How education leads to success

If you were to choose a family to entrust your business and your life to, you’d be hard pressed to find a better lot than the trailblazing Brey siblings.

Hamieda (Parker after she got married), Ali, Naeem and Zameer have some serious engineering, medical and business credentials among them. Moreover, three of them have MBA degrees, which they say have helped them to get ahead.

Parker has gone on to complete a PhD on a Sainsbury fellowship, completing her doctoral research at Oxford University and the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business. She now lectures on manufacturing operations and new product development at the UCT Graduate School of Business.

Ali Brey is at the helm of Hot Platinum, a new South African company revolutionising the global metal-casting industry, and Zameer Brey, at just 26, is a medical doctor who works as a process analyst at Groote Schuur Hospital — the first appointment of its kind — driving new initiatives to improve hospital efficiency. Like Parker, Ali Brey and Zameer Brey obtained their MBAs from UCT.

They grew up and continue to live in Athlone, a Cape Town suburb most well known for its two immense cooling towers at the power station nearby. For the siblings, however, the two great towers that have marked their lives are their parents.

“I think our parents are the main driving force behind our career success. They instilled in us the belief that with hard work you will have rewards and that we should not use the social circumstances we grew up in as an excuse. They also gave us a real sense of social responsibility, encouraging us to get involved in the communities we are in,” says Parker.

For Parker, Ali Brey and Zameer Brey, the turning point to finding their true calling has been their MBA experience — the three concur it has enabled them to take the leap to their broader roles as leaders in their respective fields.

Parker began her studies in engineering in 1989 and faced significant challenges as an early non-white, female engineer. Despite this, she entered the industry and led the development of a number of innovative products at a large polymer and yarn manufacturing firm. Her MBA in 1997, she says, expanded her horizons appreciably.

“The MBA exposes you to so many more avenues to make a real difference with your expertise. For all three of us, and indeed many other MBA graduates, the degree acts as a catapult to greater heights personally and professionally,” she says.

For her it truly did have this impact and also prompted her return to the business school to become an important cog as a lecturer and researcher. She has gone on to present at numerous conferences around the globe and launched a new MBA elective course in supply chain management in 2007.

Ali Brey faced similar challenges following his sister into engineering just two years later. He earned his stripes taking Nokia’s cutting edge technologies around the globe. It helped place him well to tackle the commercialisation of new technology.

The MBA offered him the right injection to take on a new business venture such as Hot Platinum. “Coming from an engineering background, my MBA was invaluable and has played a big role in helping me get the commercialisation of the Hot Platinum products on track,” he says.

He adds that what makes the new technology such a global breakthrough is the fact that it is the world’s most compact, cost-effective and versatile casting solution to melt platinum, one of the most difficult metals to work with.

In 2006, things really began to take off for Hot Platinum with a healthy investment from Brimstone Investment Corporation. The company, which won the SABS design award in 2006 — the first black-owned company ever to win the award — is also now moving into the mining sector with other breakthrough products. In 2007 Hot Platinum was one of the winners in the Technology Top 100 for its management of innovation.

Zameer Brey, not to be outdone, is also making his mark. After working as a doctor he saw a need for leaders in the healthcare sector. He was among the youngest to undertake an MBA at the UCT Graduate School of Business and, having passed with flying colours, is using his potent combination of medical and management know-how at Groote Schuur Hospital.

“Being a doctor in public health, I saw first hand the issues that need addressing and felt I could make a real difference with an advanced management qualification.”

He is now investigating ways to make things run more smoothly for staff and patients alike at Groote Schuur. The research he did as part of his MBA in 2007 has also opened doors — he was awarded an international Young Researcher in Africa Award (2008) and it has enabled him to link up with other healthcare process improvement experts internationally.

Despite their success, the siblings have not forgotten the lessons their parents imparted of going the extra mile and getting involved in the important issues their communities face.

They also continue to put family first and live minutes apart in Athlone — whenever there’s a challenge they all say they can pick up the phone anytime to consult one another.

The three MBA graduates say it’s now just their brother Naeem who needs to tackle the degree and keep something of a family tradition going. “He certainly has the ability and perhaps one day he will,” says Parker.

With an ocean of possibilities ahead of them, one gets the feeling that South Africa will be hearing a lot more about these young achievers in years to come.

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