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Understanding the ties that bind – or blind – us

Newly minted PhD candidate at Stellenbosch Business School, Andy Innes, musician, businessman, and Henley MBA alum, is continuing his exploration – started during an MBA with Henley – into what it is that stops South Africans from different backgrounds from communicating better.

Andy Innes is a man who’s accustomed to making people feel more and reach beyond their frame of reference to connect with others across social, political and economic divides. It’s a power that he reckons many musicians have. And as lead guitarist in the iconic SA rock band, Savuka, touring the world with Johnny Clegg through the 1990s and 2000s, he’s had more than his fair share of this heady experience.

Thirty years on, his fascination with connection hasn't faded with the stage lights. While he doesn’t perform as often these days, spending his time writing music for TV and film, managing two other artists, serving as a director of a music rights NPO (SAMPRA), and, most recently heading back to business school to read for a PhD, he’s turning his talents towards trying to understand more about the science behind connection.

‘I think our biggest problem in this country is social sustainability. And I think the key to unlocking that problem sits in the space of how people communicate and how they relate to one another. Right now, there is a chasm between people that hasn’t really been examined in depth yet. We’ve looked at race a lot, but to my mind, race doesn't really tell you anything about anyone. It doesn't tell you anything about their culture or the myriad things that make them them.’

What happens in a polycultural society like South Africa, he explains, is that people have multiple internalised representations of reality (chronically accessible schemata, to give it an official term from cross-cultural psychology studies). ‘Society is not split so much across racial lines as across sub-cultural lines and people in separated or marginalised sub-cultures simply don't have access. They're pretty much excluded from everything that involves socio-economic advancement, which is, obviously, a problem.

‘We've got to find ways of addressing this issue, and this starts by defining exactly what it is and how it works.’

It’s this gap in knowledge that his PhD research is aiming to plug. The work, he says started during his MBA at Henley Business School, where his dissertation looked at managing people and drivers and effects of diversity in the music industry. His current research explores the nexus of culture and the psychological contract in postcolonial societies. A topic he says he arrived at after the MBA forced a fundamental rethink of his place in the world.

‘It was such a growth phase for me, the MBA. The personal development work alone is like free therapy, you know! The whole process triggered a lot of thinking – about everything – and made me question my own position in the world, validating certain things and highlighting gaps in other places.

‘Towards the end of the MBA, I had this epiphany. Everything up to that point had been focused for me around the music industry and strategy and rights and how that works and management approaches for musicians. So I decided that I was going to figure out how cultural orientations and diversity affect communication and engagement in the music industry. It's our biggest problem. We can't talk to one another.’

Andy is one of several musicians who have passed through Henley’s halls on the direct encouragement of dean and director Jon Foster-Pedley, himself an amateur musician, who has a strong belief in the power of the creative industries to drive broader economic development.

‘I hadn't studied for about 10 years and was quite hesitant about signing up. The last thing I’d studied was at Berklee College of Music. And this was a business degree, I knew other students would be corporate leaders and I felt extremely inadequate. But Jon was so open and welcoming and interesting in how he spoke about the degree that I was convinced.’

The fact that the MBA came with an international stamp of approval from a well-ranked global business school also played a role in his decision, he says. And it's not a decision he has had cause to regret.

‘You know, people said to me, you will do an MBA and then afterwards, you're never going to be able to apply all those models and theories. And sure you're not, but what I found is I developed a global understanding of how things work in my industry ... and then the personal development part of the degree is the glue that puts it all together. You can start building your own theories from all the things you learned mixed with your own experiences … you start glueing things together.’

Andy graduated cum laude for both the course work and the dissertation, which has been key in enabling him to get into the prestigious PhD programme at Stellenbosch Business School, following in the footsteps of his daughter Kerri,  who has just graduated with a PhD from North West University.

But the MBA didn’t just put him on an academic parabola, it’s also informing his professional work. His is an industry where if you are not constantly reinventing yourself, you won’t last long.

‘The music industry has several big problems to deal with,’ he says. ‘Unfortunately, we're low-hanging fruit when it comes to disruption. It started with Napster, a peer-to-peer file-sharing application launched in 1999, and around 2000, the value of recorded music started dropping, and then we got hit with the ballooning costs of touring. Then comes COVID and AI. We've had a very rough ride of it.’

The MBA, he says has been really useful in helping him to stay ahead of that curve and see ‘what's coming to flatten’ him.

‘Doing an MBA has made me more savvy and aware of my surroundings. Before I was just sort of blundering along, waiting for the phone to ring. I didn't really have a goal per se. I just had a couple of ideas around what success is and was kind of stumbling towards it and often pulling in different directions. Now I can see my surroundings and I can position myself in three dimensions according to those surroundings and then figure out what to do, which I couldn't do so well before.’

He cites the unique competing space model, a macro-level strategy visualisation framework, as being a particularly valuable tool gained in helping to widen the space of opportunity.

‘Johnny Clegg always said that the problem with getting old is that life is like a triangle, a wedge that gets narrower as we age, but that is just a perception thing. You can, in fact, increase the size of your triangle if you change how you approach things, and Henley Business School helped me to do that. My wedge is very wide now!’

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