Executive Education a vital piece of the puzzle to building access to wealth

It will increase the South African skilled talent pool and diversify the boardroom and entrepreneurial space.

Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” These words have become all the more pertinent in a country aiming to bring about change by giving people of all races equal access to economic opportunities.

The prevailing policy that aims to close the poverty gap is based upon the broad-based black economic empowerment codes (B-BBEE) of good practice with related sector charters. Its effects are felt most especially in the corporate environment.

One of the most important pillars of this policy is skills development. This refers to the upskilling of black (African, Indian and coloured) people through accredited short or long courses, peer-to-peer learning, and paying for the fees of black people walking the higher education journey.

One aspect of skills development is the executive education programmes, which are growing in popularity. These programmes include content that prepares people for executive positions in organisations, such as the MBA programme (Master of Business Administration). Long lauded for their immense networking opportunities, business schools have evolved to become centres of business innovation that build the South African talent pool, for the boardroom and for those aspiring to head up their own corporations.

These executive education programmes are important for developing the black talent pool — many companies struggling to meet their BEE quotas have complained about the lack of adequately skilled black people who reach the executive suite.

Business schools, fully aware of government’s intention to grow a black talent pool and grow entrepreneurship in South Africa, have intelligently tailored their programmes towards building a skilled workforce. MBAs and executive education programmes are now regarded as sustainable solutions not only to business knowledge, but to meeting the demands of an evolving economy.

Shaun Smit, director of Transcend Capital, a leading corporate finance firm specialising in B-BBEE ownership transactions, sings praises for his alma mater, the University of Stellenbosch Business School. He says studying for an MBA from enhanced his leadership capabilities and contributes to producing business leaders of all races.

Diversity

As a person who directly interacts with the process of BEE, Smit notes how his MBA has helped him to build a team that is not only diverse, but has high performance, even under stressful conditions. He says his MBA empowered him to lead a diverse team and interact with stakeholders from diverse backgrounds.

“There are the obvious benefits of an MBA concerning generally running a business, but I would say with regard to running a business in the transformation advisory space, it was the softer skills – leadership, diversity, communication – that really strengthened my ability to successfully engage with a diverse group of stakeholders.”

Neo Molefe, an MBA student at University of Stellenbosch Business School, echoes the sentiments of Smit. He says the programme empowers candidates to understand the local and international markets, with course content involving African situations. He says there is a strong focus on practical outcomes and the course content is laden with case studies of business successes and failures.

Peer-to-peer learning is encouraged, which is enhanced by learning in a group of extremely ambitious, motivated individuals from all over the continent. Molefe is a senior transformation facilitator at Transcend Corporate Advisors, a company that assists businesses with their transformation journey in an ethical and sustainable manner.

The challenge in the B-BBEE and transformation space is the ability to link transformation initiatives to everyday business practices and solutions. Molefe notes how the business school assisted him to align his problem-solving ideas with the industry.

An LLB graduate and admitted attorney, he says: “Previously I solved legal problems and coming into a business consulting environment I felt disadvantaged, but through my MBA, I have a better understanding of how to solve business problems.”

Molefe adds that an MBA from Stellenbosch is triple-accredited or triple-crown accredited. That means the three international bodies governing the delivery of MBA programmes have accredited Stellenbosch for its MBA curriculum, making it one of the most recognised MBA programmes on the continent — and globally.

The gender issue

Black women have long been underrepresented in South African boardrooms and in the entrepreneurship field. However, there have been significant strides in promoting women to ensure they have access to a piece of the economic pie. MBA and similar programmes, specifically tailored to middle and senior managers, are affording them better access to opportunities within their industries, and hopefully to opportunities in the executive suite.

Tumi Manakane, an area sales manager in the motor value added services and products industry has firsthand experience with such programmes. The ambitious Manakane aims to be a general manager in the a sales-oriented environment. She enrolled for the Wits Business School’s New Managers Programme and the InSETA (Insurance Sector Education and Training Authority) Middle Management Development Programme run by the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS).

Manakane notes how these programmes have helped her to understand her role at work and the ripple effect this has had on the entity she is employed at. She has gained an understanding of the millennial workforce and integrating their thoughts around productivity for profitable results.

The key aspect in executive education programmes is their ability to develop leadership skills. Manakane notes: “My communication skills have has improved. Furthermore, through the skills taught, I am able to think faster on my feet, be more assertive where necessary and also more diplomatic where there is a need for it.

“I’ve learnt to be less judgemental and take the time to investigate and discuss with all parties before making a decision. Knowing when to be democratic and when to be decisive, depending on the needs of the situation, was another key skill I learned.”

Wits Business School develops and enhances leadership in its executive education programmes. Communication manager Jane Balnaves says the school’s strength is its ability to “design its programmes around the changing business landscape within the context of emerging markets and the digitised world of work (the Fourth Industrial Revolution)”.

Previously the business school focussed on ensuring a smoother climb up the corporate ladder, but now its MBA programmes are tailored to empower intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs alike.

Balnaves says: “Our executive education programmes develop the skills, qualities and attributes required not only to lead organisations but also to start and scale sustainable businesses. Our focus on creative, critical thinking and leadership development feeds into the entrepreneurial mind-set and encourages a fresh, innovative approach to business.”

Executive programmes have also become pertinent in technical fields such as engineering, where scaling and productivity are highly valued. Sibusiso Khumalo, head of engineering at a multinational, says his MBA inspired him to to think innovatively. In his studies he was able to link his engineering expertise to dynamic macroeconomic factors. His thesis combined his understanding of engineering, emerging markets and economics and was titled: “How Additive Manufacturing can disrupt market structures and enable emerging market to outperform”.

With an MBA from GIBS, one of his key achievements has been better career opportunities within his industry. The MBA enabled him to achieve his ultimate goal of becoming an entrepreneur, and it expanded his understanding of productivity.

“Despite have a huge workload, I have come to the realisation that there is enough time in the day to process large amounts of data and still make the right decisions. I am now able to discern the key factors, irrespective of the subject matter.”

All the executive education programme candidates said that although their studies were very stressful and challenging, it was absolutely worth it. They were exposed to leaders from many different industries, opening them up to more diverse career opportunities.  

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