You don’t have to go it alone, and other lessons for life

From the foundational wisdom of her parents, who protected her as a child growing up in Tembisa township, to the many supportive people she met on her MBA, Lyneth Zungu, who heads up the MBA programme at Henley Business School Africa, shares some life lessons and inspirations.

I grew up in Tembisa, a township in Ekurhuleni. It’s a previously disadvantaged area, and the people who live there have much to endure, yet they don’t stop smiling. There’s a lot to love about Tembisa – it’s diverse and multicultural, filled with friendly people, but it’s still a difficult place for a young girl to grow up. There is crime, drugs, alcohol abuse, peer pressure and a high rate of teenage pregnancy. But I had God, and I had my family to protect me.

My family is my rock, and my parents are my role models. They encouraged me, guided me, and clapped for me. I may not always have listened to their wisdom, but they are always there for me. My mom is a teacher and she made me and my brothers focus on our studies, instilling in us the importance of an education. My dad has always been my biggest cheerleader and I cherish that to this day. Their love and support have helped me get to where I am today despite the challenges of life in a township, and I will always be deeply grateful to them.

I believe in disconnecting from the world from time to time to be with the ones you love. My husband and I take our two sons, aged 11 and 15, hiking every second Saturday. It’s a good way to get the boys off their phones and we get to experience nature and reconnect with each other, which was impossible while I was studying. Our next adventure is golf. My youngest son is keen, so I’ve signed us up for lessons, and all that’s left is to convince the other two family members that it’s a good idea!

My greatest personal achievement is getting an education, which has opened so many doors for me. I love acquiring knowledge, learning new skills and developing myself, which helped enormously when I was doing my MBA.

On the career front, being appointed Head of MBA at Henley is a highlight. It’s an extremely prestigious degree and nothing is more important to us than making sure our students succeed. Together with my team, I get to mentor, coach and guide our students. My role includes everything from ensuring that the classes run smoothly to making sure students’ on-campus experience is a good one and that they know how to access the many support structures we have in place at Henley.

I was given the opportunity to run the MBA programme during the pandemic, but only as acting head of the department. It was about a year and a half later that my appointment was made permanent. I remember the announcement was made on my birthday, which was a great gift. I had big shoes to fill and was anxious about juggling my new role with my studies – I hadn’t finished my own MBA at the time – and my family. But the remarkable Henley team rallied around me and put my fears to bed.

I am passionate about the MBA because what it teaches extends far beyond the confines of the classroom. In the third week of March, we took a group of MBA students to Greece for their international study visit. For one of the activities, the students were divided up into teams, and each team visited a different Greek start-up as consultants, where they were presented with a challenge faced by that business that they had to help solve. It was beautiful to see our students putting into practice some of the skills they had learned in the classroom. It inspired them. And inspiration is what we need in Africa.

Our continent is fraught with challenges. It’s so important for MBA students to master the skills we are taught in class to help us confront these challenges. For instance, we need entrepreneurial skills in South Africa and across the continent; we need people who are fired up and think outside of the box, and this is what the Henley MBA teaches you to do.

I’m not saying that an MBA holds the answers to all our problems, but it’s a degree that makes you think differently. It takes you to an uncomfortable place, and you start to move away from thinking like a manager to thinking like a leader. And that’s when the importance of growing those around you and making a meaningful contribution to your community and society comes into sharp focus. All of these things are important on an individual level but also much more broadly in South Africa and across the continent.

As individuals, we should always be aiming to improve ourselves, and qualifications are part of that. Having an MBA definitely opens doors. It increases your chances of securing management and leadership roles. And one can’t underestimate the value of networking with fellow students, with faculty and with the business world. When I did my MBA, I made acquaintances with whom I continue to network, and I also made lifelong friends.

My top tip for new MBA students is: You don’t have to go it alone. Yes, of course, it’s the fulfilment of a personal goal, and the theory you’ll gain from the programme is vital, but there is so much to learn from those around you: from fellow students to staff and faculty. In fact, this goes for all the people that you’ll meet on your life’s journey. That’s where some of the greatest lessons come from.

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