It was a personal trainer who put South African recording super star Loyiso Bala on the way to studying an MBA.
Bala, the multiple Sama winning South African singing sensation who was recently named channel director of TBN in Africa, was working part-time at the Randburg studio, presenting and hosting shows in between writing gospel music, recording and performing, when he heard how his personal trainer Karl Meyer had graduated with an MBA from Henley.
He was surprised – and more than a little intrigued, after all the fitness industry is not the typical nursery for prospective business leaders. Bala though isn’t a typical business leader.
His own yearning for learning – and for purpose – had begun some years earlier. Performing in Scotland with his equally talented singing brothers Zwai and Phelo, he was on the cusp of signing an American recording deal that would have changed his life forever, instead he bought a ticket back to South Africa, enrolled in Rhema’s Bible College in Randburg even though he was much older than his classmates.
His career evolved from writing and performing R&B to writing, recording and singing gospel, hosting TV shows, sitting on music industry boards, advisory committees and even running his own talent management company. All the time though he was looking for meaning and purpose in life in a journey that had begun in very difficult circumstances in KwaNobuhle township in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape.
After chatting to his personal trainer about the MBA, fate took a hand.
“I got an invite from Henley about a new MBA (for the music and creative industries) and went to check it out. It was daunting, but I thought, I’m gonna do this.”
First though he went looking for a scholarship. Doors weren’t opening, but Henley’s Estelle Baffoe phoned him and told him to come anyway.
“I prayed and the Lord said, “have you applied?’ so I applied for the Post Graduate Diploma course and then a royalty cheque came in the post. I chatted to my wife and we agreed to set some of it aside for the class fees.
“I was the most scared person on the course, I was there with real business people, while I had never even read through an integrated report. I had never worked PowerPoint before, Excel was something I’d sort of see but I never knew how it worked because I’d always had it just given to me. That was the industry we were in, that’s why we paid 20% to managers.”
The greatest lesson Bala picked up from the PG Dip programme was the ability to ask questions and keep asking questions until you get the answers you’re looking for – and the knowledge that by asking questions you’re often helping those next to you find the answers they’ve been looking for too but either didn’t know how or were too afraid to ask.
“It’s like a search engine on the internet, you have to know what to ask. I had started at Samro (the South African Music Rights Organisation) as a board member and they started seeing the difference. I became a far better board member.”
Bala graduated with distinction from the PG Dip class, but the yearning for learning hadn’t subsided. Dr Rica Viljoen, Henley’s PG Dip Programme Director suggested he try for an MBA.
He was scared.
“People start talking about MBAs and you start getting nightmares; it’s the Marriage Break up Academy, you hear that people have lost weight between studying and divorce, but I just thought if this is what God wants me to do, he’ll give me the strength to do it and the funding.
“I applied, I was accepted. I applied for funding and I got the Johnny Clegg scholarship.
“There had been many recipients before who had not completed the course. I wanted to prove that I could do it and that I would pass, that I would do well and make Henley proud of giving me this scholarship – if they did, which is why my performance on the PG Dip was so important.”
He received the scholarship and began his MBA two years ago – and it is here where the synchronicity of the process took over once again, as he explains:
“The PG Dip was the best preparation for the MBA that I could have had. The MBA is a lot of work, it needs consistency, if you’re not consistent the work piles up and you can fall behind and I was determined not to.
“Stage 1 of the MBA’s assignments were all on Samro, by Stage 2 it was all about strategy. I felt if I had to do another bit of work or research on Samro I’d go mad, so I decided to do TBN.
“I did in-depth business studies on TBN, strategic marketing plans. All through this, I’m doing surveys not knowing all of this would help me.”
That’s when he started asking the question, what was the point of it all, what would it eventually amount to? He prayed.
“It was a matter of saying let me not start any business, stuff will reveal itself in time,” he said, “I must just keep serving, coming to church and singing, going to shows…”
His prayers were answered when Leon Schoeman, TBN’s chief content officer and channel director for the UK, Europe and Africa approached him.
“He said to me, ‘for the last seven months I’ve been waiting for someone that we can appoint. I’ve watched you grown, I watched you serve here for the last three years where you can, your love for the media and now with your MBA it’s a no-brainer for me.”
Last month, Bala was appointed channel director for TBN in Africa, one of more than 30 affiliates of Trinity Broadcasting Network – the biggest Christian television service in the world, beaming the gospel and Christian news, documentaries, films and even children’s TV to more than 2-billion people every day. His job will be to lead the team, create content, define strategies and implement it, develop new business models and markets.
“I’m 39 now,” he laughs. “At 36, I said, I’ve got to make something of my life before I’m 40.”
That first step was enrolling for Henley’s PG Dip, his 40th birthday present to himself will probably be an MBA.