Strategic thinking the Frederick way

He was a devout baptist clergyman who was born on July 2 1853 in the town of Maine, New York. In his later years he sported a lush, white moustache.

It doesn't ring a bell, does it? How about that of John D. Rockefeller, the titan of industry and founder of Standard Oil, who was once the wealthiest man in the United States of America? When Gates met Rockefeller in 1892 the latter was already rich and powerful beyond measure, but not yet the philanthropist he and his son are remembered as today.

Rockefeller was also a lifelong baptist and in Gates he found a kindred spirit, a man of immense foresight and an advisor who would shape the way business is done for more than a century. Gates sat on many of Rockefeller's boards, directed funds to investment houses that would deliver unparalleled profits and, most importantly, he engineered modern-day philanthropy.

For the most part of his life, Rockefeller need not have paid heed to the advice of anybody, but when he did, medicine improved in leaps and bounds, a university was created and hospitals were enhanced. The list goes on and on.

If an advisor can change the course of a behemoth like Standard Oil in a profitable manner while bettering the lives of a nation, then it stands to reason that a company functioning within the South African context can do the same for the community it serves. With a little help, that is.

Enter the North-West University's Potchefstroom Business School (PBS) and its company project. This module forms part of the Business School's MBA programme and teaches applicants how to think more strategically. It is a module that benefits both students and organisations in the community.

First, groups are formed and an organisation of their choice is selected. Groups start by giving an overview of their chosen organisation over the last 10 to 25 years.

They focus on important events in the company's history, highlights, trends and trend breaks, changes in strategy, changes in chief executives and changes in the company's culture. Strategic and financial outcomes are also evaluated.

Thereafter the groups start to develop relevant strategic building blocks as well as the integration and formulation of a "winning" strategy for the chosen organisation.

Finally they recommend how best to implement this strategy into the current climate of the organisation. Every lecturer at PBS serves as a mentor for these groups and a close-knit working relationship with the chosen organisation is formed.

The level of success has been astounding. One group formed their own consulting firm, many others are hired by these organisations and more often than not the developed strategy is incorporated by the organisation.

The premise is a simple one: an effective company serves its community more effectively. A penny saved here can be managed into a pound there, which can result in many philanthropic endeavours.

According to Professor Tommy du Plessis, director of PBS, a strategic learning culture should be supported by, and integrated with, a dynamic learning climate within an organisation if it wishes to function at its optimal level. "The module teaches students to think strategically as we try to develop them into business thinkers.

"You can't apply your knowledge without a designated strategy. Thus our focus is to create sensitivity towards strategic thinking issues rather than just providing answers to such issues.

"We live in a globalised, ever-changing world where issues change, and so do the answers.

"Knowledge ages whereas strategic thinking is sustainable," says Du Plessis.

This article was supplied and approved by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers. It forms part of a larger supplement.

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