunities for musicians to showcase their talent. All too often, those in the creative industries lack the skills to forge successful careers, not because they lack the talent or drive, but simply because they do not understand that they are operating within a business. Through the module on international business, for instance, I was prompted to think of how to gain international exposure for both my band and other musicians. I have now appointed an international manager to help us get a toehold in Europe and the rest of the world.
Being a talented actor or a talented singer – or a talented IT professional for that matter – does not, unfortunately, equate to being a success. Turning a creative output of any kind into something that makes you a living, requires a business sense. I, for one, feel more confident, capable and creative for having those business skills in my arsenal.