Who needs an MBA?

These three letters still manage to strike a measure of awe into the heart of anyone looking to further their career or take on the next level of executive growth. Master’s in Business Administration, however, doesn’t sound quite so exciting. Administration: this is hardly a term to inspire excitement in the heart of the career junkie, nor does it really quantify what type of person or role will truly benefit from undertaking this complex, challenging and demanding degree. So, the question remains – who needs an MBA? Is it the corporate junkie? The small-to-medium business owner? The high-growth entrepreneur?

“Why would someone who has a business or business idea want to pursue an MBA? This is the question I asked myself in 2010 when I came across the MBA programme,” says York Zucchi, cofounder of Join the Equation.com. “In theory, for me, the MBA, especially one that focuses on entrepreneurship, offered a high-level advanced business degree aimed at increasing the likelihood of developing a successful business.”

For Zucchi, the MBA does so by providing a significant body of practical, business-related knowledge that is relevant and impactful. This is particularly true of MBA programmes that are focused on the entrepreneur. And this is something that few people realise — not all MBAs are created the same. Some focus on accounting, others on economics, some on entrepreneurship, and the list goes on. The type of MBA selected will be directly influenced by the type of person you are and the ultimate goals you want to achieve. For the entrepreneur, the MBA must focus on the skills they need to grow within that space and give them the ability to focus their mindset appropriately.

“Age and experience should not be a barrier, but before deciding if an MBA makes sense to you, you need to ask if you have the time to do it,” adds Zucchi. “Choose a school that offers a programme that ideally fits your goals and your time.”

There are quite a few programmes in South Africa that are targeted at delivering entrepreneur-level training, and some that are focused exclusively on supporting the small-to-medium enterprise (SME). The recently revealed MBA from the University of Johannesburg is designed specifically for the entrepreneur and the SME, but it also caters to older folk who wish to complete an MBA to further their own organisations or careers. There is also a growing shift towards MBA programmes that recognise the challenges unique to South Africa.

“We cannot ignore the burning socioeconomic crises in this country, such as our crippling levels of unemployment,” says Professor Raphael Mpofu, acting executive dean of Unisa’s Graduate School of Business Leadership (SBL). “For business schools and universities around the world, there is a growing interest in the development of business incubators for students, and this is slowly starting to take root in South Africa.”

SBL has started to collaborate with Unisa to create a postgraduate business incubator, which is likely to kick off in 2020. The goal is to focus on science, technology, agriculture and environmental sciences while building an incubator that combines business sciences with technical skills. By layering their MBA with a specialist technical qualifications, students can ultimately build skill sets that allow them to fit into a skills-starved market, or just jump-start their own innovative ideas. So yes, the innovator, the entrepreneur and the SME can directly benefit from the right MBA, but who else?

“Anyone who is committed to narrowing the Gini coefficient in South Africa, who aspires to be a business leader, who isn’t fixated on the bottom line and providing returns to shareholders,” says Dr Puleng Mokhoalibe, head of Henley Business School Africa’s Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship initiative. “People who are obsessed about their staff, the communities their businesses operate in, and the legacy they intend to create for the generations to come. Our purpose is to build the people who build the businesses that build Africa.”

The need for an MBA is defined by an individual’s passion to improve their lives and, through that, potentially change the lives of others. It is not exclusively there to simply position such people on the corporate ladder — although, of course, this is precisely what many people do with this degree. If you ask many MBA students why they are putting themselves through the course, their answer will be money, and this isn’t necessarily the wrong answer.

“Investment into an MBA is not only financial; when you add in the time spent away from home and family, the opportunities lost — you are undertaking an arduous journey,” says Bryan Hattingh, founder of Cycan. “However, if you match your intent for pursuing the programme and you are willing to trade these things in, then it could turn out to be a rewarding and adventurous journey. If you intend to build a career in event management, an MBA will do little to boost your career outside of bragging rights, but if you align your goals with the work involved, it can be the right move for you.”


With an MBA your career path can take a completely different trajectory, one that propels you towards success and garners you significant respect. When you have a master’s degree at your disposal, so many opportunities will open up to you on both a professional and personal level that you will reap the rewards of your hard work in fairly short order.

“Investing the time and effort to get my MBA was hard and demanded a significant time investment,” says Ian Mackay, MBA graduate. “You do sacrifice elements of your personal life and it does ask a lot of you, but when you have it under your belt it gives you the authority to be in the room and the confidence to contribute meaningfully to business discussions.”

Many employers sit up and pay attention when an MBA graduate enters the room. They know that these individuals have shown fortitude, determination and grit to get the degree onto their CV and that they have had specific skills embedded into their career DNA.

“They are sought after for their ability to think critically and solve complex problems,” says HB Klopper, director: Executive Education at IIE MSA. “Employers usually look favourably on the qualification because the format promotes knowledge and skills that are applicable to almost any organisation, regardless of sector. This universal appeal stems from the degree’s focus on collective business principles and the personal growth benefits of being exposed to leadership competencies.”

Perhaps the best way to conclude any insight into the relevance of an MBA is to look at the story of Dr Nellis Beyers. Today, he is the medical services manager for the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, a role that he took on once he had completed his MBA. He did his degree at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, and said that it gave him the insights he needed to manage the complexities of this role that spans partnerships, executives, organisations and investments.

“The structured group work teaches you how to work with people to find solutions. Book knowledge can’t help you here, you must learn how to interact. More than anything, the UCT GSB teaches you about mindset and how you can change it,” he concludes.

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Tamsin Oxford
Tamsin Oxford
I am a professional editor, journalist, blogger, wordsmith, social junkie and writer with over 19 years of experience in both magazine publishing and Public Relations.
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