Preparing for the future through global MBA student exchange

Nkeku Mothoa dreamt of becoming a policewoman when she was a child in Zebediela, Limpopo, but then she started watching CNN financial market reports. Encouraged by her dad who would drive the Thobela FM newsreaders to the radio station in his taxi early every morning, Mothoa would get up and switch on the TV.

That fascination would lead to a job as a teller at Standard Bank. Today the single mom is doing her MBA at Henley Business School Africa. She’s still at Standard Bank, although these days she is a business manager focusing on start-up and medium-sized businesses in the R20-million range. Her ultimate goal, after getting her MBA though, is becoming an investment banker, which she will do by qualifying as a certified financial analyst (CFA) afterwards.

For now, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s spending this semester as a member of Henley Africa’s first ever virtual MBA exchange – with students from Malta’s Business School who are also doing their MBA through Henley.

“An emailer was sent out with the opportunity and I thought why not,” laughs Mothoa. “We get many global lecturers and through Henley’s global network, we can travel to fellow countries. I didn’t want to lose that global exposure in the lockdown.”

Finance is a universal language, Mothoa discovered.

“Money is money, process is process, and whilst each country has its own challenges, it was great to have that levelling factor in the classroom. It’s obviously great to be able to be catapulted into multinational education.”

If anyone thought studying for an MBA was easy, Mothoa’s schedule shows just how much she has to put in. She is up every morning between 5 and 6 to prepare herself and her eight-year-old daughter. She then works a full day, before getting down to study at 9pm until midnight, or even 1am the next day. Her only concession to her workload has been to hire a helper:

“I’ve made peace with the workload,” she says. It helps that Henley Africa prides itself on being family friendly. “Henley make it very transparent; they also offer massive support.

“Trying to juggle studies, parenting and a full-time job in lockdown was tough, and I realised I did not have to be superwoman.”

The trick, she says, is to stay humble: “I failed an assignment last year that I had to rewrite. I am deeply aware that I am a student of life: at work, at school, at home – an MBA is not going to fast track me into some stratosphere I am not ready for, it is preparing me for the person I am growing into.”

It’s not the first time she’s had to juggle all her roles; single mom, career woman and student; she obtained her BCom degree studying her part-time through Unisa and before her MBA, she was part of Henley Africa’s Post Graduate Diploma programme in Management Practice, the traditional pipeline into the school’s flagship programme. Seven of her eight peers from the PG Dip programme are with her on the MBA.

“It helps to have that support, and we know each other well by now, even though our weekend sessions have had to stop because of Covid-19,” she says. “I remember attending a talk at Open Day at Henley before signing up for the MBA, and a speaker said then, be prepared for changes, be prepared for things that will trigger you, create routines early, remember why you are embarking on this journey. I kept coming back to that in 2020.”

The MBA is a tough journey, but it’s well worth it in terms of her personal development, she says: “My work is very technical yes, but the MBA is really helping me become a better leader, much more self-aware, and helping me work around whatever challenges life throws at me – risk mitigation works everywhere. It teaches you a lot of things in a short space of time, and prepares you for a lifetime of learning really.

“I am enjoying finetuning the leader that I want to be, and being nudged into shaping who I want to become. The biggest surprise is that you can find yourself in an MBA.”

Useful resources:
Henley Business School
At the core of Henley’s philosophy is the belief that we need to develop managers and leaders for the future. We believe the challenge facing future leaders is the need to solve dilemmas through making choices. We work with both individuals and organisations to create the appropriate learning environment to facilitate the critical thinking skills to prepare for the future.
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