How executive education can change your life

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Business schools have been popular with executives at a transition in their careers, who wish to strengthen their skills and network and move on to the next level.

In South Africa, for example, there are more than 15 institutions that offer a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, with three — from the universities of Cape Town, Pretoria, and Stellenbosch — ranked among the top 150 in the world.

Prices for an MBA typically range from R100 000 to R300 000 or more, especially where part of the course requires international travel. While the MBA is often the flagship qualification of a business school, schools also offer other business-related courses, which are shorter and tailor-made for corporates and government.

Pay rise


The rewards of doing a business course such as an MBA can be great. It typically takes between 18 and 24 months to complete this degree, and the average salary of those who have completed it is up to R3.2-million per year, according to a report in BusinessTech in July last year.

This figure is for the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business’s (GSB) applied masters programme, which had the top local ranking in the QS Global Executive MBA Rankings for 2020, but it’s also among the most expensive of the local courses.

GSB aims its qualifications at “senior and executive managers who have proven themselves in the business world and would like to enhance their abilities to respond effectively to change and conjure new solutions to old challenges”.

The class sizes here typically average 70 students and the work experience of students average 18 years.

At the second-ranked local institution, the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science, the classes average 70 students per class, the work experience of students is 18 years, and earnings after completion of the degree average R1.5-million.

Where do business schools come from?

Although universities have been around for a few hundred years, most business schools only popped up in the last century or so. The first was the École Supérieure de Commerce de Paris, founded in 1819 and privately funded.

It was followed by a number of business schools in Europe and the United States, and from the 1950s similar institutions started to grow in other parts of the world.

By 2011 the Associate to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business estimated that there were nearly 13 000 business schools in the world, with India alone having about 3 000 private business schools.

Business schools typically teach management, finance, human resource management, accounting, marketing, international business, innovation, logistics, business ethics and corporate social responsibility.

What people say who have been to business school

Gail Kelly, South African-born Australian businesswoman, in 2002 became the first female CEO of a major Australian bank. While the CEO of Westpac, she was named in 2010 the eighth most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. Kelly, a 1986 alumna from the Wits Business School, states on the school’s website: “My MBA was a new and exciting period in my life because it opened my thinking to the crucial areas of accounting, finance, marketing and operations management — knowledge domains that I previously had no depth in, apart from some practical exposure in the workplace. There is no question that my MBA also gave me confidence and courage to tackle the opportunities coming my way. The networks and friendships established remain current today.”

Letsetja Kganyago became governor of the South African Reserve Bank in November 2014. He enrolled in the Senior Executive Programme, which is a joint venture between Wits Business School and Harvard. Kganyago came from the government and he found that his management skills were lacking. “In government, we were recruiting from a policy side rather than looking at business skills. This programme attempted to cross-pollinate business and government and used the case study method, which I found fascinating,” the school’s website quoted him as saying.

Margaret Hirsch, executive director of Hirsch’s Group, used 2020 to finish her MBA — at the age of 70 — with Regent Business School. Her take on the benefits of completing her MBA, according to the Regent website is: “I think the biggest impact is the interaction with the entrepreneurs I work with on a daily basis. South Africa is the land of entrepreneurs. We have so many and I teach them how to run their businesses successfully. I have done the practical side and now I am doing the theory and what I do in my work now is, I combine the two and I grow hundreds of businesses on a daily basis to be successful.”

Fortune Gamanya, Founder and Chief Luminary of Luminary Advisory and Consulting, is an EMBA graduate cum laude from UCT’s Graduate School of Business. Gamanya’s focus is on changing the narrative of women in the workplace as well as leadership practices that create organisations fit for human beings. In response to the question “What does education mean for you?” Gamanya responded: “Education is the continual expansion of your worldview. I never thought of the EMBA as a means to access a better job. Instead it was the richness of the experience and its ability to shape and mould me that drew me … the other thing I would say about the EMBA is that if you are open to the experience, to the convergence of everyone around you can teach you something. The beauty is not in the piece of paper at the end but in the process, which enriches you as it challenges and pushes you.”

How to cope if you’re a working student

Executives doing business courses part time have to fit these around their work. Milpark Business School provides some tips on its website for students who might be daunted by the prospect.

There are many different time management techniques, but students are encouraged to stick to what works best for them:

• Firstly, plan a day in advance, who you will be meeting, when, and for how long. Following your plan closely could prevent work tasks falling over into your study time.

• Secondly, create a schedule for your study time: when you will be studying, for how long, and at what frequency. Set up reminders for due dates of assignments and online tests, as well as exams or other assessments or activities.

• Thirdly, learn when and how to say no, and to be disciplined. Minimising distractions such as social media will allow you to fully concentrate on the tasks at hand.

• Prioritising your tasks from most to least important will help ensure that you don’t spend too much time on menial tasks, or more time on tasks which could easily be postponed.

• Ensure that you get enough sleep — around seven to eight hours a night — and structure your schedule so as to allow for good quality sleep. Being better rested will help you concentrate, and it also has a number of other benefits, such as improving your mood.

• Do not procrastinate, but instead get yourself organised and plan in advance. It helps to try and stick to your study plan, or get help if you struggle.

• Lastly, put the gadgets away while you are studying. If needs be, delete all  social network applications or block all your notifications.

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